L.A. schools use mobile app to report maintenance problems

The app, smartphone and as many as 700,000 students get ready to tackle maintenance issues

The Los Angeles Unified School District plans to turn many of its 700,000 students into "smart sensors," to help keep the school facilities running smoothly.

LA school district mobile app
The L.A. school district is using a mobile app to report maintenance issues.

The school system has quietly deployed a mobile phone application that allows users to easily report maintenance issues. Anyone with a smartphone -- students, teachers and parents -- who has downloaded the app, can take a photo of a maintenance issue, water leak, broken window or some other problem, and then send the report in for maintenance action.

With the ubiquity of apps and smartphones, and the improving integration of social media-type services with backend systems, using an app to record maintenance problems may seem like an obvious application. But what makes the LA school district's effort noteworthy is its scale. The district has around 700,000 students and 14,000 buildings located on 700 square miles of property.

What happens to the maintenance operation once thousands of users begin reporting problems? The school district hopes it leads to speedier resolution of issues and better preparation through the use of photos and GPS data that will help the maintenance staff identify and locate a problem.

"It's another eye at the school site for us," said Danny Lu, a business analyst at the school district. Previously, if a student, teacher or staff member saw a broken window, water leak, graffiti or anything else in need of repair, the issue would be reported to the site's plant manager, who would notify the school system's service desk.

The mobile app, developed by CitySourced, enables users to report everything from potholes to public safety issues in their local communities.

The district integrated this capability into its IBM Maximo software that manages the physical assets and work orders. All the calls that come from this app go to the Maximo system, although the app-generated reports are reviewed by staff.

The school district receives more than 300,000 service calls a year. It has so far received about 1,700 reports via the application, although the school district hasn't advertised the application due to testing and integration. It plans to promote its use in three high schools next month, Lu said.

Any student, from K-12, will be able to use the app, he said.

Will the app become an outlet for pranks? Will the school district get flooded with fake maintenance issues on April 1? Time will tell, but Lu said the school system will know whose cell phone generated the maintenance request.

The school district already has physical sensors on some systems that record issues, but the interesting aspect of this project "is using people as a smart sensor." said Dave Bartlett, vice president for industry solutions at IBM.

"People with their five senses make a much better sensor," he said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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