The digital world - is the cleaning sector ready?

11th of July 2017
The digital world - is the cleaning sector ready?

A whole world of digital solutions is opening up to the cleaning industry…. but does the industry actually want it? Ann Laffeaty finds out whether customers are embracing the new technological age - or doing their best to resist it.

Digital solutions have become a big part of our everyday life. We are now using the web for everything from information-gathering and diagnostics to map-reading and online shopping.
So it is a natural progression for professional companies to offer digital-based solutions as well. In the cleaning sector this can mean anything from time and attendance software and remote machine monitoring to connected washroom dispensers and smart invoice management.

But how are these solutions being received by customers and end-users? Do cleaning companies actually want to be brought bang up to date with the latest technology, or would they rather continue as they always have? And how are solutions providers persuading their customers to try out new ways of working?

Today’s businesses are increasingly acknowledging the benefits that technology can provide according to Diversey’s European marketing communications associate Liesbeth van Aalten.
“They are looking for improved insights to help them make better decisions,” she said. “Using technology is part of this trend and we receive a great deal of positive feedback from customers who are adopting technology-driven solutions.”

Diversey offers connected technology that enables customers to remotely monitor equipment, machines and operations through sensor-generated data. “This provides insights into operations, dosing, compliance and machine performance,” said van Aalten.

She claims technological change is happening across most industries – and happening fast. “The next generation is growing up with a different mindset towards technology,” she said. “They have different expectations as to how people should be equipped to carry out their jobs.

“We also see a direct relationship between the way individuals use technology in their personal lives and how they approach it in their working lives. Applying new technology at work is just part of
the evolution.”

According to van Aalten, being in line with digital trends can help businesses to attract the next generation of employees into the industry. “Change is inevitable and everyone needs to open themselves up to it - or risk being left behind,” she said.

However she adds that change management and effective training are crucial when it comes to successfully incorporating new working practices. “There will always be those hesitant customers who wait for mainstream adoption before making a change,” she said. “Every company needs to find its own comfort level and take decisions that make business sense for them. But many customers are already adopting new technology while others are looking towards implementing technology-based solutions.”

Easy-to-use portals, minimal training requirements and a high level of customer support will help to smooth the way for digital solutions according to CWS-Boco’s team lead product manager Silke Zügel. The company’s SmartMate system records washroom dispenser fill levels, visitor traffic, reaction time and service requirements. Cleaners are informed via email or a push notifications when a dispenser needs refilling or when extra cleaning may be required.

“Our customers are actively demanding this type of system and the changeover to digital solutions is being welcomed with open arms,” says Zügel. “Customers are aware of the immense support these types of systems can offer with regard to day-to-day facility management. They allow operators to deploy cleaning staff more efficiently while the simplicity of our solutions means employees require hardly any training – this allows us to address any reservations companies may have about introducing new work practices.”

The fact that digitalisation is already a familiar concept in most people’s personal lives makes it easier for customers to switch over to smarter workplace solutions, she says. “The majority of the population now uses a smartphone and the technological skills required to use a phone can easily be transferred.”

Streamline business

According to Zügel, the best environment for convincing customers about the benefits of digital solutions is at a trade fair or via an on-site test. “Here we can demonstrate how the system works and clients can see for themselves how quickly they can become accustomed to the benefits,” she said.

Contract cleaning company Julius Rutherfoord has streamlined its business with the aid of various digital solutions. These include biometric time and attendance monitoring, vehicle tracking software and electronic passport scanning to ensure all employees are legal. The company also uses a tablet-based app to manage sites, carry out training and conduct safety audits.

Customers are rarely nervous about adopting new practices provided the company can demonstrate clear benefits according to operations director Chris Parkes. “In fact we have been able to increase client confidence in our service levels through improved transparency, feedback and real-time access to data,” he said.

“We highlight our approach to technological change in all our contract bids, and we believe our passion for constant improvement through innovation has been a key reason behind some of our key contract wins.”

While many of today’s customers recognise the opportunities that digital tools can offer, some are still nervous about buying the wrong technology according to SmartTask ceo Paul Ridden.

