iPad rollout brings new operational efficiencies to Ohio State marching band

Ryan Barta hated to see dead trees wasted as much as anyone, but it was the waste of time and effort that got the wheels spinning.

Barta, during the media blitz surrounding the iPad initiative.

For years, Barta watched between 6,000 and 9,000 sheets of paper go out to the 225 members of the Ohio State University Marching Band in the form of 30- to 40-page drill and music packets for each show. If band leadership opted for a different version of a song, it was back to the printer for a new batch.

“I kept thinking about all that time spent waiting and passing out paper,” said Barta, a senior who plays trumpet and majors in operations management and aviation management. “The bottleneck was right there in that printer.”

For an organization with a more than century-long legacy of innovation, Barta knew there had to be a better way – and they found it in Apple’s ubiquitous iPad.

This spring, Barta and fellow band member Charlie King set out to make it happen, working with Ohio State and gaining buy-in from band leadership and higher-ups at the School of Music. Along the way, they also received advice from Aravind Chandrasekaran, an assistant professor of the Fisher College of Business’ Management Sciences department, and Andrea Prud’homme, an assistant clinical professor who also advises the Buckeye Operations Management Society. At BOMS, which our Center for Operational Excellence supports annually, Barta serves as CFO.

One of the apps used with the marching band iPads helps squad leaders digitally manage the drill book. (Source: Video screenshot)

Fast-forward to the onset of Buckeye football season and all staff and directors and the band’s 33 squad leaders in the band are equipped with iPads, thanks to a $25,000 grant Barta and King worked to secure from Ohio State’s Office of Sustainability. These 45 iPads are helping drive new efficiencies in everything from drill and music instruction to inventory checks.

The new initiative has made more than just band leadership take notice. Barta and King have been profiled by Fisher, an ABC Columbus news affiliate, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Barta said the ultimate goal is to get an iPad in the hands of every band member, which would virtually erase the $24,000 in printing costs the band shoulders each year. That’s roughly $100 per band member.

The paper- and cost-saving benefits are only part of the equation, though. The iPad is being deployed as a tool throughout the marching band using a mix of existing technology and a little DIY ingenuity. Designated apps are used for cloud storage, marching drill, and music. Each squad leader also has the leeway to use the video and image capture capabilities of the iPad to watch for individual errors and correct issues along the way.

“It’s instant feedback,” Barta said.

Improvements are taking place off the field as well. Inventory checks, once a tedious process, are much easier thanks to the roaming tablets. And instrument check-out has gone from an hours-long, paper-herding process to a much more efficient and paperless one.

There’s additional hope for improvement with schedule changes such as rehearsal arrival times, which often can be difficult to communicate flawlessly to hundreds of band members. Barta is hoping that will change by coordinating the use of Google Calendar.

The iPad initiative’s potential for other improvements in the future is enormous, but already, the innovation is proof that even the “Best Damn Band in the Land” can find ways to get better.

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