Most of us believe that the Internet of things (IoT) is relatively new. In reality, IoT dates back to the late 1960s. That is when “things” were first connected to other “things,” which usually conveyed information to people using wires and cords.

Today, these objects have been replaced with smart or connected devices. Often, they use sensors to help collect data and then transfer that data wirelessly to information centers, or in our case, to facility managers and cleaning professionals. Further, this communication is no longer a one-way street. Managers and cleaning professionals can communicate with these smart devices when and as necessary.

It might seem unusual that we mention the professional cleaning industry in a discussion of IoT. After all, the industry has a history of not being all that tech-savvy. However, in the past decade or more, that has changed. IoT along with other technologies are starting to play a very significant role in the professional cleaning industry.

The good thing about this, for both facility managers and the professional cleaning industry, is that it is bringing with it many benefits that can help improve cleaning effectiveness, increase worker productivity, and reduce costs.

Here’s a straightforward example.

A multitenant office building was having an ongoing problem with trash collection on certain days and on certain floors in the building. Trash would begin to overflow in these areas, becoming unsightly, causing odors, and resulting in ongoing calls to the management office asking for help.

An IoT system was installed to monitor the situation. The system could tell when trash cans became full, giving managers and the day porters in the building a “heads-up” long before the tenants called the management office for assistance.

Further, the IoT system looked at the big picture. It found that the trash containers on certain floors filled up the quickest on Monday and Wednesday, whereas the other days of the week presented less of a problem. This information was also relayed to managers and day porters so that they could more proactively handle the situation. Complaints from tenants quickly decreased.

But this is just one example of IoT at work in the professional cleaning industry. Here are a few others:

Connected cleaning equipment. It’s 10 p.m. and a cleaning worker wants to know where a specific floor cleaning machine is in the building. Instead of calling other custodians, she can find out in seconds where the machine is, if it is being used, and even if it is being used properly, merely by going to a computer screen or a smartphone.

While she’s there, the worker can also learn how many hours the machine has been used over its lifetime. This allows for predictive maintenance. If it is time for the machine to be serviced, maintenance can be performed now, preventing a costlier service call and downtime down the road.

How does this work? A manufacturer-installed module inside the equipment collects data on its use. That data is instantly transmitted to a cloud-based portal, then converted into insights that can be read on a computer or smartphone. It’s fast, easy to use and understand, and a money saver.

Robotic floorcare. Floorcare equipment that can clean and scrub floors all on its own may prove to be one of the most labor- and cost-saving benefits of IoT, and fortunately, it’s here. Different manufacturers are now introducing floor machines that can be “taught” how to clean floors. In addition to its programming capabilities, the machine has sensors, so if one day, for instance, there is a box or a table in a floor area that was not there before, the machine can clean around the object.

Putting IoT floor machines to work allows cleaning professionals to spend more time performing other cleaning tasks. Duties that in the past have been placed on the backburner can be attended to when needed, helping to keep the facility cleaner and healthier.

IoT and smart restrooms. IoT has already given us smart homes with systems that can control thermostats, lights, security systems, and appliances. Now it can provide facility managers with smart restrooms. One task IoT systems are already helping managers and cleaning professionals with is monitoring supplies—referred to as the fullness status—of paper, soap, and other products, and as discussed earlier, trash levels as well. Not only can the system communicate when supplies are running low, but it can also help provide insight as to when supplies are most likely to run out and in which restrooms, so they can be refilled long before that happens. Systems can also indicate if dispensers are broken or not working properly.

Furthermore, IoT systems can provide information as to the busiest times for different restrooms. This way, cleaning professionals know that certain restrooms in the facility may need cleaning attention after, for instance, 10 a.m., while others don’t need service until after 2 p.m.

Real-time Communication

IoT is not the only new technology making inroads in the professional cleaning industry. Another example is communication between facility managers and cleaning professionals.

Ron Segura oversaw the cleaning operations of more than 4.5 million square feet for The Walt Disney Company and is now a cleaning consultant for facility managers and cleaning contractors. He says that at one time, a facility manager might leave a note for the cleaning crew on her desk, alerting the crew to something in the facility that needs cleaning attention.

All too often, when morning comes, the manager finds the note is still where she left it. Neither the contractor nor his staff saw the note, which usually means the issue was not addressed. “I call this a ‘hit-or-miss communication system’ [that] did not work in the past and certainly will not work today when instant communication is the norm.”

New technologies address this problem by communicating directly with cleaning crew supervisors. As an example, Segura says he advised one of his large cleaning contractor clients to equip all its staff with smartphones to receive and relay information.

“Now when the manager tells the supervisor about a problem, the cleaning supervisor can send before-and-after images of the situation, how things looked before attention and then again after it was addressed. This is real-time problem handling, which is what today’s facility manager not only wants but expects.”

Imaging Technology

In the past, when managers and cleaning professionals wanted to scientifically evaluate cleaning effectiveness and uncover areas of a facility that may need increased cleaning attention, they turned to ATP (adenosine triphosphate) meters. These provided a reading that indicated how much ATP was on a surface. The more ATP on a surface, the brighter the red flag that the surface needed cleaning attention. (See Sidebar: What is ATP?)

While ATP systems are still used in the professional cleaning industry, new studies indicate they are not always reliable. Replacing them is a new tool, referred to as imaging technology, which is proving more dependable and effective.

According to Brad Evans with OptiSolve, which offers imaging technology, these systems analyze surfaces. They then create images indicating where microbes are present or not present on a surface and in what density or amount.

“We should view imaging technology as both an indicator and an assessment tool,” he says. “It indicates if and where pathogens are located, telling managers and cleaning professionals where cleaning is needed.”

As an assessment tool, Evans says imaging technology is able to assess cleaning performance. “This way managers can proactively validate that the money they are investing in cleaning is being delivered.”

The Future

We mentioned earlier that IoT and similar new technologies are likely to prove very beneficial to both managers and cleaning professionals and I trust our discussion here points that out. As to the future, we can expect the advent of more new technologies designed to improve cleaning effectiveness and performance and, along with it, worker productivity. These technologies are also likely to help make facilities greener and promote sustainability, all of which makes the future look brighter for facility managers.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry.

What is ATP?

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is an energy-bearing molecule found in all living cells. It was discovered by scientists in Germany and the United States in 1929 and is considered a sign of life. If ATP is detected on a surface, it means living cells are present. A high level of ATP, a reading of 500 or more, would be a serious cause for concern.