In the last five years to 10 years, the cleaning industry has undergone more dramatic change in the areas of technology and new products than in the past 50 years. The green movement has grown dramatically, and the progression in technology has led to better training and more competition.All of this makes it more imperative than ever for building service contractors to stay ahead of the game in order to survive in today's tough economic times.
"If you don't have the best gadgets in the industry, it is truly difficult to compete with the big boys and girls," says Jill Frey, president of Cummins Facility Services in Prospect, Ohio. "It is also standard to be environmentally friendly, so you really don't have a choice."
Frey adds that the mom and pop companies and the "do it yourselfers" with the vacuums and the mop buckets in the pickup trucks have been replaced by huge janitorial companies that are technologically advanced in every area possible.
"I came from the ma and pa, so I am trying to implement the best qualities of the small and large company. I am so proud of all the changes that have occurred and I know there will be many more—mostly for the good."
But, with everything now automated, has the cleaning industry become too sterile? Has the personal touch gone by the wayside?
"I think the next five years will be a test of combining the technology," says Frey. "But the companies with a service-oriented atmosphere will be the most successful. I believe it will be important to stay connected to the customer, but bring the most advanced technology we can to the table."
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that technology is constantly changing at a rapid pace. The last half decade has resulted in a great deal of progress, particularly in the area of connectivity with the Internet and its mobility that is allowing software and hardware providers to offer technology solutions to virtually everyone, anywhere.
"These are exciting changes for the BSC industry because the workforce is largely mobile and dispersed," says Jill Davie, vice president of marketing and sales with TEAM Financial Management System in Omaha, Nebr. "As we continue to see more connectivity with devices such as netbooks, tablet PCs and other mobile devices, we are better able to deliver information quickly to those who need it in order to make wise business decisions."
Davie says the latest trend in software programs for the cleaning industry involves new end users, namely field-based employees and customers of BSCs. TEAM's eHub program is an example of this.
"eHub is a customized website that allows field-based employees, including supervisors, to log in from anywhere with an Internet connection. From this site, they can view and print pay stubs, review and approve timekeeping information, view benefit information and view and complete work tickets. Customers of BSCs can also log into a website to view invoices, view scheduled work and request work online."
eHub also includes intelligent workflow, which routes those requests to the right people based on the originator and also has timing tolerances so that if a request is not handled within a certain amount of time, it is escalated to another person or group of people.
Davie says a major advantage that TEAM offers to the cleaning industry is software programs integration.
"We offer a solution for every business challenge facing BSCs, from bidding to labor and operations management, time and attendance, accounting modules, budgets and job costing. All of these programs "talk" to each other so that BSCs aren't hassled with duplicate data entry into multiple systems. They also have the convenience of dealing with one software vendor for all of their needs who has been serving the building service contracting industry for over 20 years."
Michael Diamond, of PMI Clean in Milford, Conn., says one of his companies switched to TEAM due to its efficiency.
"We liked the remote accessibility, web access in their ASP-hosted service. We are finding many aspects of the software helpful, such as using the purchase order system that is built in. This tracks purchases—allows with help from our supplier—for us to upload supply bills and process them, as long as they match the original p.o. issued. My other firm uses MITC, and this has been very functional for us. We like both firms, as they have each met our needs."
Cummins' Frey also expresses high enthusiasm for how quickly software has progressed.
"We can do national background checks, track the vans and people with GPS, watch our employees clock in on the computer system and know when they leave," she says. "We almost have cameras on the brooms. It has given us the ability to trim labor expenses and make sure the quality is where it needs to be. I found out about all of the software technology through other companies utilizing it and trade shows. It is almost a given that you are able to track your employees and the work-loading data, have audits with your smart phones and e-mail them to the client and employee so the turn around time for a complaint is hours. Perfection is the next level."
Adds Donna Hopkins, of Expresstime in Petal, Miss: "The industry is leaning more towards using technology and software programs rather than paper copies of everything since the mobile web has come unto its own. Timekeeping, scheduling and the inspection process are now available in the palm of your hand with the products offered today."
