Butler University uses Connect2 for equipment reservations and checkout at their College of Communications. They have been using the software for over a year during which time they have seen significant improvements in student and staff satisfaction and cost savings in equipment management.
Mark Harris, Technical Services Coordinator, talked to Lorensbergs about the School’s very positive experience of choosing and introducing Connect2. He provides insights on how they use the system, what they’ve learnt from the experience, and the benefits to their service and its users since being supported with Connect2 software.
“We were looking for several important things in a new system and Connect2 has worked exactly as we wanted it to. It’s been remarkable how much more control we have over our resource inventory.”
Looking for a suitable equipment checkout solution
The school has a wide range of cameras and other recording equipment that it loans out for student use. There are also a number of studios that students are allowed to book. They needed a more efficient way to manage these resources and realised that a system that is compatible with barcoding would really help.
It needed to offer access permissions by equipment type in order to meet different course needs. It also had to be effective in supporting the prompt return of items, as many had been going missing at a high cost to their budget. Having a secure log-in for users was also essential.
The system needed to be easy to use, and enable users to book a number of items in one go. The existing way of working was far too labour intensive and would only allow one item per booking. Mark explains:
“We saw that Connect2 features a shopping cart and this was really important for us. It enables students to secure multiple assets for their work. For example, a music industry student often needs several different types of microphone for their sessions, as many as 10 to 15. Having to book them one by one in the old system was something we needed to resolve.”
Mark was referred to Connect2 by an existing customer University: “We started researching what universities were using for asset management. Connect2 quickly made it to the top of the list with a number of key features.”
Most importantly, it met the School’s IT security standards. The IT team was keen to find a solution that integrated securely with their student authentication service.
Mark got in touch with Lorensbergs and asked for a demo of Connect2. The sales team was very responsive, gave a useful demo and was quick to answer questions from Mark and his IT colleagues. They also advised on barcoding systems and a suitable barcode labeller, and put Mark in touch with other schools that had gone through setting this up.
It really helped the School prepare for a new and better way of working, as Mark says: “Connect2 along with barcoding has been a huge boost in keeping our assets in check! It’s saving us a lot of money not needing to replace anywhere near as many lost items.”
There had long been a need to reduce the cost of lost items that have to be replaced each summer. The last few years had seen significant outlay for this. They were satisfied that using Connect2 would radically reduce this recurring expense and have now already met this goal:
“Connect2’s licence cost has already been met by the savings we’ve gained in reducing lost items. It’s really paid off having a real-time management system for all our resources.”
Connect2 was installed as a SaaS solution with user authentication via SAML. It works with the School’s two factor authentication process.
Access tiers were built in to allow flexibility over what students on different courses would be able to book, as Mark says: “Connect2 has given us complete control over what students taking different classes are able to access.”
Lorensbergs worked with Mark on how their Connect2 homepage would look, tailoring it to suit the School’s branding. A video was added to the homepage to show students how to make their first booking. Opening times of the store are clearly displayed, and there’s space to advertise upcoming closed times for end of semesters or adverse weather forecasts that might affect opening times. This service advert can be easily edited by staff in Connect2 whenever needed.
Homepage of Connect2 at Butler University
“Connect2’s licence cost has already been met by the savings we’ve gained in reducing lost items.
It’s really paid off having a real-time management system for all our resources.”
Lorensbergs provided full training on the system: “Lorensbergs’ training was great. Any queries we had they were quick to answer. Our team learnt a lot in a short space of time!”
Mark showed faculty how the new system would work. They caught on really quickly to the new processes, and liked the flexibility of having embedded borrowing rules but with the ability to overwrite them when needed.
They were then ready to introduce students to the Connect2 experience!
For easy access to resources
The School has 530 items in total, including Canon DSLR cameras, Sony video cameras, studio recording mics etc. They also have a number of rooms, including 4 audio control rooms, a video room and 2 recording studios that can be reserved in Connect2. Portable assets can be booked for 3 days at a time, and rooms for 3 hours.
If needed, staff can override the rules to allow longer bookings. For example, students can use Connect2 to view availability and book an initial set up time with a request for a longer slot. Staff will then override the rules to extend the session in the student’s name. This helps maintain accountability and always provides an accurate record of usage.
“Sometimes we set up access permissions so they are tiered within a major. In other cases, permissions relate to which particular courses students are enrolled on, so they can access cameras that are for specialized use such as our Canon C100 cinema cameras.”
These cameras are expensive and in limited supply. The school needs to rotate their use between two classes over two semesters, first to the documentary film students and then to the directing students.
“Connect2 has been really helpful managing access to equipment that’s in high demand... It means everyone has a chance to access the equipment they need for their courses without us needing to buy greater numbers of what are expensive resources."
“Connect2 has been really helpful managing access to equipment that’s in high demand. It only takes a couple of minutes to change permissions and rotate access to meet need. It means everyone has a chance to access the equipment they need for their courses without us needing to buy greater numbers of what are expensive resources.
“With Connect2, students always have access to what they need when they need it. It’s also become an important access point for students to find information on the equipment they’ve booked out. Students go here to access manuals that support correct usage, so they don’t need to wait until their professor is available to answer their questions.”
Left: Students learn how kits should be returned with the help of a laminated guide in the checked out bag. Right: Videos on the Connect2 homepage instruct students how to make their first booking and how to renew bookings online if they wish to extend them.
How staff have benefited
A team of student workers support the checkout store. Each day, 4 workers cover the 8 hours of opening, each working a 2 hour shift. It’s been easy to train them up, with a video showing them how to use Connect2. The barcoding system makes it quick and easy to check items in and out to students. Advance bookings mean they can prepare equipment in advance. Inventory management features allow them to easily remove an item’s availability if it comes back broken. The status of each item is clear and instantly understood from one worker’s shift to the next.
