A Careful Approach to Technology

By Matt Ellis

BSCAI-LogoRecently, the Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI) commissioned a survey of its members to learn how cleaning and maintenance companies are utilizing technology in their operations, client communications and management. The survey found integration of new technology slow across the building service industry.

“I think it’s because people in our industry don’t take a lot of chances,” says Chris Stathakis, owner of a Michigan-based building service company and the chairman of the Technology Committee for BSCAI.

Stathakis coordinated the survey, the results of which were presented at the January 2017 BSCAI CEO Seminar. Among the highlights:

  • 65% of companies use the telephone as the primary tool for timekeeping;
  • 59% manage their fleets using paper and pen;
  • 46% use an inventory management system;
  • 65% of companies use paper forms when hiring employees.

According to Stathakis, technology represents an untapped opportunity for building service contractors, but one of the reasons they don’t buy more tech is that margins are “paper thin,” so companies can’t afford to invest the time and resources needed to get their people up to speed on new systems and maximize those opportunities.

“My experience in the industry is that people get excited about technology when they see something new, but what they don’t look at is whether it is sustainable, or what kind of training or support you will need.” Stathakis says companies considering an investment in new technology “have to think ahead about who would own this within the organization.

AffinEco Managing Partner Paul Senecal says using technology has helped his company be more nimble and cost-efficient. Long before people carried smartphones in their pockets, AffinEco’s managers had “personal digital assistants,” like Blackberrys, with which they sent email and wrote nightly reports for building managers to review first thing in the morning. As early adapters of using connected devices to communicate in the field, Senecal says AffinEco was able to set new standards for how and when to communicate with building managers through texting, cell calls, emails and electronic work-orders.

Many in the building service industry are excited at the promise robots bring. Stathakis’ presentation at the CEO Seminar referred to robots as a “labor saving interactive equipment technology,” and something that can enhance a building service contractor’s business. Robotic floor cleaners can be effective tools for cleaning a big-box retail store, shopping mall, hospital or airport terminal, but maybe not in an office environment.

“Our business is people serving people,” says Stathakis. “There is a human element, especially when you think of the relationships employees have with their day porters. Robots can’t replace that.”

Senecal agrees the human element is critical in AffinEco’s business, but sees a time when robots will be able to handle more of those tasks that don’t require much human interaction.

“We would like to see robots have more dexterity, be able to work more autonomously, and have longer battery-life. And, the prices need to come down,” says Senecal.

As the BSCAI survey showed, ROI is an extremely important factor driving decisions to invest in new technology. One tech advancement that Senecal says has more than paid itself back is vehicle tracking.

“We use our system to the fullest. We get data on each vehicle, so we can track miles driven, speed and harsh driving, like hard cornering or abrupt braking. Each driver is assigned a grade and we review that information with our teams in public. This gives us a way to hold our drivers accountable and monitor the use of our vehicles,” says Senecal.

Part of BSCAI’s mission is to keep its members informed about the trends that affect building service companies. Stathakis says one of the outcomes of the survey is that contractors can benchmark themselves against others. The industry is competitive and there are costs associated with not investing in technology that can make your company smarter.

As Stathakis reminded CEOs at the BSCAI summit, “Technology equals information and those with the most information have an edge. This is a very competitive business.”

(logo courtesy of bscai.org)