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The Exclusive Magazine for the Building Service Contracting Industry Since 1981

The Internet of Things

Written by  Ron Segura

The Day Has Arrived: Buildings Talk to Cleaning Workers

In the past decade, we have witnessed a number of technological advances that have had direct influence on the professional cleaning industry. While many of these involved the cleaning tools and equipment we use, what I am referencing here are advances in technology that have impacted communication between our customers, cleaning contractors, and their staff. Technologies are now coming online that will allow the very buildings we clean and maintain to connect and communicate with us directly. This will help speed up communication, and also help streamline cleaning operations and head off any issues before they become complaints.

At one time, not so long ago, a building manager might leave a note for the cleaning crew, either on their desk or in the janitorial closet, alerting the crew to something in the facility that needs cleaning attention. When morning comes, the manager finds the note is still where they left it on their desk, or it has found a resting place on the floor in the janitor’s closet. In both cases, it appears that neither the contractor nor the contractor’s staff saw the note. This means the issue was not addressed.

This hit-or-miss communications system did not work in the past and it certainly will not work today when everyone just accepts instant communications to be the norm.

This is why I instruct all of the cleaning contractors I consult with to develop some type of quick and easy communications system for their clients to communicate directly with cleaning crew supervisors, and supervisors with cleaning workers. Just recently, a client of mine, a large cleaning contractor in Northern California, equipped all of their staff with smart phones to relay information and issues to their workers, and – just as importantly – for workers to relay back information as to how and when issues were addressed.

What they do now is snap before-and-after images of the problem indicating how they found it and how it was addressed for all parties to see. This is real-time problem handling, which is what today’s facility manager not only wants, but expects.

Technology has also impacted communications in the bidding process. Electronic RFPs can offer so much more information than the paper and print RFPs of yesteryear. Contractors can now include such things as adding graphic floor plans with their proposals; images of office areas, including trouble spots noted and pointed out in the walk-thru; and areas that need special or recommended attention. The prospective client is given much more and more precise information this way, often in a more attractive format that is very easy to read and understand.

Further, there are two important things to know:

1. Sending your RFP back electronically saves the contractor several hours in preparation

2. In some cases, those bidders who don't respond electronically will be eliminated

How Buildings Communicate with Cleaning Professionals

We have seen the benefits of increased communication among client and cleaners, but technology is also improving communications between people and buildings. How this works can best be explained through the following scenario:

Developers were planning a large senior housing project in North Carolina. The project consisted of apartments as well as small houses that seniors could purchase to live in. The development was spread out over 1.5 acres and included a number of common areas for the tenants to use.

The developers were concerned that because the facility was so large and had so many common-area buildings, the janitorial crew would struggle to stay on top of all of the facility’s needs when and where they occurred. Further, it would add considerably to operational costs if the development depended on workers to walk and inspect all the common areas of the complex, perhaps several times per day, to check on supplies, cleaning needs, and other provisions.

To address these issues, they installed a technology referred to as the Internet of Things, or IoT. While the amount of data an IoT system can relay varies, in this scenario building managers and cleaning workers could stay informed of the following issues in real time:

Personnel would be alerted if paper towels or toilet paper were needed in any of the community bathrooms and restrooms, along with where they were needed and even the exact stall. Typically, these systems are designed to notify managers and cleaning workers before supplies run out.

Similarly, soap dispensers are monitored indicating when they will soon need replenishing. The IoT system can also notify managers and contractors if a dispenser is not working properly.

An IoT system can also notify managers and cleaning workers as to why a dispenser may not be working properly. For instance, the reason a no-touch paper towel dispenser is not working may not be that it has run out of paper, but that the battery has run low or there is a paper jam in the unit.

IoT systems can also provide information as to highest and lowest usage of restrooms. This would include information about when supplies tend to run low in certain areas. For instance, if one area runs low on supplies by 11 a.m. every morning, managers and cleaning workers can plan ahead and keep plenty of supplies on hand.

In addition, IoT systems can notify managers and crew when a trash dispenser needs to be emptied.

With special tags placed on supplies, the technology lets managers and cleaning workers know when supply of any one item is running low so that it can be reordered in a timely manner.

We should note that while IoT systems are finding a niche when it comes to cleaning and maintaining restrooms, this is likely to expand in other areas of a facility as well. Already such devices are used in food service areas to keep tabs on supplies and usage.

What the Internet of Things Means to Contract Cleaners

IoT has many pluses for the contract cleaning industry and few, if any, downsides. Using our scenario above, say the facility manager is contacted that there are no paper supplies in one of the common-area restrooms. Instead of the manager needlessly blaming the cleaning worker or wondering if they have replenished that restroom with supplies, this technology tells the manager exactly if and when these tasks were performed.

And, as mentioned earlier, the technology provides information as to “highest usage” in a facility. While this may apply to paper products, it is also an indication of how much usage that restroom gets in general. With this information, custodial workers are told where cleaning and maintenance is most needed in the facility, as well as the areas of the facility that need less attention.

It also assists the contractor, allowing them to adjust cleaning schedules or even demonstrate the need for more time. Being able to provide real time data is a tremendous tool for contractors who know they need more time, but are unable to provide proof to the customer.

And this relates to the big plus of IoT. It’s a time saver. It’s a way for cleaning contractors to use their time more efficiently and stay focused on where they are needed most. It helps ensure that facilities are operated more efficiently, managers address issues before they become complaints, and contractors ensure that all areas of a facility stay clean, well-supplied, and healthy.


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