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Education: University of Pennsylvania

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The University of Pennsylvania traces its origin to the erection of a meeting hall for an itinerant preacher in 1740. The plan, which called for the building to be ultimately re-purposed as a charity school, floundered due to lack of funds. Benjamin Franklin and his trustees assumed the charity school's construction debts and inactive trust in 1750, and five years later the College of Philadelphia was chartered. The next 36 years saw the College weather a series of schisms, new charters, and a final merger that, in 1791, produced the University of Pennsylvania. Penn's downtown campus moved across the Schuylkill River in 1872 to land purchased from a charity hospital cum poor house. This 'West Philly' location, known as University City, today comprises 279 acres on which sit 187 buildings that house the teaching and research endeavors of one of the world's preeminent universities.

Nearly 200 buildings; close to 300 acres under development for over a century; in the heart of one of the country's largest metropolitan areas: these circumstances have produced a massive amount of paper-based information, from 100-year-old vellum design drawings to current space plans. As information technologies were implemented throughout the University, it became apparent to the various owners of this facilities-oriented data that a secure and reliable mechanism was needed to make their information assets available to the people who could best use them.

In 2002 Penn's Facilities & Real Estate Services (FRES) chose Falcon/DMS as the EDM engine for a document vault that would transform this scattered accumulation of hard copy information into a single, unifying digital repository. Expected to eventually house over 100,000 scanned images and PDF documents, this document vault is now accessible over the Internet to internal clients, such as the School of Design, as well as outside contractors (all in a manner that tightly controls access, of course); Web availability to these scanned documents is accomplished with Falcon/WebSuite's SVP (Search, View, and Print). The document vault can be accessed with the proper credentials from any browser, as well as several Internet kiosks strategically placed throughout the FRES facility (one particularly active seat is located in the Operations Control Center, the 24 hour monitoring facility for Penn's physical plant).

One year prior, in 2001, Christian Hanson (Penn, Architecture, '79) returned to the University as Data & Document Manager (his department, FRES Data & Documentation, operates under the auspices of the Office of the University Architect). Following the selection of Falcon, Hanson, in consultation with tsaADVET, designed a data model that continues to be remarkably flexible while enhancing and simplifying the way in which Penn's building, space, and land information is presented, particularly given the broad scope of users.

Prominent amongst these users are the staff of the facilities and real estate groups, which need reliable access to current occupant and other lease information. Likewise, building managers have much easier access than in the past to drawings for buildings for which they are responsible; space planners can more easily assess space requirements and monitor the progress of projects; architects and engineers benefit from quick access to complete project data; other UPenn entities are able to rapidly retrieve information from Falcon in support of such tasks as asset location and order tracking. A particularly interesting application of Falcon is its use by faculty staff to identify information suitable for use in student projects.

Hanson's staff commenced a comprehensive collection and scanning operation in 2001, and then in 2002 began entering document information for all of Penn's buildings and land into the Falcon/DMS database. According to Hanson the FRES drawing database is now amongst the largest for any university in the country.

The record information associated with each drawing allows for detailed searches by building name, architect, discipline, campus location, project number and date, as well as keyword searches within a document record's many descriptive fields. Files can be viewed instantly from Falcon/WebSuite's search result, and the client has the option of immediately printing or downloading the documents. (It was only a few years ago that information of this type had to be printed and mailed to clients; today, architects and engineers working on design and construction projects can view and download complete drawing information for Penn's buildings and land from their desktop, thereby eliminating the need to provide expensive paper drawing sets.)

Acceptance of Falcon has been enthusiastic and comprehensive. Hanson recalls a meeting of the Infrastructure Coordinating Group during which the University Engineer used his Blackberry to pull up a drawing in response to a question that came up during the meeting. "Because he had taken the time to get familiar with the system he could just pull the drawing up right on his Blackberry."

In another instance, Hanson was attending a meeting in which a question was raised about a building design study. “Someone asks, ‘Hey, remember that study we did about five years ago?’ Because it’s in Falcon we just pulled it up. People are now giving us this kind of data to put it the system. You need it, now you can have access to it in two minutes.” Hanson reports that as more people witness this type of response, more departments (including the very active commercial real estate group) are providing information to his FRES Data & Documentation group for inclusion in Falcon.

Falcon is now so integral to how facility data are managed by FRES that Hanson confidently imagines how an infamous facilities crisis involving a Thomas Eakins painting (valued at $50 million) would have turned out differently had Falcon been available at the time.

"The Agnew Clinic," housed in the John Morgan Building at the medical school, is Eakins largest work, and was commissioned in 1889 by undergraduates at Penn to honor the retirement of the medical school’s revered professor and surgeon, Dr. David Agnew.

As explained by Hanson, “During one of the holiday breaks there was a ruptured steam line in the wall on which the Eakins was hung. The painting took on a fair amount of damage, certainly more damage than it would have had maintenance been able to find the steam line information quickly. This incident was held up to us as an example of the need for document management. Fortunately it was a slow leak, but by the time they discovered it and brought down the painting and put it in storage, several days had passed. Quite a bit of time was wasted. It actually took them several more days to find the drawing to be able locate what lines had to be turned off. Of course, now we would be able to get that information in ten or fifteen minutes.”