Cleaning is often regarded as the simplest of the facilities management activities, but it is among the most difficult to innovate on, digitally speaking.
There are several reasons for this and one of the main reasons is that the cleaning industry employs very large groups of lower-paid individuals, which makes it harder to find enough efficiencies to make significant financial difference while using a digital solution.
But beyond strict financial regards, it is found, though, that the benefits of digitalization in terms of building user experience and employee engagement are high. Making the cleaners’ work visible, addressable, and adaptive is a big plus for stakeholders.
What exact shapes do these benefits take, and who are the firms that are making a difference in digitalization of cleaning activities these days?
Going digital: not only with cleaning, but also detecting points of interest for other facility partners in the building
Diane van Dijk, Sales Director of CSU, the largest cleaning service provider of the Netherlands, explains their approach to the digitalization of their cleaning services: “Part of our cleaning employees are trained to become “BE Cleaners”: data-driven cleaning experts. They collect data in the BE Clean application on a device. On the one hand, the app serves as digital support in cleaning activities for the cleaning employee. And on the other hand, to capture valuable insights on location.
When opening the app, the cleaning employees have a direct view of what needs to be done where. For example, they report rooms ready after cleaning, details are registered and they also report in the app when and why cleaning has not taken place, for example when a room was occupied.
In this way, customers who use BE Clean app also gain insights into perception values such as the degree of pollution per room, technical defects, unsafe situations, and points of interest for the other facility partners in the building. This gives a picture of the functions of a building and ensures that cleaning can be efficiently and sustainably adjusted.
At CSU, corporate clients can choose between a BE Clean service, or a traditional, less digitalized service contract.
Another cloud-based system that places engagement of the frontline team at the centre, believing that this team is key for a successful digitalization of the cleaning process, has been developed by Spanish service provider Optima Facility, under the name Wowex by Optima Facility. It acknowledges the fact that people remain the greatest resource in the cleaning industry and states that, unlike machines, human beings still can recognize and respond better to uncertainties in complex environments.
Wowex’s data-driven cleaning combines data from footfall sensors with data captured by their own cleaners. According to Lucas Pujadas from Wowex by Optima Facility: “The mix of data captured by sensors and data captured by humans enhances efficiency, directing cleaning teams where they are needed the most, and empowering both cleaners and facility managers. Cleaning staffs’ input has a signaling function: are there doors open that are normally closed? Are there any pests? Is there serious pollution time and again in a particular washroom? A faulty socket? They report this digitally and receive appreciation for this, also and especially from the customer. The cleaners’ inputs are not only valuable but engages them and increases their job satisfaction.” Development of the solution took a couple of years and has been done in constant collaboration with innovation-minded clients in Spain.
Unlike the before mentioned digital cleaning tools, which are developed by service providers for their own clients, Soobr, founded in Switzerland, is service provider-agnostic and can be set up to work with any outsourced cleaning team by corporate FM teams, or be integrated by a service provider that does not want to spend financial resources to develop their own digital cleaning solution. Soobr does not have cleaners on the payroll to do the actual job; it focuses on streamlining cleaning processes and procedures and turning them from static, into dynamic.
Robin Montens, Soobr’s Managing Director states: "Paper-based cleaning schedules are outdated and a time waster. With optimized and dynamic planning, smart cleaning supports the execution of cleaning and provides more efficiency and transparency". Their solution includes features like digital service level agreement (SLA) measurement, dynamic cleaning schedules and spontaneous orders, automatic route planning and absenteeism management.
Open platforms: connecting cleaning to the buildings’ ecosystem
The actual FMTech offering of digitalization in cleaning also includes cloud-based platforms that are “open” in nature - they allow connectivity with third-party applications. This means another, more holistic view on what cleaning represents in the building management ecosystem and is worth to be understood and explored.
Digital native firm Myr.ai is an example of this with their open workspace management platform, or as they call it, the workplace operating system of the office. There is a specific focus on cleaning activities, as these are core to a well-functioning building, and it allows users also to draw on the existing marketplace of FMTech. “Many existing solutions revolve around a couple platform/connected objects, which not only install you in a captive ecosystem, but in addition, are not necessarily relevant for everyone. We wanted to develop an open platform with a marketplace from which our customers can draw according to their objectives. For example, we have made robots available for floor maintenance that some of our customers have chosen to adopt to redirect their cleaners to tasks with higher added value”, shares Axel Hars, CEO & Co-founder of Myr.ai.
Naturally, “cobots” cannot be forgotten when we talk about digitalization of cleaning activities.
Cobots allow cleaning staff to focus on surfaces like door handles, tabletops and those requiring human’s fine motor skills and intelligence and are thus the perfect “Super Cleaning Team” enablers.
Peppermint Robotics, an Indian company who designed their autonomous housekeeping robots with the support of IIT-Bombay & Qualcomm has multi-purpose cleaning robots that already drive around in 25 cities in India, the Middle East and Norway. Key in the design has been low water and electricity usage and easy maintenance – in keeping with the need of making facilities management more sustainable.
Financial FMTech: retaining frontline workers with Earned Wage Access technology
People are by far the greatest resource in the cleaning industry.
In facilities management, where recruiting cleaning staff is a time consuming and complicated process due to labour shortage and labour having to come from distant countries, retaining cleaning employees is important.
For facility management service providers who have thousands of cleaning staff under their care, a concept known as “EWA”, Earned or Early Wage Access, is an interesting tool. Earned Wage Access addresses the increasingly worrying challenge of unexpected expenses and a timing mismatch between income and expenses, particularly observed among vulnerable wage earners, like many workers of cleaning teams.
Scudi is a digital tool for management of Earned Wage Access. Scudi developed a mobile app for the workforce to get instant access to their already earned wages in between pay checks that are accessible in two clicks on their smartphone.
Having access to part of the wages during the month can be a weapon to refrain cleaning staff from transferring to other jobs or returning to their home country, and helps to increase the social impact of facilities management, in the scope of the S of ESG-goals that a service provider may have.
Start Digitalization in Cleaning, NOW!
It is no longer a question of where and how to start digitalization in cleaning activities. It is clear that there are already a wide variety of digital, innovative solutions that address a large aspect, if not all aspects, of cleaning activities. With increasing demands for better building occupant experience, more stringent cleaning requirements including transparency in the cleaning activities, while protecting the bottom line - innovative digital cleaning solutions are clearly the step in the right direction.