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A group of U graduate students created a capstone project that is also an invaluable resource for the staff at University Student Apartments.

By Amy Mciff, University of Utah Auxiliary Business Development

In a community with 1,100 apartments, each with corresponding mailboxes and laundry facilities, combined with numerous offices and common-use buildings, there are a lot of keys circulating around University Student Apartments.

Imagine the massive and labor-intensive task of re-keying 500 to 600 locks each year to accommodate resident turnover, while also tracking the code configuration that each key has and when that code was last used and for what. And finally, imagine doing all of this on a paper-based system—a never-ending and complex task, to be sure.

Jim Innes, an IT employee of Auxiliary Services, of which University Student Apartments is a part, saw an opportunity to accomplish two things at once when asked to help find a solution to the keying process: Help University Student Apartments save a lot of time and money while also producing a meaningful capstone project to complete his Master of Science in Information Systems. Joined by a group of fellow students, Innes did just that by developing a custom key tracking system that is now an invaluable resource for the staff at University Student Apartments.

Hundreds of hours, 12,000 lines of code and almost two semesters later, the group developed KeyTrack, a system that contains 4,300 core diagrams of key codes, their history of use and a log of who possesses each and every key in the University Student Apartments community. One by one, each piece of data was imported into KeyTrack, taken from the scores of binders that until now, were the only method of organizing the keying system.

The primary function of KeyTrack is to store these key diagrams but the system also brings together information on what apartments have used the configuration, the employee who performed the rekeying, if the key has been dispatched to a contractor and when it is due back and a roster of each employee and their associated key collection.

“It’s an awesome program that helps us organize and keep our key system secure,” said Jenn Reed, director of University Student Apartments. “The neat thing is, we were able to assist one of our own staff members in completing his degree while he in turn helped us and made a meaningful contribution to his work.”

Innes credits University Student Apartments with the idea, or at least presenting the need for it and challenging him and his colleague, Jesse Booth, to find a solution. Together, the two act as the administrators of the program and have already reached their seventh iteration, adding new features and enhancing the ones already in place. A system such as KeyTrack would normally cost University Student Apartments $5,000 to $9,000, so the effort was a substantial win for both sides, as well as the university at large and the thousands of students who will be benefitted by University Student Apartments.

“This is a long-term solution to an age-old maintenance problem, solved by creative and tech-savvy students,” said Gordon Wilson, associate vice president for Auxiliary Services. “It’s a great story of a student project benefitting a department on campus, especially one that does so much to help students.”

Now in its third month of implementation, KeyTrack has been a great success and the employees of University Student Apartments couldn’t be happier or more grateful. As for Innes and his group, they made the grade and, not surprisingly, got an ‘A’ on the project.

“It’s really cool to work on a project that has real meaning to the person you’re working for,” Innes said. “And, you also get to take care of it and see it in use instead of just letting it die once the class is over. This will endure and help people, and that’s really satisfying to know.”