Hours of opening are midday to 8pm. During this time, Mark uses the Connect2 dashboard to keep tabs on how the day is progressing, that items are going out and coming back as scheduled, and that all is well and running smoothly.
Typically, he checks the online dashboard at the start of the day, halfway through and as it comes to an end. Usually all is well, and there is no need to do anything. Occasionally, Mark will intervene if he can see an item is late coming back but has another reservation coming up. The traffic light system on the dashboard quickly alerts him to this kind of problem.
A quick email using Connect2 to the student concerned usually resolves the problem. It’s more effective than staff sending out emails directly. “It’s great it’s so easy to be proactive in this way, to send an email through Connect2 and tell a student to get an item back or their classmate won’t be able to do their assignment.
“It ensures we can let everyone get access to what they need. And there’s no longer any need to send out blanket emails asking everyone to check bags and rooms for lost cables or battery chargers.”
Remote dashboard access is also very useful when the store is preparing to close:
“At the end of semester, I tend to open up the dashboard and watch as check-ins come in. It’s important to have items back in advance of the holidays. I can see when all items are back and that there’s no need to track any items down before we close.”
The School also makes use of the automated email facility:
“Connect2 has been huge in making sure students turn their equipment in on time. The automated email reminders have made a big difference. If someone has only 30 minutes to get an item back on time, it will remind them and then continue doing so at intervals until they return it. We have a strike system, that if a user is late by more than one day, or for a second time, they can be struck out. We haven’t had anyone yet quite reach this point which is great.
How students have benefited
“The positive feedback we’ve had from students has been overwhelming,” comments Mark. “It’s shown us that choosing Connect2 was definitely the right decision for us.
“The students are confidently selecting and reserving the right equipment for their assignments. They can look at the picture and click on the resource and see that’s it’s the right one for what they were doing in class. Even if they can’t remember the model number, the picture helps a lot. We’ve got 40 different types of microphone, so this is really useful!
“Students find it’s a similar experience to browsing and choosing items to put in your cart on Amazon. And they really like being able to make just one booking each time, putting several items in the cart before finalizing the reservation. It helps make sure they have everything they need when it’s done like that.”
Students can book studios and rooms for up to 3 hours at a time in Connect2 without staff intervention.
“The positive feedback we’ve had from students has been overwhelming. It’s shown us that choosing Connect2 was definitely the right decision for us."
Support for faculty
Faculty are able to use Connect2 to checkout items in the morning before the store opens for student checkouts at midday. Their role permissions have been set up in the system to enable them to do this. This way they can checkout items for their morning classes instead of needing to do it the day before.
“We provided some training to faculty to make sure they knew what to do. They didn’t require much though as the system is so easy to use. We showed them how to use the override button so they can book their checkouts for morning classes. It’s only faculty who have the necessary permissions in the system to do this to suit their schedules.”
Cost savings with improved inventory management
Lost items have reduced 80% since introducing Connect2. This has achieved amazing cost savings, a more efficient lending operation, less chasing up required, and improved availability of items to students. This has been supported through better student communication via Connect2 and improved accountability.
“With barcoding it means we can quickly issue a camera along with its kit of lens cover, tripod, tripod plate, charger, batteries and everything else that comes with it in the bag. It’s a very fast process. We have a great system that ensures everything is scanned and accounted for.”
Usage data in Connect2 helps expose if some items have disproportionate use. Sometimes the same one or two items are grabbed for checkout repeatedly, when other identical units are available. The ‘collections’ approach to inventory management in Connect2 highlights these patterns. It makes it incredibly easy to correct them with staff having full control over which item is checked out each time, making it possible to rotate stock to even out wear and tear across items. It avoids students needing to use the more worn, scuffed items every time and enjoy equipment in better condition.
Improvements introduced by Connect2 at Butler University
- Significant cost savings from 80% fewer lost items
- Better availability of equipment due to fewer late items
- Useful dashboard offers transparency of checkout activity and enables managers to work independently from the store
- Accuracy of managing a large portfolio of circulating assets via barcodes avoids human error, with the right items always being checked-in and out, and full accountability
- Workers quickly trained and up and running with Connect2
- Students confident choosing and using items for reservation, with lots of images and links to manuals
- Ability to book multiple items in a single reservation saves time and offers an efficient way of building kit lists
- Time savings with fewer late items to chase up
- Students can browse and book everything they are permitted to borrow – but nothing else! Saves staff time declining requests and explaining why some items have restricted access
- Faculty supported with greater flexibility on checkout times to suit classes
- Efficiencies gained from managing access permissions in Connect2; scarce and expensive items only accessible to those taking related courses
- Communications around equipment lending are targeted and so always relevant
- Analytical insights for better inventory management and purchase decisions, for example:
- Connect2 evidenced that older models of DSLRs were being avoided by students and under used. This led to decision to retire them and invest in newer, more popular models
- Connect2 showed that some individual cameras were being used much more than others. Workers were shown the data and trained to place returned items to the back, to even out wear and tear across a collection of identical items
The future with Connect2
Following such a strong first year with Connect2, Mark is planning to add more resources to the system. He is pleased with the ongoing communication and support from Lorensbergs and enjoys being part of the Connect2 Higher Ed community:
“It’s always interesting to see what other schools are doing. The tips on using Connect2 are very helpful and seeing what software releases are coming up. It’s good communication for us.”
With thanks to Mark Harris at Butler University for sharing his experiences using Connect2.