Paper Vs Digital Work Order Systems

Title image for paper vs digital work order systems

If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.

We’ve all heard that line at some point. And, as park maintenance professionals, we know it’s not always great advice. 

For example, you won’t skip changing the oil in your mowers and take action after the engine fails. 

But when it comes to process changes, that’s a phrase you’ll tend to hear. 

We’re doing fine with paper. Why bother with digital work orders? 

Every agency is different. Their personnel, how they do things, and the data needed are more than one-size-fits-all.

Let’s take a closer look at paper and digital work orders. Then we’ll go over the pros and cons of each. Then you can better understand which work order system best suits your agency’s needs.


Paper Work Orders

Most agencies started with paper work order systems. The process is usually pretty simple. Someone notes an issue in the park or facility. They fill out a work request and drop it in the appropriate mailbox. The maintenance manager reviews the request. The manager creates and assigns a work order to his staff. 

Then the work gets completed. The individual who took care of the issue records any additional documentation on the work order. It goes into another mailbox for review and to get filed.

It’s a pretty good system as long as the paperwork gets transferred efficiently. 

Let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of paper work orders. 


Pros of Paper Work Orders

Little to No Upfront Costs: If the office supplies and personnel cost is already part of the operating budget, then no more expenses are involved with this type of work order. 

It’s Familiar: If your agency has been using paper work orders since the beginning, everybody is familiar with the process. The staff knows where to send work requests. The maintenance team can find the orders assigned to them. 

Easier for Those with Little Tech Experience: There are probably one or two people on the team that aren’t much into high-tech gadgets. They may prefer the pen-and-paper method over reporting on a screen. 

Can be Completed Anywhere: A small stack of work orders in the glove compartment of each pickup and at the front desks of facilities ensures the work orders are around when needed.

Less Training Involved: Effective work orders are clear and easy to understand. If you’re following the work order best practices, the process should be self-explanatory.


Cons for Paper Work Orders

Inefficient: With paper work orders, a lot of time is spent searching for and filing the documents--even when the system put in place is relatively effective. 

Takes Longer to Communicate: All that passing around the paper takes time. And in that time, a minor problem can become a bigger issue.

Can Get Lost: Anybody that has spent time looking for a misplaced or misfiled work order knows what a disruption it could be. Paperwork seems to disappear at the worst times.

Lack of Real-Time Updates: The closest thing you'll get to real-time updates is looking over the shoulder of someone writing a paper work order.

More Storage Space: Years of work orders add up. More space is needed to file them.

Slower Response Times: The work order system relies on everyone being where they are supposed to be to see those work orders. A lot happens in the typical day of a parks and recreation professional--sometimes paperwork gets overlooked.

image of a file cabinet with lots of papers on top a reason to go digital with work orders

Electronic Work Orders

Pros of Electronic Work Order Systems

Less Paper, Less Waste: One of the most obvious advantages of an electronic work order system is reducing paper waste. It’s good for the environment and your budget.

Better Efficiency: Digital work orders live in a central dashboard. Those with the appropriate clearances can access this dashboard. Instead of pushing papers throughout the agency, a work request could immediately be kicked to the maintenance supervisor. The supervisor approves the request and assigns a work order. It all could happen in a matter of minutes--or less.  

Real-Time Notifications: You don’t have to wait for papers delivered to your desk. Get the information you need when you need it with an electronic dashboard that updates immediately. Spend less time sending emails or doing follow-up calls. 

More Convenient Data Processing: Electronic work order systems collect and store the data you need throughout the entire process. Some work order systems allow you to create instant reports to gain a better understanding of labor costs, assets, and other information. 

Easier Storage: Say goodbye to all those file cabinets. Many electric work order systems are stored in a secure cloud. Only those with the proper credentials can access the information. Safeguards are put in place to ensure the data remains secure, safe, and accessible when needed. 

Improved Communication: Everyone communicates on the same platform, so you don’t have to worry about checking your phone messages, emails, desk inbox, and random post-it notes on your computer monitor. Necessary parties get alerted when work is needed or assigned. 


Cons of Electronic Work Order Systems

Higher Upfront Costs: A digital work order system can cost more--especially if your team needs tablets or mobile devices. Most work order software also is a subscription-based service billed to the department annually. 

Learning Curve: Software is becoming more advanced and easier to use than ever. That being said, fitting the software into your processes may require creative thinking. Staff may need some practice before they feel comfortable using the software.

Requires Team to be All-In: Some are still being dragged into the digital age kicking and screaming. As user-friendly as maintenance management software can be, for some, it may be more challenging to use than a pen and paper.  

And then there’s the ain’t broke people. Some people don’t like change--especially if they’ve been doing things a certain way for years. Switching over to a new system can be seen as a threat to their everyday routines

May Impact How Your Team Works: Ultimately, you want an electronic work order system that’s going to work around how you do things--not vice versa. Some agencies implement software that is not specifically geared toward their industry or is more complicated than the agency needs. Without help implementing some types of software, it may create more work for your team. 


The Takeaway

Our profession is reaching a tipping point where electronic work orders and maintenance management is becoming more the norm than the exception. 

Still, some maintenance teams may cling tight to their old work order system. In some cases, paper work orders may be the best option. Most agencies, however, want to move past the inefficiencies of traditional work orders and discover how keeping digital maintenance records can benefit everyone in the agency.

Initially, there may be some resistence to going digital. But sometimes, it’s worth fixing something--even if it is not broken.