Innovation with purpose

1st of August 2022
Innovation with purpose

Colin Shute, group managing director at SBFM discusses why organisations must avoid getting drawn into the industry’s game of ‘technology top trumps’ and instead focus on driving innovation with purpose.

The ever-burgeoning European cleaning market remains extremely competitive; and FMs and commercial cleaning companies alike are under continuous pressure to stay relevant as client and market expectations evolve. So as businesses seek to provide an enhanced service delivery, innovation has taken centre stage.

As digitalisation has evolved and technology has grown more advanced, the drive for the adoption of the latest cleaning innovations has only intensified. Particularly as organisations adapt
in order to transform their businesses and remain ahead in a market populated with competitors.

The almost obsessive interest in this topic is unsurprising, given the ever-changing, never-ending list of transformative technologies available - which today include everything from fully functional autonomous cleaning robots, data analytics, drone technologies, virtual reality and Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices.

Certainly, cutting edge technology platforms have the capabilities to deliver considerable improvements in terms of greater efficiency, enhanced service delivery, reduced environmental impact and much more, but the industry needs to have a fundamental rethink of its tech adoption strategy if it is to deliver those benefits to clients.

By investing in technologies that are not fully mature, organisations continue to face the same common pitfalls. Many businesses adopt a mindset that innovation must be revolutionary and push the boundaries of anything ever seen before. By doing so they often blindly invest in new systems to the detriment of the purpose and value, particularly when it comes to their clients.

While technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics may grab media column inches, it is little more than fanfare, and modern innovation of this nature usually comes much sooner than when it is practical for cleaning and facilities teams to actually use in practice. The result is innovation which, on paper, will deliver considerable advantages, yet in real-world applications does little but to become a gimmick that gains short-term attention in the eyes of industry peers and the clients.

The route to all effective innovation is understanding its applications, the value it can bring, and most crucially the industry or customer pain points it can resolve. Professional cleaning companies often find it difficult to grapple with the idea that not all technology can generate positive change, particularly when it comes to driving efficiencies and improvements.

More often than not the greatest challenge is not in adopting the technology itself, but understanding what innovation they should be investing in, and which they should avoid. Any investment must bring change for the better, be that driving efficiencies, bringing benefits to clients, solving existing problems, or improving the overall service provision. Innovation for its own sake is not helpful.

Solving the staff conundrum

In many cases product improvements are declared as innovative, while real innovation often only takes place in niche segments and scenarios. For an industry continuously confronted with a drop in gross margins due to client pressure, demand for a linear organisation to cut overheads, rising skills gaps, workforce availability and productivity, and an ever-changing landscape of built environments, technology indeed has the solution for most of these issues.

For instance, one of the greatest challenges that can make or break a commercial cleaning contract is the ability to deliver an uninterrupted service and achieve full attendance on site.

No matter how great the tech offering is, equipping operatives with the latest cleaning solutions will do little to resolve this. In its place, leveraging of existing staff support solutions, when supported with tried and tested processes for contingent support and good management, can support in resolving the problems and create long-term service continuity.

Software that facilitates the recording of when colleagues log on and log off, and the exact hours worked is widely used in commercial cleaning and FM. The true innovative element is the way it is applied to commercial cleaning contracts and the resilience it delivers.

The implementation of tech-driven solutions, leveraging existing workplace support solutions – to source and identify contingent support from a predefined group of colleagues who are available for work, trained, and site-inducted – helps manage unplanned absences and source reliable cover quickly.

Every company believes it is customer centric, but a deeper dive into the approach to technological adoption reveals a product- and service-centric first approach, with a focus on how to enhance its own offering rather than putting itself in its customers’ shoes. The true innovators are those that understand evolving client needs, as well as the problems and pain points they are seeking to address.

Clients are increasing challenging providers to do more with less, meaning a renewed focus on improving productivity and efficiency in order to find ways to deliver without increasing service turnaround times and contracted hours.

For highly labour-intensive tasks such as floor cleaning – particularly in large scale environments – autonomous floor scrubber technology is just one example of effective client driven innovation. This technology has developed over time based on needs expressed by the market and environments in which it is deployed.

The gradual adoption of this innovation has also been heavily influenced by persistent technology development, skilled labour crises, and scaling productivity expectations regarding daily cleaning tasks.

It is no great surprise then that innovation in the technology and design of industrial floor scrubbers with advanced features has brought numerous benefits, many of which are now being realised by organisations across a breadth of sectors.

Machines not only clean faster and more efficiently but can also lower labour costs for commercial cleaning companies and their clients alike. Such an increase in the deployment of floor scrubber technology is just one example of innovating with purpose. That is to say, whatever theoretical advantages are secured by considering the widespread deployment of innovation in a commercial cleaning contract can only be reaped by consideration of the wider market needs, as well as the larger set of outcomes that have been delivered through low-risk trials under controlled conditions in the real world.

While anticipating future disruptive technologies is important for the successful deployment and implementation of innovation, an effective strategy is highly dependent on understanding. Whether that is understanding what is available now, what benefits they will bring to clients, the problems they may solve, or how they will improve the service.

Only when this is achieved can organisations begin to define an adoption process for embedding technologies into working environments. Progressive adoption - through a trial conducted under strictly controlled conditions with dedicated project teams, to eliminate risk to clients - is often much more effective than a widespread implementation of technology across multiple sites nationwide.

It is only through such a considered selection of the right technology, and gradual roll-out, that businesses can drive innovation and higher standards, as well as achieving greater efficiencies.
The truth is most clients want innovation, but few wish to be first to try completely new ideas. The focus then, should be on delivering innovation without risk, introducing tried and tested methods to new contracts and underpinning them with support.


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