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Business Articles
The Benefits of IOT on Floor Equipment
(published in Contracting Profits)
By Heather Larson

 

Floor equipment kept disappearing.

Whether this was because the equipment was being stolen or simply borrowed for work on another company contract, it became a major concern for United Services Group. The building service contractor needed a solution.

Management at United Services Group, Brampton, Ontario, Canada, had heard about Internet of Things–enabled floor machines that could solve the problem of disappearing equipment. But since United Services Group wanted to work with a manufacturer it knew well, the BSC turned to Minneapolis-based Tennant Company and its IRIS Asset Manager. United Services Group purchased more than 100 floor machines equipped with the new “smart” technology, which could report daily usage and help improve the BSC’s quality of work, while also saving money. Most importantly, however, the IoT technology helped United Services Group identify and locate missing equipment.

United Services Group, which opened its doors in 1977, provides janitorial and landscaping services, as well as snow removal, parking and grounds maintenance, and ad-hoc services to a variety of industries. Its customers include retail stores, commercial buildings, healthcare and financial institutions, among others.

“We service more than 1,500 locations across Canada with a high focus on the retail market,” says Alain Choucrallah, director of procurement for United Services Group.

United Services Group is particularly well known in its market for its knowledge and experience in floor care. But the BSC also prides itself on being honest and transparent with every client.

To uphold all these standards, United Services Group continuously looks for new ways to provide its customers with the best possible service. When management discovered United Services Group could improve on its quality of work and transparency through the telemetry features offered by IoT, the BSC was eager to bring the new technology on board. The IoT–enabled floor machines helped deliver an accurate account of United Services Group’s cleaning performance at all of the locations that were using the new floor scrubbers.


Making Sense Of Floor Machine Usage Data

United Services Group’s issue with lost equipment was immediately a thing of the past, thanks to the geo-location features of the IoT–enabled machines. The machines are equipped with technology to track their location, and the system will send an alert to the BSC if a machine is moved more than a specified distance from its previous location.

“Now we know where our equipment is at all times, we are gathering data to optimize productivity rates and service levels, while at the same time preventing thefts,” says Choucrallah. “We started seeing a return on our investment right away.”

Through the IoT software platform associated with the new machines, United Services Group is able to send daily usage information from each machine back to regional, operational and area managers. The software presents those managers with a dashboard of charts and graphs that allows them to evaluate their employees’ performance. The dashboard can be viewed on mobile devices in the field, and the software allows United Services Group to customize which data is highlighted.

The software also informs United Services Group managers of a floor machine’s lack of usage. If a machine sits idle for a day, an alert is triggered. United Services Group management can then determine the reason the machine hasn’t moved and take immediate corrective action if necessary, says Choucrallah. Often, the software informs United Services Group of the fact that its frontline workers may need more training.

“This information allows us to know how much our frontline cleaners are using the auto scrubbers on a daily basis, which should be anywhere from two to four hours,” says Choucrallah. “That allows us to be proactive and get to the problem before a quality issue arises.”

Improving cleaning quality before it becomes a noticeable problem for the customer is the real goal.

“We believe these reports will help ensure we are providing reliable and consistent service to our clients,” he says. “Now we can act immediately on a daily basis to prevent service levels from dropping."

Data generated by the units also aid the BSC’s sales team.

“When our sales team quotes jobs, they can tell the potential customer how long a scrubber will be running, which enables them to better quote jobs,” says Larry Ker, vice president business development at United Services Group. “Our quotes are based on productivity rates and gains, which keeps us very transparent with our pricing and breakdowns when we quote jobs.”

Key United Services Group employees are also alerted when the floor machines need to be serviced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, similar to a car alerting the driver of the need for an oil change. The system is intended to remove the possibility for human error.

“The indicator from the telemetry is much more precise than what a human can determine,” says Choucrallah.


Janitor Training, Data Security And IoT ROI

United Services Group began using this new IoT–enabled floor machines in July of 2016. Close to 10 percent of the locations United Services Group services now have these IoT-enabled units, says Choucrallah.

Currently the data generated by the telemetry system is only available to management-level employees, but Choucrallah believes that eventually United Services Group will share it with frontline workers.

“Right now the area managers who have been trained work hand in hand with our cleaners and walk through the process with them,” says Ker. “They tell them what is tracked and how the efficiency rates work. There are some parts of certain floors that don’t get washed for specific reasons, so we still need to improve the process internally to take that into consideration.”


Security And Worker Concerns

As Internet of Things technology becomes more ubiquitous, the question of data security has arisen more frequently.

The machines used by United Services Group have safeguards in place to address security concerns. The data is stored on servers protected by firewalls and is only accessible through a password-protected Web portal. United Services Group also closely monitors which employees have access to the data.

Another common concern for BSCs embracing IoT technology is how their frontline janitors will react to having their work more closely monitored.

“We have shared the technology with some of our frontline workers and have explained to them how it works,” says Choucrallah. “They do understand that they are being monitored, but we don’t feel that they are intimidated by the monitoring. We explained to them that this is important data we need to ensure we are providing high service levels to our clients.”

Although this type of monitoring is something new that employees must get used to, Choucrallah says the IoT technology should also give frontline workers more confidence in their work, since there is now data to back it up.

Ker agrees and says he has not had any negative feedback from United Services Group workers.


Return On Investment

During the delivery process of more than 100 units to 100-plus locations, which occurred in two phases, two of the IoT-enabled floor machines went missing.

Choucrallah says he went into the telemetry system and found them immediately. It turns out the machines were shipped to a customer’s facility and then quickly moved to a back room not typically used by United Services Group’s staff.

Since the machines’ geo-location abilities were what initially drew in United Services Group, the incident proved the value of the IoT system before the machines were used to clean a single floor.

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