Forward thinking

The INCLEAN panel at this year’s Total Facilities saw panellists Lucas Paris (Kärcher Australia), Sarah Sannen  (GECA) and Bridget Gardner (Fresh Green Clean) talk trends, technology and how to prepare for the future.

Why is keeping an eye on emerging trends important for your business?

LP: I’ve been in the cleaning industry for more than 10 years and in that time, I have seen a lot of evolution in both manual and robotic cleaning equipment. The key question for businesses today is: can you afford not to keep your eye on future trends? We’re on the cusp of significant change and if we’re not ahead of the curve, we won’t be here much longer.

Cleaning is not the sexiest industry, but it is an important industry. We need to stay ahead of the technology. We need to attract young people into this industry because they will be the ones that shape it.

The next 10 years will be really exciting. For those in FM, the tech change that will come, will come quickly and it won’t be for everyone. Some technology you will be able to adopt some you won’t. But either way you need to be across it. Your competitors are going to be across it and if you’re not, you will miss out.

SS: The reason why keeping eye on future trends is so important for [GECA] is because we’re passionate about continual improvement, and how we continue to drive change towards what best practice looks like in many industries.

There are two reasons to keep an eye on future trends. The first is compliance. There were a lot of industries, including cleaning, that reacted very intensely to the Modern Slavery legislation that was passed in Australia last year. At the time a lot of people were completely shocked and a lot of people still today don’t know how to comply.

The second is relevance. How relevant are we to the people buying our services? What is it that they are trying to achieve? And how can we feed into that and continue to stay relevant in that industry?

BG: The trends I am interested in talking about are ones that are going to be future risks. For me that is sham contracting and wage theft. Another emerging risk is drug resistant bacteria and the implications of that and how cleaning is a pivotal part of that story.

What technologies are driving change in the industry?

LP: There’s a saying in the cleaning industry that cleaning contractors make money off what they don’t clean, rather than what they do clean. But that’s not the case anymore. Buildings are getting smarter. [Buildings] know where people are and when rooms have been cleaned.

We have machines that connect to fleet-based platforms. The machines can show where it is, the brush pressure, water usage, the detergents used and battery life. Visibility is key and for us as manufacturers it’s our job to create that visibility for our end users.

There will be a point where everything will be autonomous. We see now with cars and the rise of driverless vehicles. We have to be prepared that these [autonomous] technologies are not going to be here in 10 or 15 years – they’re going to be here in one to two years.

And they will be expected by facilities because the most expensive part of cleaning is the person cleaning and using the machine – especially when they’re being paid the right salary which we should be doing in every single contract we have around the country.

BG: The leading contractors have software that can track and record everything. It’s crucial to understand what is available in the market from a technology perspective so that you can specify [tasks] as well as have data and understand it.

Wage theft is another major issue. Technology such as building sensors are allowing hours and time spent in buildings by the contractor to be tracked, but if you don’t marry that with the hours actually being completed, then it will drive the problem of wage theft further down because we don’t know how long the cleaners are having to work to get through their tasks.

If you look at a cleaners’ room you will generally see five colour coded cloths for the whole building, with nowhere to wash or dry [the cloths] properly. And these are the cloths that are cleaning your [facility’s] desks and basins and spreading germs around the building. What I would like to happen from all this is [smart] technology being implemented is a re-focus on the reason why we clean, which is to create a health environment.

From left: Bridget Gardner, Sarah Sannen, Lucas Paris and Claire Hibbit

Aside from technology, what other factors are driving change?

SS: One of the big things we’re seeing is the huge increase in customer awareness and expectation. One of the most important things for the cleaning industry is people becoming aware of the impact of cleaning products on their health and also on productivity in the building.

In Australia, we have initiatives that have gained significant traction like the WELL Building certification. And there have been some buildings that have failed on their WELL certification because of the chemicals the building’s cleaning service providers were using.

Some have had to be rested and cleaners trained on using the correct products. The shift towards wellness is very significant for the cleaning industry in order to keep your client satisfied and keep you on as the contractor. The other is Modern Slavery.

Major building managers are going to have to report on modern slavery, because they all meet the threshold, as well as report on their procurement of cleaning services. The visibility and transparency that technology is enabling us to achieve is also what is going to allow them to be compliant so they are going to be pushing for that information a lot sooner as well.

What’s happening internationally that will influence local decision making?

BG: There are two overseas trends that are going to make a big in play in Australia. One is the push towards wellbeing and the other is the issue of resistant bacteria and the refocusing on environmental cleaning – manual handling of the cleaning of the surface.

Internationally, the push is on safe use of antibiotics and preventative practices and cleaning is a massive preventative practice. As infections and epidemics become nastier each year [building and facility managers] are going to have to have a pandemic strategy for their building and part of that must be looking at the way cleaning is done.

SS: Another big international trend is the ISO 2400 standard for sustainable procurement. The standard was released in 2017 and is being adopted all over the world by many organisations who are now starting to delve into their supply chain. The standard doesn’t just look at environmental, it covers other aspects like human rights, organisational governments and how to use risk management to profile your supply chain.

Even countries that don’t have a Modern Slavery legislation are starting to look at these other aspects because human rights are included in this international standard. Environmental is also something I think is super fascinating internationally.

Interestingly, in Australia we focus on social – and rightly so because it’s a very important issue – but we often forget environmental. As we start to see the rise of social enterprises there’s a blind spot looking at the environmental impact of what these social enterprises might be doing because they’re doing a lot of social good. Internationally, it’s the other way around.

[GECA] is part of a global eco-label network. We’re one of the only labels that includes social in our standard. But environmental labels all over the world are often able to push a lot harder in environmental criteria harder because their industries are so much more advanced in that space than we are. They tell us it’s too hard to include social in their standards, and we tell them that we can’t push as hard as they are in environment.

I think we are getting to a point where sustainability – in terms of the economy, social and the environment – is taking off in different ways around the world. It’s going to get to a tipping point where everyone realises that sustainability includes all of those things, and we’re going to see a big push globally on all of them.

LP: To bring it back to technology, the main influence that we have to be aware of is that the longer this [technology] is out there, the cheaper it will become. As our manufacturing breadth widens, emerging markets like China and India will start to manufacture this type of technology (sensors and robotics) more affordable or everyone.

How can the industry prepare for the future?

BG: The most important thing is to work out what risks you want to mitigate when talking about embracing technology. If you are focused on social or focused on hygiene, then make that the central pillar of what you’re doing with the facility manager. Be clear about your goals and objectives before you implement technology.

LP: I read a statistic not long ago that two of out three kids in primary school now will work in a job that doesn’t exist yet. My kids are going to work in an industry that doesn’t exist yet and that’s really exciting. That’s what we need to prepare ourselves for.

SS: When looking at trends don’t just look at what’s happening in your industry. Technology is interdisciplinary and inter-industry. You can learn so much from what other industries are doing.

Knowing what the trends are, not just for your organisation but across industries, and for your client is going to be pivotal in how your business moves forward. Your client – the facility manager – also has goals they’re trying to meet. Being able to deliver on those will help you win and keep contracts.

This first appeared in INCLEAN magazine. To subscribe click here

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