As BSCs, she says her company understands the market and the challenges facing operations personnel.
"With our footprint in the BSC industry, it allows us to utilize the products and implement them in our business before releasing them as a product, so the products are tried and true by the time you purchase them."
And thanks to advancements in technology, trimming expenses and maximizing margins, accountability to the client has never been easier. "The mobile web has allowed owners/managers to use mobile phones, netbooks, tablets and iPads to complete work on-site, instead of compiling the paperwork once you are back in the office."
Michael Fabian, manager of CompuClean and Business Technology for Spartan Chemical Company in Maumee, Ohio, says the focus in jansan software is definitely on mobility and that "using mobile devices to perform inspections, manage equipment repairs and perform employee training is a huge time saver and allows managers to spend less time focusing on creating reports and more time interacting with employees."
Spartan is offering its CompuClean v10 custodial software, which provides numerous advantages for BSCs. For instance, the program is flexible to meet the requirements of any cleaning environment including health care, education, commercial office and more.
"CompuClean is user-hosted and maintained, allowing you full access to your data and the flexibility to deploy the program to one or all of your locations with no additional cost," Fabian explains. "And, it utilizes Microsoft SQL Server and ASP.NET technology for high performance and enterprise level scalability."
Additionally, its feature set includes work loading, project tracking, quality assurance, capital equipment management, inventory control and personnel event tracking all in one integrated system. In January, CompuClean will offer mobile inspection capabilities with virtually any mobile device with a web browser, including iPhone, iPad, Android OS and Windows Phone 7.
CompuClean is available exclusively to Spartan customers as a part of the company's value-added service package and is provided for a nominal license fee and a commitment to purchase Spartan products. Training options, upgrades, unlimited user licenses and support are provided at no cost.
"There has certainly been a world of change in software over the last five years," adds Fabian. "The market is moving steadily toward online and browser-based solutions. The ability to be constantly connected to your accounts and managers is critical."
And let's not forget social media, which Cummins' Frey says may just be the next big thing for the cleaning industry.
"I was recently invited to a seminar on social media. I think this is going to have a very powerful impact on our industry and I am not sure if we are ready for it. I know I was blown away with all the information I was given."
When it comes to equipment, green is a growing trend, with more BSCs preferring equipment that is environmentally friendly in its operation, due to the potential to reduce both impact to the environment and associated costs.
Diamond says that in the past five years, his company has moved to many ergonomic and sustainable products and pieces of equipment.
"Anything that uses less resources and can help with higher productivity is of interest to us. We are using many things today that we did not five years ago. Some examples include microfiber mops and wipes, more backpack vacuums, low-moisture equipment, more battery-powered equipment, mopping systems that use less water, more efficient PDA's, and tandem dollies to name a few."
Terrell Weg, who is in business development for Management Northwest Services in Ferndale, Wash., concurs.
"Cleaning equipment is constantly evolving. That's what makes the cleaning industry so great. There is always something new and upcoming to check out. The biggest difference from five years ago is the focus on green. For instance, we're using HEPA filters on vacuums and using microfiber from dusting, to disinfecting, to a microfiber mop system. I'm sure some of these products were around five years ago, but it wasn't talked about as much, and it was far more expensive. You can now purchase a green label endorsed vacuum for less than $250. Five years ago, it cost upwards of $500."
Weg adds that at Management Northwest Services, they are also using a no-touch cleaning system, such as the Kaivac or Compass, which only makes sense, she says, in certain applications, such as large restroom areas or where there are drains available. "The great thing about the no-touch system is that it completely removes the contaminants from a given area."
The company has also begun purchasing microscrubbers for smaller areas, which she says has been extremely efficient and provides a much more sanitary environment then the old method of using a mop and bucket.
"The larger equipment only makes sense if you are providing services to a building that has enough square footage that the return on investment is within six months or less," Weg explains. "In regards to floor care, the mop and bucket are outdated. Most of the time the buckets aren't emptied and refilled during the application; therefore, you're spreading dirty water (and germs) around."
