Why apps make sense

29th of May 2019
Why apps make sense

More and more cleaning operations are being run on-site with the help of digital apps, which can offer a wide range of management information including quality auditing, daily reports, instant reporting and staff time & attendance. ECJ speaks to a developer of the technology, and a cleaning company seeing significant benefits from it.

Digitisation – the buzzword in the professional cleaning sector over recent years. We have seen the launch of robotic machines, online fleet management services, smart washroom dispensers – the list goes on. There is also a plethora of apps available, enabling cleaning businesses to organise their workforce better, gather data and improve the service to the client.

While they are widely acknowledged as being an invaluable tool in raising efficiency and transparency, the introduction of apps within a cleaning business does raise certain issues which must be addressed – privacy of the operative for example. Dirk Tuip heads up FacilityApps, a business specialising in developing apps for cleaning companies.

“Each European country has its own issues around privacy - the one affecting all of them is GDPR,” he explains. “In the Netherlands and Belgium for example, there is a law to say employers must know where their employees are and they must be able to prove where they are and when. This is partly in an attempt to tackle black market working. In Germany too there are strong laws and a focus on privacy of the individual.”

So how has legislation affected the development of his apps? “Firstly there must now be an expiry date on important and personal documents,” says Tuip. “This means employees can have the option to request that documents be deleted and not saved in the data.

“With regards to GPS functionality,” he continues, “ the employee must be made aware of when they are being tracked and they have the option to switch that function off. In my experience many people now accept they are being tracked as they go about their work, certainly at team leader level.”

Questions have been raised about the situation with data that has been generated by cleaning operatives while they are working. Speaking to ECJ in 2018 Eddy Stam, head of property services at UNI, the global trade union, asked: “If a cleaning company is gathering data on workers via their smartphone and they are being tracked, who owns that data? The cleaner could be using their own phone. The employer could have information on how fast that cleaner is moving around a building, which areas they are going to. What is the employer doing with that information, how long is it stored? Whose property is it?”

Stam was unsettled by the fact employers could be gathering data from various systems, which means they can effectively vet their workforce. “So what do they do with that data? Can they dismiss an employee on the back of it? What exactly do they store? Does it go to the extent of monitoring toilet visits, how long those visits are, etc?

“And what if the client on a cleaning contract wants to see that employee data? What then? Who owns it - worker, cleaning company or client?”

Tuip replies: “The cleaning company that buys the app owns the data contained within it. That data can certainly be used to discipline employees if necessary - which makes absolute sense for the employer because this is a real pain point for cleaning companies – knowing where staff are, and when they check in to work.”

This approach is absolutely justified when the cleaning company is seeking to improve its service to the client, he continues. “Not only that, when the cleaning company knows exactly what the cleaner is doing, the supervisor can maybe help them to be better and more efficient in their daily tasks.”

Tuip highlights the fact that as long as cleaners know their rights and agree to the times when they will be tracked and when they will not, then it comes within the requirements of their job. “And remember there is also a safety benefit to knowing where employees are.”

He concludes: “Contract cleaning businesses are not gathering data for any gain, or to sell it. They simply want to do a better job. In that respect the introduction of GDPR punishes many smaller companies for the behaviour of the tech giants, who are gathering data about us continuously.”

One company very much seeing the benefits of adopting digital technology is Cordant Cleaning. Its managing director Guy Pakenham describes the app that has been developed for his business as “absolutely fantastic”.

 “It’s all about management information, which is so important for us and for our clients – and has become increasingly so in recent years,” he explains. “We now live in a world of auditing. Safety, working time, right to work: there is so much legislation that we are now not just about cleaning. Our clients need as much information as possible as they have to be responsible for their sub-contractors.”

Based in the UK, Cordant specialises in transport cleaning and daily office cleaning. The business uses its app for a variety of different functions:

Auditing the quality of cleaning. That can be either bus/train or premises. The app can be used to take questions from the specification, it can take photos, upload files and the user can also put a signature on it. When submitted it goes to the portal or can be emailed. Via the dashboard all analytics are put into context and trend analysis is carried out.

Daily report. At the end of each shift the user goes into the app and it asks a series of questions. “We are always aiming to achieve a ‘green day’,” explains Pakenham, “that is, a situation where all questions are ticked green.” The client can also monitor what’s happening remotely.

Cleaning data. This manages what got cleaned, and when. “For example, buses may need periodic cleaning,” explains Pakenham, “so we can input when each vehicle had its last deep clean or annual clean. This helps us to achieve our KPIs.”

Instant reporting. This allows the operator to report incidents immediately and upload photos.
Time and attendance. This system employs NFC (near field communication) tags. “For basic cleans at remote sites we must prove our operative has been there, so it means cleaners logging in and then out. Clients expect this level of service.”

How have staff responded to the new app-based way of working? “We have had no resistance to the new technology because it gives them clarity and takes away paperwork,” replies Pakenham. The key users of the app are site-based managers and supervisors. Operatives sometimes use it for time and attendance, quality, what cleaned when etc. The clients also have access to it.

And the reaction from clients has been extremely positive. “They love the functionality,” adds Pakenham. “We deal with many people who live in a world of paper and it does take some convincing to persuade them to change sometimes. However the majority now do see the many benefits the app offers.”

For Cordant Cleaning as a business, app-based technology is offering very significant benefits. Firstly, it frees up management and supervision time. “So much time was previously spent on administration and now our managers are free to do their job,” says Pakenham. “We are also contractually obliged to provide this level of information by our clients and to do that with paper can be variable and it could leave us exposed.”

“Crucially, so much information and data is now available to us and that leads to improvement. We are no longer taking action based on our perception, but on facts and figures.”

Cordant carries out 10,000 audits per month. “But this is not just a sea of meaningless data,” Pakenham is keen to emphasise. “The app formulates it and delivers it in an easy-to-understand way.” Seventy per cent of the business is now using the technology.


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