Leaders Forum: Ranmalee de Silva, 3M Australia

Industry leaders share their plans and predictions on the year ahead.

Did you notice any changes in customer behaviour in 2019?

We have noticed changes in customer behaviour over the past few years, but they seemed to have come to a head in 2019. Cleaning budgets are tight these days and customers are looking for either products or processes that assist them cut the costs of their cleaning operations.

3M has been aware of this need, so a lot of our new products have been focused on either reducing costs or reducing processes such as minimising the use of chemicals. The industry is also seeking more innovation and more innovative products, and this has been reflected in the growing number of innovation managers entering the industry.

Have you noticed any trends in 2019? Do you expect those trends to continue into 2020?

Sustainability. When I first started in this role four years ago sustainability was a topic the industry was talking about, but it was more of box-ticking exercise. However, this year we have seen a greater focus on it.

As a society we’re are becoming more aware of climate change as well as our own impact on the climate and on natural resources. People are more conscious about changing their activities to lessen that impact.We are now seeing that movement flow into the business sector and the cleaning industry. Products that are reducing the use of water or the use of chemicals, are becoming more talked and more in demand. There is now a genuine need for more sustainable products rather than it being a box to be ticked.

There has also been a greater uptake of education and training. Training is something that is unique to some suppliers like 3M, but this year there has been noticeable demand for it.

I think this is aligned with customers seeking new innovations. They are more inclined to open their business to you because you are trying to help them improve their offering, and they also want to do it right. We’ve moving away from the traditional cleaning methods and traditional cleaning times, so that shift has created that need for it.

Robotics is also another trend. Robotic machines made their initial appearance around three years ago with the first-generation machines, but now we’re seeing more improved machines. I think there will be a greater uptake of automation given the labour costs in Australia and now they have been trialled and we know where they work such as public spaces like airports.

What role will innovation play for 3M in 2020?

Innovation is in our DNA. Our vision as a company is that our technology advances every company, our product enhances every home, and our innovations improve every life. When it comes to launching new products to the market, we always seek our customers insights to help us best innovate to suit their needs.

The industry is trying to do a lot with little money. Our cleaning budgets are extremely tight, yet our cleaning and presentation expectations of a facility are extremely high. In order to fit into that, we are looking at products that will assist our customers improve the presentation of their facilities.

There are a number of products that we will be releasing in 2020 that will be targeted at the commercial cleaning industry and the food service industry. Our products go through a lengthy voice of customer process to ensure they are the right fit for the marketplace so some of our key customers are scheduled to trial those products next year.

How do you see the cleaning landscape evolving into 2020?

In 2019 we saw a lot of customers take innovation and sustainability more seriously, by testing a lot of new products and technologies. I think 2020 will be the year where the rubber meets the road and big decisions will be made on solidifying those changes and bringing about significant changes to the industry.

Is there one key message that you would like to share with the industry?

The industry needs to re-evaluate what their expectations are versus their budgets. We’ve reached a critical point that we now need to ask, do our budgets reflect our expectations and our customers’ expectations?

Read INCLEAN’s inaugural Industry Leaders Forum Report in the January/February issue of INCLEAN magazine. 

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