Suzanne Richardson, operations director for InDepth Managed Services shares her experience on how technology influences and streamlines management processes in the cleaning service industry.
Technology influences every industry now, even those that may have been perceived as ‘traditional’ or ‘hands-on’. The cleaning industry still carries the handle of the ultimate manual skill provider, yet these days cleaners need to be trained in how to use specialist cleaning equipment and comply with constantly changing health and safety regulations for high risk specialisms, like working at height or medical cleaning. It’s a bit more than just pushing a mop.
Keeping up with challenges
Living and working environments have evolved in different ways and technology is driving the change. Architecture provides more of a challenge to the cleaning and FM industry; buildings are ‘smart’ so we have to be smarter to maintain them. Structures are ‘cutting-edge’ so we have to be intrepid when we’re cleaning them. The goal posts have moved, in fact they’re always moving and we must equip ourselves to be able to stay in the game.
Cleaning companies too are expanding, not just their sizes but their remits. With an increasing skill set, managing the multi-faceted cleaning organisation requires more than just a few excel spreadsheets.
I am thankful that technology has provided a more efficient platform to deliver our services. It’s encouraging a culture change, where paper files are becoming a thing of the past. Our resourcing capabilities are much more efficient, as is our responsiveness, because they can be managed electronically.
I experience first-hand in our business how technology gives a performance edge because data management drives the business; data capture allows us as cleaning and FM providers to be even more flexible and targeted when catering to customer requirements.
It’s a shrewd decision to invest in innovative and pioneering technology as it enables a cleaning business to sustain itself and grow at the forefront of the industry. There’s no reason why that isn’t possible because we have proved that it is possible at InDepth. Technological advancement has benefited our clients because we consistently improve the service that we deliver. Our in-house business systems and investment in software development support our unique centralised national data communications centre and our local area management teams in the field.
Streamlining with technology
Technology can be a real advantage when it comes to managing staff resourcing on a national level. Clients expect highly trained personnel to meet their service requirements and this demands a rigorous staff search and selection process. At InDepth we use web recruitment software that gives us a national reach to source the best staff for our individual client’s needs. For example, our local area managers ensure that employees’ profiles are completed during the recruitment process and can be accessed from anywhere across the country – it’s all done digitally.
Our recruitment specialists are able to search candidates by town, postcode and skill sets, enabling them to target the right personnel for the different market sectors we operate in. The system is thorough and even utilises photographic capture to store all candidates’ required documentation. Their right to work is completed following a successful interview and is transferred via our web recruitment system to the central data centre.
It’s fast, efficient and paperless, and every bit of vital information is sent to our centralised data centre where it can be recalled at any time from any device (with appropriate security permissions of course). In this way we can keep up with all our clients’ needs UK-wide. Online reporting facilities, additional lines of communication and faster reaction times ensure that when our clients need us, especially for business critical services, we can act quickly.
Leave the paper trail behind
Talking about whether the cleaning industry should become paperless is considered ‘old hat’ in some circles. It’s not a new concept any more but it doesn’t make it any less relevant. If we are still debating whether to apply it, or the industry has agreed it’s a good idea yet there are companies who are still logging field calls in a notebook, then the topic has not run its course.
Of course we cannot dismiss the plain fact that it’s a significant investment for an organisation to make and smaller companies would find it a financial struggle to supply their staff with electronic devices. However the benefits of digitisation pay off in the long run, across every aspect of service delivery, and of course it is the bedrock of achieving paperless management.
With an electronically based system, all core and supplementary functions can be paperless, from staff training to invoicing. Instead of drowning in reams of paper that need to be updated manually, all records are available at the touch of a button. Anything can be recalled easily, making the whole process more efficient.
Whether your teams use tablets, androids or PDAs, digital transfer of information eases the audit and recall processes. For example our teams are able to transmit audit results back to head office via the web system. They are subsequently made available in real time for clients to view online via our client access portal, giving our clients an easily accessed, transparent service.
There’s no doubt that in the last three years, the competitive race in the cleaning industry has been fought in the technology field. Primarily it was about investing in technology for our cleaning operatives to use. Their implementation saves time and money and very importantly, increases the level of professionalism in the industry. However rather than just being outward-facing when it comes to improving service delivery, it’s also important to look inward to your organisation.
Management efficiencies and professionalism within the company strengthens overall performance from the foundations. Let’s face it, if your technology doesn’t serve you or your organisation by creating improved efficiencies, then it’s not being utilised properly.
By digitising most management functions, it is possible to support your employees by providing them with knowledge and information, and even by automating regularly used services.
Support functions on InDepth’s data centre include the ability to order materials, book holidays or report any changes in circumstances. Our clients also have access to and benefit from this service. It’s important to remember that the technology is supposed to enhance the client relationship by offering access and transparency, it doesn’t replace relationship building.
All training is provided to our cleaning operatives by local area managers and site supervisors, including induction and site specific training. All aspects of this training are recorded electronically via PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants). The electronic record is transferred via our web portal to the employee’s personnel record, which is stored within the data centre. This enables monitoring and continuous development of staff skills and training.
It is even possible to manage lone worker and health & safety attendance on a digital platform. Whether this is vehicle tracking for remote worker safety, or usage data to optimise our fuel efficiency, these are processes that can be managed remotely and efficiently which safeguard staff and save on costs.
The digital possibilities
Digital capability affords cleaning companies a virtually complete support structure from finding the right person for the job, managing their training needs, to giving the client access to relevant information about their account, right up to managing the payroll.
In our business we work closely with our clients to develop our software systems. We can create and continuously develop bespoke audit tools for specific industry sectors. The end result is that we exceed our clients’ specific requirements.
To achieve this collaboration, our account management teams utilise instant, secure online access to client review processes and service level agreements. They can then evaluate, review and where possible, improve the systems that drive the end service and vice versa.
This particular aspect has been invaluable when it comes to our client relations. It’s another dimension in a transparent customer service enabled by technology, and it provides added value.
In fact we promote collaboration and sharing of ideas across our business. We prioritise innovation and encourage our people to challenge established practices, make changes and improve how our business works. To do anything less would mean stagnation.
The cleaning industry is definitely not old fashioned any more – not with the tools it uses, or its management capabilities. There is no doubt that our people are our most valuable asset. Dedicated staff, who work to clean and maintain our offices and public amenities keep our cities functioning. Applying technology just enhances that service, mainly by easing all the supporting functions that make up the management infrastructure. Even for us in the cleaning industry, knowledge is indeed power – informing our growth, skills and expertise.
By having a technology platform that is complete from start to finish, you can achieve a professional edge because you can control your deliverables more closely and give the clients exactly what they need.