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Software - the bottom line6th of May 2014
Do mobile technology solutions represent a major investment for contract cleaning companies – and if so, do these pay for themselves? Ann Laffeaty looks at the viability of software solutions and finds out which types of companies profit most by switching to high-tech solutions.
Cleaning is a relatively low-tech occupation and it could be argued that equipment such as water, detergent, a mop and a bucket are more essential to the average cleaner than a smartphone or a tablet.
But an increasing number of software companies are coming up with a range systems and solutions which they claim make life easier for the cleaner while also increasing the efficiency of the whole operation. But are such software solutions worth the investment – and can they potentially even pay for themselves?
Breeze Software has been providing work loading, quality assurance, supply inventory and customer feedback software to customers for 20 years. Ceo Karen Hill-Whitson admits that such solutions can represent a significant investment for cleaning companies.
“This is particularly the case if there are up-front costs involved rather than monthly fees,” she says. “Prices can range from €33,300 to €316,700 depending on how comprehensive the system is and what information you are looking to gain from the tool.
“Having said that, software solutions are often well worth the investment in the long run. The reports and information generated are invaluable in terms of being able to make ‘informed’ decisions since more often than not, making an uninformed decision can cost an organisation dear.”
She cites the company’s ‘what if’ tool that she claims can bring a return on investment in hard costs. “If you use this tool to swap one piece of equipment or process for another, it will allow you to save on labour costs by gaining in productivity,” she said.
“For example if you are currently using a 24-inch dust mop in areas that can easily accommodate a 36-inch mop - and you can determine in seconds using your software tool the productivity gains and the labour reduction costs you will achieve by changing this – then, why wouldn’t you?” she said.
“This rule can also be applied to processes. If you no longer have to dust mop before damp mopping because there is technology out there that allows you to skip this step and provides even better results, you can use your software tool to determine the labour savings in a matter of seconds. So it is all about being able to make timely, informed decisions.”
She says software can also provide other cost benefits that are more difficult to quantify. “For example, if you are performing quality assurance audits and are being proactive in determining your deficiencies and weaknesses, you may be resolving an issue before it has been spotted by a client,” said Hill-Whitson.
“There are also ‘soft costs’ associated with resolving a complaint – the time and effort it takes to respond; the time it takes for staff to rectify the complaint and the time for the supervisor to check the issue has been rectified. So the complaint will cost the organisation in terms of money and reputation, and you can avoid these costs by performing inspections on your mobile device in real time.
“And if you use the tool to ensure equitable work-loading - and if staff morale is up because workloads are distributed equitably – then employees will typically be more productive.”
Avista Time is a provider of next-generation application software designed to support service activities that are people-intensive, loosely structured and subject to frequent change. The software supports seven languages and can be used in areas such as resource management, time and attendance, quality assurance, key performance indicators, reporting and documentation.
According to the company’s ceo and founder Magnus Maurex the level of investment required by a company depends on whether the cleaners are expected to bring their own smartphones or other devices to work.
“BYOD – or ‘bring your own device’ - is a cheaper alternative for cleaning companies and many small to medium-size ones are starting to use this approach,” said Maurex. “This is one of the ways to bring down the initial investment.
“The cleaning company will of course provide its staff with software that runs on all major operating systems such as Android and Apple OS, but the responsibility for the device lies with
“Larger institutions in the industrial, transport and healthcare sectors usually invest in software and phones with the intention of a low total cost of ownership. However, a solid device management plan will be required with contracts that have a high service level agreement. And it is important that the learning curve should be relatively low. For this reason, large corporations tend to purchase the same phones for all their cleaners and then train staff to use them.”
He says that whether cleaners bring their own phones to work or whether these are bought by the company, the software will pay for itself in the long run.
“However, one of the most important factors for a fast pay-off is to ensure team managers actually follow up on their teams,” said Maurex. “It should be 100 per cent clear that all cleaners must actually adopt and understand the technology, and that they are helped out with any problems they may experience.
“Managers should also make it clear to staff the reasons for the implementation; for example to support external reporting needs from the client or to speed up time and attendance reporting.”
He says that software solutions pay for themselves not only in terms of valuable time being saved, but also because they can generate revenue. “When a cleaner discovers a new task that needs to be carried out on a site, he or she can notify their manager of the task via a smartphone photo,” he said. “The manager will receive the message in their mailbox in real time which may initiate another billable task.”
He says software can also greatly speed up the task of generating reports. “It can be time-consuming for a quality assurance manager to inspect rooms one by one and then later to enter their findings into Excel sheets and create fancy-looking charts,” he said. “With mobile technology they can enter the data directly into a tablet or smartphone and send the result directly to the client.”
According to Maurex, software solutions can help to improve efficiency for any size cleaning company. “We have clients with around five employees and others with 5,000-plus,” he said. “In fact smaller companies tend to adopt technology and a new way of managing their business faster than large firms.”
Avista uses NFC-tags, QR-codes and GPS to track emergencies, secure deliveries and transmit accurate instructions. Avista Time software runs primarily on Android and iOS, and this year it will be expanded to allow its software to supported by all kind of tablets, PCs and smart phones.
Pancomp offers its own time and attendance solution and sales director Jan Mäkelä says that this, too, pays for itself in the long run. “The payback could be even 10 times the investment,” he said. “This depends entirely on the company and its determination in implementing the system. We have a return on investment calculator on our website where companies can calculate the potential savings they can achieve annually by using our time and attendance management system. Timescales will depend on how the system is adopted but investment can be recouped quite quickly - usually within a year.”
The Pancomp Clean Smart phone application provides a two-way communication platform between the cleaner and supervisor. It enables the cleaner to receive work instructions from their supervisor and also to clock in and out and report work breaks and extra tasks. The cleaner can also alert their supervisor to any changes in the cleaning plan using both text and images.
According to Mäkelä, Pancomp Clean adds value in several ways. “The fact that it improves transparency in the cleaning process enhances efficiency and allows the cleaning company to serve the client in a trustworthy and reliable way,” he said. “Another huge advantage is the fact the tool enables the company to follow up on customer profitability on a daily basis.”
Pancomp also offers the Pancomp Clean Customer Satisfaction Survey that allows the cleaning company to follow up in real time on any service issues.
“Pancomp solutions reduce the need for management to go physically to sites to check that their cleaners are there due to automatic alarms and remote access to the management system,” he said. “These help cleaning companies to improve the total quality of their operations, both internal and external, thus enabling them to keep their clients. New clients can be acquired through the benefits of transparency of services provided; the ability to charge clients only for work actually completed and the ability to react to problems before customer gets a chance to complain.”
And he says the company’s software solutions are viable for any size company from five to 10,000 employees. “If a company finds it important to improve efficiency, keep its current customer base and gain new customers in a profitable way, then this type of solution is the right answer,” said Mäkelä. “The only requirement is the determination to get a real grasp on the service operations and be sure to run them profitably.”
Meanwhile, cleaning and hygiene product manufacturers are also coming up with new technology tools of their own in a bid to increase efficiency and reduce costs for their customers. Tork manufacturer SCA, for example, is currently finalising a software-based service. “While we cannot yet go into specific details, the tool will have the potential to evolve operations within the FSC industry,” said European product management director Åsa Kalentun. “The web tool will give FM managers useful data that supports their daily managerial tasks such as creating efficient cleaning and improving quality.
“Cleaning is primarily about people, not about tools - but new software can improve how the industry manages and supports its cleaners. The FSC industry is currently facing a paradox - to simultaneously increase quality and decrease costs. That puts pressure on already skilled FSC players to become even more professional and evolve their operations.”