Tap into real innovation

05 August 2015

Facility managers in charge of the washrooms are increasingly looking for the ‘next best thing’. Whether that is to make their customers’ lives easier, to improve the overall look of their washroom, or to better their carbon footprint. Innovation is important but we should not adopt it for its own sake – it should make a real difference, Paul Wonnacott, managing director & president at Vectair Systems, argues

The hygiene sector (like most other sectors) thrives on innovation. New technologies are setting the trend but it is important that these alternatives are actually fulfilling a purpose. We all love to have the latest gadget, but does it actually do anything better than what we had before? Is the science behind the technology making things simple, or is it actually making things more complicated? 


From past to present

First, we should define exactly what technology is. Many of us assume the word technology relates to computers, but in fact it can refer to a much larger range of devices. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word ‘technology’ means "The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry".

This type of scientific knowledge was first used in washrooms in the 19th Century, when public toilets knows as ‘halting stations’ began to make an appearance in the streets. By 1852 there was one for men in Fleet Street, and one for women in the Strand. The design of lavatories caused much head-shaking until Thomas Crapper developed his new improved model – the very first modern toilet. 

The pull and flush mechanism on the modern toilet was a vast improvement on the traditional chamber pot or cess pit. Advances in modern technology have left us not only with flushing toilets but more ‘luxurious’ items such as soap dispensers, air fresheners and sanitary waste disposal units. The technology that has survived and thrived is the technology that improves our sanitation and keeps us safe, and importantly, makes our lives easier.

From a consumer point of view, the last 20 years have brought us mobile phones, tablets, apps, websites and more. Many of these provide fantastic new opportunities and ways of doing things, but some aren’t quite so useful. Nowadays, when we have a question, we can ask our phone. But perhaps on some occasions its actually more productive (and a much nicer experience) to ask someone in person!


Assessing technology 

Within the hygiene industry, technology has become a huge selling point for many of the big brands when bringing their products to market. Technology is of course a very positive thing – it can make things possible that weren’t possible before – but we have to ask ourselves, when looking at different products, if the technology inside each particular one is actually doing anything at all. Some questions to ask are "Is it making a difference to the efficiency of the unit?", "Does it improve the user experience?" and "Is it environmentally friendly?"


Keep it simple

Technology should be making things simpler and more streamlined for the user. The iPhone is a great example of science that has been made simple – it has just one button. When people think of ‘technology’, often they think of something that has many parts, and that is technical to work. Yet often, it is the simplest things that are the most technologically advanced. Something with lots of fiddly parts isn’t ideal in the washroom environment as it makes the lives of service men and women a lot harder. 

Steve Jobs once famously said: "Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains." I think he’s right.