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True value of software and IT for cleaning sector27th of June 2013
Technology has become a daily part of all our lives. Gone are the days when we had to leaf through endless filing cabinets or library shelves in order to find any information we needed. We no longer have to consult maps or manually collate data, either, or even add up columns of figures with a pencil – a computer does it all.
But what is the true value of technology in the cleaning industry? Do high-tech software systems offer real efficiency advantages over manual methods, or is their key role to impress customers with their cutting-edge technology?
Ann Laffeaty asks software companies about the factors that convince customers to buy.
Cleaning is one of those professions that cannot be carried out virtually, and manual hard graft is often still required to sanitise floors, equipment and surfaces. But technology can certainly make the cleaner’s life easier. A growing number of companies are using technological aids to check on staff attendance, carry out site surveys, keep their accounts in check and ensure products are always in stock.
But how do clients perceive such systems - as an impressive marker of a cutting-edge company, or as an effective method of boosting productivity? Julius Rutherfoord is a cleaning company that is committed to using technology and constantly looking to adopt new systems to improve productivity, job reporting, auditing and benchmarking procedures.
The company’s employees sign in and out of each job via a short phone call to the company’s time and attendance system. “We have three ways to check who is making the call - voice identification software, caller ID to check where they’re calling from and a unique pin code they must enter,” said operations director James Bennett.
The company’s CRM system also enables it to instantly access any communication between staff and clients. “This includes summaries of conversations, all emails, client meeting forms, client satisfaction calls, consumables used on site and details of any sub-contractor we use,” said Bennett. “Over time this builds into a unique customer profile for every client which helps us to build stronger, more transparent working relationships.”
The company uses time and management software to allow it to schedule work, manage time and communicate directly with cleaning teams via mobile PDAs. “While on site our area managers and quality auditors use their PDAs to record a vast array of data about cleaning performance,” said Bennett. “With this information our head office can check whether we are accurately meeting the requirements set out in the cleaning specification and we can then benchmark against other contracts.“
According to Bennett the company’s software systems have helped to gain several new clients. “They provide organisations with the confidence that we can manage contracts effectively and efficiently,” he said.
The company takes client security seriously and uses passport and identity document scanning technology similar to that used at international airports. “We scan every passport and ID document to check its authenticity against an international database which holds details of passports and other forms of ID from over 200 countries,” said Bennett. “The scanner reads and instantly verifies the MRZ code and checks each document under both infra-red and ultra violet light, highlighting any irregularities.”
Julius Rutherfoord has also centralised its distribution depot and can remotely monitor stock levels. “By combining this with software to optimise fuel consumption in vehicles, we can replenish stock in good time and in the most transport-efficient way,” said Bennett.
“Our systems also enable us to respond to emergencies such as flooding within a client’s premises in the swiftest and greenest of ways. All our vehicles are tracked by GPS linked into our fleet software system. If there is an emergency that requires additional back-up at a site we can check online to see where our vehicles are and deploy the closest.”
In Depth Managed Services - a provider of workplace cleaning solutions and soft services - is also committed to technology investment. “All our systems have created savings on back-office overheads plus the cost of stationery and postage,” said operations manager Suzanne Richardson.
“Our strategy gives us a distinct advantage in terms of being at the forefront of cutting-edge technology within the industry. It also allows our area management team to spend more time on site with our cleaning teams and clients.”
The company’s local area managers and senior managers use mobile android technology combined with web-based systems to send, receive and capture information including photographic evidence and client signatures. Vehicles are tracked for remote worker safety and to ensure efficient scheduling of window cleaning teams.
“Quality audits by our area management teams are also completed using the PDA,” said Richardson. “The results are then transferred back to head office via our workwise web system and made available in real time for clients to view online via our client access system.”
The company has also developed a ‘lone worker’ and health and safety attendance solution to proactively manage its remote workers. Hand-held PDAs are used for sharing details of potential candidates in the web recruitment process and for recording details of site-specific training schemes. Invoicing is done electronically.
Managing director of developer Business Performance Geoff Jones finds industry purchasers often fail to appreciate the true value of technology - until they have tried it. “Some seem to feel there is little incentive in doing things a better way,” he said. “Clients are busy which means they don’t always notice if an environment is not as clean as it should be.”
“Our software’s value lies in offering FM service providers a tool that enables them to retain existing customers while attaining new business,” said Innovise’s ceo Graeme Hughes. “Careful listening enables us to evolve our products to ensure that our technology is relevant and user-specific.”
The true value of software in the industry is its sheer simplicity according to Feedback Data’s software technical sales consultant Hugh Mackie. “Customers like our system because it can save them a lot of money,” said Mackie. “It reassures them that staff are where they say they are and allows them to be proactive. If a client phones in to say they don’t have a sufficient number of cleaners on site, the customer can send extra people.”
So, are customers dazzled by such cutting-edge technology? According to Julius Rutherfoord’s James Bennett, the real value of software systems in cleaning lies in the fact that there is “always a better way to do things”.
“Technology alone does not clean floors, plan rotas or audit quality - but we ensure that it is in the hands of the people who do,” he said. “The technology we use improves productivity, job reporting and the service we offer to clients.”