“Technology made available – to everybody, anywhere, anytime…”
Two years ago when INCLEAN spoke with deputy CEO and vice chairman management board of Alfred Karcher GmbH & Co. KG. Markus Asch, the company had moved from a product-driven focus to a customer-centric strategy, which continues today. As INCLEAN’s editor Kim Taranto discovered during an interview with Asch at the WFBSC Congress 2014, Karcher is finally starting to achieve the desired results – and reap the benefits.
“A couple of years ago Karcher delivered a new strategy,” reiterated Asch. “We didn’t want our customers to understand Karcher. We wanted Karcher and its processes and structures to understand our customers, and the results have been a fantastic development. Last year we issued 12.5 million machines to our customers, we employed more than 10,600 people and achieved € 2.05 billion revenue [about $2.8 billion].”
In an industry of more than 17 million people employed worldwide, this is a brilliant result for Karcher. However, while there are signs of saturation, Asch is confident of the growth and opportunities in booming emerging markets; such as additional reaches, additional technology towards sustainability and the capability of BSCs offering additional services.
One of the trends, and indeed a challenge stated Asch, is the commoditisation of the industry. “One of the next tasks for all of us is to improve the value of cleaning, if we are not able to change that, we cannot get out of this commodity region. There are challenges to increase efficiency and create additional value,” said Asch. “And the solution is technology.”
The opportunities surrounding new technology seems endless, but Asch is adamant that we have to work together to increase the awareness and increase the value of cleaning – “not only as a daily work but as prevention of disease,” he implored.
Asch sees the future of technology in the organisations we manage and the buildings in which we work. The questions he raises are how will this affect the way we work, and how it will affect the way we live? “There will be less separation between work and home and there won’t be the traditional offices to clean, which in itself will lead to other opportunities,” remarked Asch.
He reflected on the changes in technology over the past 10 years – from heavy brick-like mobiles, to smart phone, and box televisions to 3D LCD plasmas – from smart phones to smart glasses, to smart TVs – we could never have anticipated 10 years ago where we are today. But while we can’t anticipate it, Asch is adamant that we can move with it, step by step.
“We need to understand that technology has become a part of us. Our smart phones are an extension of our bodies, they are a part of our life and our interaction,” he stated. “The expectation is that by 2015, 75 percent of people will be connected to the Internet, and in 2017 more machines will be connected to the Internet than people. Information will be available at any time.” Asch shares his vision on technology in the future.
“In 2020 technology will feel and empathise with human behaviour, computers will become invisible, smaller more flexible. Technology will be the core of everyday objects, all surfaces will be multi-touch and capable of reporting data, and technology will be hidden for greater customer convenience. Timeless time, resource in shortest supply, we will need to plan effectively and used efficiently. Processes will run automatically in the background.
In regards to cleaning, he sees informative connectivity the key to opening the doors of opportunity. “Information will be available everywhere and can be used to generate knowledge, which can be used to generate value and additional value-add for our industry,” he shared.
“Dynamic innovation of materials will offer opportunities that today we cannot even think of. Battery driven technology and using plastic is now moving from aircrafts to cars, so why do scrubber dryers still have to be produced in steel weighing one and a half tonne?” he questioned. “Just imagine by reducing weight, reducing driver effort, saving fuel, saving energy, and simple operation – what a difference pioneer technology can make!
“The strongest innovation as far as I’m concerned is the totally new way of communicating. Car to car communication, try to imagine and adopt this into our business, where machines will talk to each other. It’s about connected intelligence,” he enthused. Asch calls this ‘the Internet of things’.
“In the future you will be able to get any product, anywhere, at any time. There will be no regional boundaries to solutions. With today’s capability, technology will be made available to everybody, anywhere, anytime.”
Asch sees globalisation as a big influence to the way Karcher and the industry do business. “Someone else will drive technology, the world’s population will change, wealth will substantially increase and that alone provides an opportunity as cleaning is directly connected to the wealth of people,” he stated. “If the wealth of people increases, cleaning increases. We all have to work with different generations with totally different demands and values. But we have to co-exist and work together.”
He also mentioned our consequential economy, and with growing CO2 levels and food shortages, trigger regulations, and that sustainability will be one of the key drivers of the future. “Technology that can reduce energy and resources is what will drive our businesses,” he noted.
As machines and robots using artificial intelligence become an integrated part of our existence there’s one aspect that can’t be overlooked, and that’s the people. “The share of human labour in our factories decreases but people must be able to adapt and deal with the new technology,” revealed Asch. “Data is knowledge, knowledge generates value and the one thing needed to do so is people. Maintaining people’s health is going to be much more important in the future to keep people at work. If health is crucial then hygiene and cleaning is crucial. And that’s our opportunity to take advantage of this resultant increased need.”
But what does all this mean for one of the major players in the professional cleaning market? If the future is focused on technology and people, where does Karcher stand with its portfolio of competitively positioned scrubber/driers, sweepers, high pressure washers, vacs and more?
To read full article see July/August issue of INCLEAN – due out July 14 2014