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Innovating for innovation’s sake?

02 March 2022

There is a fascination with innovation among cleaning and facilities management professionals and the clients they serve at present, and certainly technological disruption has the potential to transform the built environment and the way it is managed. But as the revolution continues, is the industry innovating with purpose, or simply acting on impulse? Katie Westerman explores that very question.

THE COMMERCIAL cleaning sector has seen no shortage of disruptive technologies in recent years. From autonomous mobile robot cleaning machines to intuitive senor technologies, data analytics, drones for facility condition assessments and even machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices, to name just a few.

While technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics often grab headlines, the hype of modern technology habitually comes much sooner than when it is practical for cleaning and facilities teams to actually use in practice. 

Professional cleaning, hygiene and maintenance organisations often find it difficult to grapple with the idea that not all technology can generate positive change, particularly when it comes to driving efficiencies and improvements for the end user. The true challenge is not in adopting the technology itself, but understanding what innovation they should be investing in, and which they should avoid until they fully mature.

The route of all effective innovation is understanding its purpose and value. Innovation for innovation’s sake will do little but to massage the ego of the commercial cleaning provider and gain short-term attention in the eyes of their industry peers. Indeed, without consideration for its applications, the value it can bring, and most crucially the customer pain points it can resolve, innovation becomes little more than a gimmick.

There is a common misconception that innovation has to be something never seen before, a ground-breaking disruptive technology that pushes the boundaries of anything ever implemented. The truth is most clients want innovation, but few wish to be first to try completely new ideas. The principal focus, therefore, should be about delivering ‘innovation without risk’, introducing methods to new contracts tested and proven with existing clients. 

Innovation does not have to be something no-one has ever done before; if an idea is new to a facilities contract, for the end user, it is an innovation. Change must be for the better, be that driving efficiencies, bringing benefits to clients, solving existing problems, or improving the overall service provision. Innovation for its’ own sake is not helpful.

Innovation begins with a novel idea

Often innovation is not sexy, it is hard work, practical and beneficial to the client. For example, one of the greatest challenges that can make or break a commercial cleaning contract is the ability to deliver an uninterrupted service and achieve full attendance. On large, national contracts with small cleaning teams on each site it is an issue often amplified and one which can cause major problems if not addressed.

Arming cleaning operatives with the latest cleaning technology and devices will do little to resolve this challenge. Instead, leveraging of existing staff support solutions, when supported with tried and tested processes for contingent support and good management, can aid in solving the problems and create long-term service continuity.

Software that facilitates the electronical recording of when colleagues log on and log off, and the exact hours worked is widely used in commercial cleaning and FM. The true innovative element is the way it is applied to commercial cleaning contracts and the resilience it delivers.

The implementation of tech-driven solutions, leveraging existing workplace support solutions – to source and identify contingent support from a pre-defined group of colleagues who are available for work, trained, and site-inducted – helps manage unplanned absences and source reliable cover quickly.

Progressive adoption

We should not just be anticipating and preparing for future disruptive technologies, but understanding what is available now, what benefits they will bring to clients, the problems they may solve, and how they will improve the service. Only once this is achieved can we begin to define an adoption process for embedding these technologies into working environments.

A controlled trial of innovative solutions, on a small scale, for instance, is often much more effective than a widespread implementation of technology across multiple sites nationwide. Critically, trials can be conducted under strictly controlled conditions with dedicated project teams, to eliminate risk to clients.

Carefully planning and applying the most appropriate technology can not only drive innovation and higher standards, but also achieve greater efficiencies in cleaning practices to optimise the removal of pathogens and protect the workforce. The industry has already seen notable examples of the merits that the selective and gradual deployment of innovation can deliver. 

Client driven innovation

The growth of industrial floor scrubber technology – a solution that combines the flexibility of a mop with the power and speed of industrial scrubber driers – is just one instance of ‘client driven innovation’, and a prime example of technology that has developed over time based on needs expressed by the market and environments in which it is deployed.

Estimated to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of ~10% between 2019 and 2027 – according to the Industrial Floor Scrubbers Market report from Transparency Market Research – the emergence of this trend owes to numerous factors, the most prominent of which is rising concerns about hygiene in the commercial sector.

The gradual adoption of this innovation has also been heavily influenced by persistent technology development, skilled labour crises, and scaling productivity expectations regarding daily cleaning tasks.

It is no great surprise then that innovation in the technology and design of industrial floor scrubbers with advanced features has brought numerous benefits, many of which are now being realised by organisations across a breadth of sectors. 

Machines not only clean faster and more efficiently but can also lower labour costs for commercial cleaning companies and their clients alike. ATP testing confirms that some floor scrubber drier’s twin counter-rotating brushes deep scrub for 90% cleaner surfaces compared to conventional mopping.

Such an increase in the deployment of industrial floor scrubber technology is just one example of innovating with purpose. That is to say, whatever theoretical advantages are secured by considering the widespread deployment of innovation in a commercial cleaning contract can only be reaped by consideration of the wider market needs, as well as the larger set of outcomes that have been delivered through low-risk trials under controlled conditions in the real world. 

The future is bright

There is no doubt that the beacon of technological innovation has well and truly been lit and clients across a variety of industries are looking for more speed, efficiencies and innovation from commercial cleaning services than ever before. And, where appropriate, that innovation will be welcomed and valued.

Nevertheless, innovation without purpose and an understanding of the benefits it will deliver, will unquestionably falter. Regard for this, as well as the executional and organisational factors that must underpin implementation, are what separate successful innovators from the rest of the field.

Katie Westerman is group sales and marketing director at SBFM

For more information visit www.sb-fm.co.uk

 
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