“They are generally seeking a supplier that can help to remove the complexity associated with setting up technology and adopting new working practices,” he said. “They want the process to be made simple and hassle-free while also ensuring a return on their investment.”

Technical awareness

He describes the typical cleaning industry customer as someone who is particularly knowledgeable about their own sector but who also has a degree of technical awareness.

“At SmartTask we work with cleaning companies to help them choose the right option and create an affordable high-value solution,” said Ridden.

Designed for both static and mobile teams, SmartTask incorporates intelligent rostering, live monitoring, electronic forms, integrated proof of attendance and KPI reporting. It is both intuitive and easy-to-use according to Ridden.

“The training of cleaning operatives is so simple that it can be achieved as part of the induction process,” he says. However he adds most SmartTask customers are up to speed with hew technology and are willing to embrace it in their working lives. “Companies that lag behind and are reluctant to embrace the latest working practices will find it more difficult to compete as more forward-thinking organisations reap the benefits of technology,” he said.

Another company claiming its customers to be fairly tech-savvy is StaffCheck. This digital firm offers a workforce management solution that allows staff to log in to their workplace via a mobile app.

“Most of our clients see the benefits of the system very quickly,” said support and implementations manager Malene Salbol. “They understand how it will cut down on administration and provide a better overview of the workforce to ensure improved client retention.

“I think most people are excited by the technological revolution as they see how it can relieve some of their workload and enable them to focus their energy on other business matters.”

StaffCheck clients are very receptive to new practices, according to Salbol. “The only reservations to be voiced so far are from staff members who are not as technically aware as others and either don’t own a smartphone or are worried about mobile usage,” she said. “But in general our customers are increasingly moving towards a higher degree of mobile and tablet use.”

Online learning

Jangro offers an e-learning platform that has been well received by staff according to operations director Joanne Gilliard. More than 1,800 cleaners have received certificates for completed courses and more than 800 others are in the pipeline.

“Cleaners are embracing this new way of training since it takes no time away from the working day,” she said. The company offers a range of Learning Management Solution modules including health and safety, kitchen hygiene control, washroom cleaning, carpet care and floor care.

“Since the LMS can be accessed on smartphones and computers, the majority of cleaners already have the hardware they need to log on to our digital training platform,” said Gilliard. “There is a misconception that our industry is behind the times when it comes to innovation.  But when the digital solution in question fits the needs of the market you find that uptake quickly soars.”

European marketing manager of Tork Solutions Anna Königson Koopmans also believes the market to be increasingly open to new ideas and systems. “More and more companies are entering the digital cleaning arena,” she said. “However there are still very few players who have moved beyond the development phase and can show real-life examples of customers using their solutions.”

The company’s Tork EasyCube system uses digital facility management software to keep cleaners informed about washroom needs via their connected devices. The system is said to require only a minimal amount of training and according to Königson Koopmans, most Tork clients are technically astute and interested in digital solutions in any case. “In our experience it is the forward-thinking companies with a clear idea of what they want to achieve who are prepared to implement new ways of working,” she said.

Behaviour changes

However she admits changing people’s behaviour can be a challenge. “Creating a new industry takes time,” she said. “But as an increasing number of players enter the market and as digitalisation continues to drive development, we will find the speed of change will pick up more quickly.”

Increasing competition and the high cost of labour will help to drive the change, says Königson Koopmans. “These factors will persuade many companies to consider new ways of working since it is the big step changes that will provide the largest leaps in terms of efficiency and quality improvement,” she said.

The company’s strategy for convincing customers is simple: go for those businesses that will gain most from the technology. “In our case it is the larger, more widespread facilities such as theme parks and leisure facilities that will reap the most rewards from data-driven cleaning,” she said.

“These facilities tend to experience unpredictable visitor flows while also having a clear ambition to ensure that customer satisfaction and cleaning standards remain high.”

And she agrees with other companies that digital solutions are the future. “Many industries are going through radical change due to digitalisation – just look at the camera film and video rental markets for examples,” she said. “Digital solutions are all around us and are changing our ways of working, and our way of life.”


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