And she adds, if it's taking more than an hour to mop a given area with a microfiber mop, then it's time to look into microscrubbers, "which create efficiencies and provide your client's property with a healthier environment. With microscrubbers, you are using only fresh water and chemicals which results in a far more thorough cleaning."
For some companies, renting as opposed to buying equipment might be the right choice. Amanda Kirlin, marketing program specialist for Sunbelt Rentals Inc., which is located in Fort Mill, S.C., says cleaning companies benefit in renting because it releases them from the burden of owning equipment for which they may have limited use.
"Additionally, it allows them project flexibility," she says. "They can rent the right equipment for the job at hand and even demo the latest equipment. When renting equipment from us rather than buying, they also benefit from our comprehensive performance guarantee, which provides for 24/7 response for service calls."
Sunbelt offers a wide range of green rental equipment that includes soda blasters, which use sodium bicarbonate (in place of steel or sand blast) for applications such as cleaning, paint removal and degreasing. The soda water is water soluble, nontoxic, nonsparkling and nonhazardous. There are also dry ice blasters that use dry ice pellets that evaporate during the cleaning process, thus eliminating the additional waste that typically results from cleaning methods that use solvents or sand.
Additional, Sunbelt offers dual-fuel manlifts that are powered by both gasoline and propane. "The U.S. EPA estimates that propane vehicles produce 30 percent to 90 percent less carbon monoxide and 50 percent fewer toxins and other smog-producing emissions," says Kirlin. "We also have airless paint sprayers that provide a thick, uniform coating and superior adhesion, using minimal thinners. These sprayers provide better penetration than air-based systems, resulting in the usage of less solvent and quicker drying times."
With green products here to stay, their popularity will just continue to grow as more BSCs realize that they are not more costly and can do the job of a nongreen product just as effectively and without the harmful effects to human health and the environment.
"I also think the biorenewable products that are being produced with sustainable ingredients are growing enormously," says Frank Trevisani, manager of building services with Spartan Chemical Company. "Instead of cleaning with harsh chemicals with high pH or low pH, we are producing products that clean as well as traditional products, but with a green/sustainable and neutral pH makeup."
The advantages of cleaning with products that are not harmful to the environment cannot be stated enough. Trevisani says that with Spartan's new mission to clean for health and be a good steward of our finite resources, cleaning with safe products, utilizing renewable resources, providing a healthy environment all now come under the sustainability umbrella.
"The advantages are far reaching even to a point where it may lower insurance costs for liability and workers' comp because of less hazards to the worker and the environment," he says. "Just try the new technology. Strip a floor with one of the newer products, and you will notice little or no odor and that it is easier on the skin. The same thing is true with a heavy-duty green industrial degreaser. It's made from soy and other natural products. They work without all the VOCs, high pH, etc., and are made from sustainable products."
Another product on the market today that has really gained traction is hydrogen peroxide based cleaning products. Formulated for many uses, they can be used for neutral floor cleaning, light/medium/heavy duty general purpose cleaning, restroom cleaning, carpet extraction cleaning and spotting, and cleaning and polishing stainless steel, porcelain and other surfaces.
Matthew Kitzman of Green Clean Solutions in Rochester, Minn., can attest to one hydrogen peroxide-based product with which he is especially pleased.
"I have been using an excellent general cleaner called O2 that is manufactured by an innovative chemical company. This product is a disinfectant, and we use it in different dilutions to do a number of jobs from general cleaning to glass cleaner. Overall, this product is so versatile we have less products needed on a job, which makes things not only simple, but cost effective. I have done research on hydrogen-peroxide-based cleaners and asked my local supply house to find me one. This is what they found, and it is less than half the cost of some of the more known products of its kind. I have only been in this industry for about two years, but from what I am seeing, technology is really taking a place in the janitorial field, as well as the evolution of green products that work extremely well."
Once merely a fad, green cleaning has now become the industry norm. And with all the benefits green products and equipment offer, there is no reason to avoid going green. What will also be interesting to see in the next few years and beyond is how the cleaning industry will continue to progress.
Adds Frey: "It would be really nice if we could just grab Michael J. Fox and head back to the future to see what wonderful things we will be doing."