Students are often among the earliest adopters of new consumer technologies—and it increasingly impacts facilities services. One notorious example is the advent of Pokémon Go. During the summer of 2016, many students used the augmented reality app on campus. Students’ quests to discover the digital creatures resulted in increased safety concerns, such as students wading heads down through traffic or becoming targets of robberies due to inattentiveness.
New consumer technologies frequently require facilities leaders to quickly rethink policies and service offerings. This article explores the three main ways consumer technologies are disrupting campuses today, as well as some of the ways facilities leaders are responding to them.
Disruption 1: Technologies bring outside actors onto your campus
In the past, college and university campuses were fairly insular. Now, some consumer technologies are leading to increased outsider traffic, as students and staff request people and services to campus on demand. This has raised safety concerns and caused headaches for facilities leaders.
A prime example of this disruption is ride-sharing apps, such as Uber and Lyft. At some institutions, ride-sharing cars have attempted to drive on inaccessible roads or cut across sidewalks in attempts to reach passengers who hailed them from the interior of campus. These vehicles can put pedestrians at risk and upend campus transportation plans.
To alleviate the situation, one institution asked ride-sharing companies to treat the campus like an airport, with fixed pick-up and drop-off points on the exterior of campus. Others, such as Georgetown University and the University of Southern California, are working with the apps to improve other aspects of on-campus security, such as offering cheaper late night rides to students getting back onto campus.
Disruption 2: Technologies compete with your offerings
Facilities services used to be the only option on campus. Today, consumer technologies are creating new options choices for students and staff, leading them to demand more from facilities services—or risk them taking their business to outside actors. In dining services, for example, many industry leaders are predicting major disruptions to occur over the next decade dues to rising labor costs, increasing demands for quality, and less expensive technology. The University of California Los Angeles's student newspaper recently explored alternatives to on-campus dining, recommending meal prep delivery services like Blue Apron for many students’ circumstances.
To address these changes, some institutions are co-opting parts of the consumer technologies for their own operations, including on-campus food delivery and smartphone apps that display line length at the dining halls. Recognizing students’ desire to cook in social settings with their own ingredients, the University of Northern Florida created hands-on demonstration areas and open kitchens for students within their dining facilities. Princeton University went so far as to develop a Dining Strategic Plan which established guiding principles and engagement strategies for food services. This plan connects residential, commercial, catering, and vending services, aiming for improved collaboration and service offerings across all campus food options.
Disruption 3: Technologies overload facilities’ capacity
Finally, new consumer technologies may bring unfamiliar workloads onto facilities, overwhelming staff and burdening service offerings. One example is mail services. While traditional mail to campus has decreased over the years, the number of packages has significantly increased. For instance, package deliveries at Ithaca College have tripled in the last decade from less than 35,000 in 2007 to nearly 100,000 in 2017. The University of Connecticut has faced a similar phenomenon. Recently, the mailroom was getting over 3,000 packages per day, requiring staff to work regularly until 3 a.m. to sort all the deliveries.
Some facilities departments have managed the inundation by establishing new package delivery policies or creating separate warehouses for sorting packages. The University of Manchester used a vendor, Pitney Bowes, to automate package handling and streamline mail delivery on campus, which allowed the institution to eliminate extra storage rooms and reduce staff hours. However, given that the surge in packages has been largely attributed to the success of the Amazon Prime Student offering, other institutions are directly working with the firm to find a solution. Amazon is piloting locker pickup locations on 14 college campuses, which establishes a central, separate delivery location for Amazon’s packages. This allows facilities mailrooms to focus instead on traditional campus mail.
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