By Ahmed Abbas*
Consider the complexities of having to track the quality controls in a commercial cleaning environment. A group of cleaners may have to coordinate and track the consumption or usage of their cleaning products. Additionally it may be important that the right product is used at the right place, at the right time and in the right ways. Now consider supply chains via the distributor and all the way back to the manufacturer. Imagine a world where the cleaning products and accessories themselves trigger the ordering process, all the way up the supply chain – based on the habits or needs of the cleaner.
As the cleaner cleans a particular area, the distributor is immediately alerted that they will require more of a particular product. The distributor will be better equipped for the demand. They would need to carry less stock and will know what is available to them from the manufacturer. They could grow their business with an assured flow of orders and maximise profits. The effects of this would then carry on to the manufacturer, who would better understand the demand and gather data required for product innovation.
Fortunately for the cleaning industry an abundant number of technologies have come onto the market over the last few years that could further help with systemising the cleaning supply chain.
A hospital, as an example, will have products and assets distributed across various large areas. All areas would be zoned according to particular controls. Cleaners will have both proactive and reactive processes to tend to the cleaning requirements. Keeping track of trolleys and carts that carry cleaning and sanitation inventories would be important, in addition to the regular inventory control that would be required for stores. There are various technologies that could be used in this space with new innovations on the rise in this space.
Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS)
These technologies vary, however the concept is quite the same. You would track the precise position of assets and inventories using wireless or visual technologies. In a sense, this is similar to a GPS system for inside or around a building. There are various ways this can be done and as every year passes, we are likely to see more and more variations of such IPS systems appear on the market. These generally range from Wifi, to Bluetooth, to ultrasonic sound devices that operate like sonars so that they do not interfere with sensitive equipment. Some of these devices can also be carried on a person’s key chain or necklace or even alongside other devices such as inventory tracking scanners and computers.
Wireless Inventory Tracking and Control Systems
Most of us are familiar with these. They are typically used in warehouses though have a host of other applications, and this being one. They are those wireless little barcode scanners or RFID (wireless tag) scanners that you can carry around. These days they are available in both smart and connected formats. They offer the ability to operate independently of a master system or be connected continuously at all times in a dependent way.
If you’re really ambitious you could even try using mobile phone App’s that come with specialised peripherals. The computers or smart devices attached to these devices could potentially be used to track and analyse particular cleaning situations such as spills or environmental hazards.
Inventory Management Systems
Most of us are familiar with these too, though we’d all struggle to keep track of developments in this space. There are many variations of these. Some will promise to integrate with your existing systems such as your ERP or accounting software. Some will be independent of all other software that you have available. Some will be online, others will allow you operate your own secure network.
It is quite a complex area and is best kept at the advice of the technology professionals. As these software systems mature and become more robust, they are integrating, not only the inventory tracking but also the asset tracking – side by side. Some of these software systems come alongside task or process management systems, though there exists a variety of Cleaning Management Software solutions out there to integrate based on requirements.
Cleaning Management Software
This area is still highly experimental and is the last technology in the chain that remains to be perfected. These software systems generally look after everything required in commercial cleaning or facilities management. From quality controls, to capability assessment, to task assignment, to project quotation, even to inventory utilisation. There are many solutions out there. Some offer ability to integrate into other systems, others do not. It is important to mention that, as these systems mature in the coming years, we’re likely to see increased integration into the above mentioned other technologies.
Putting this all Together
Systemising the cleaning supply chain through technology is an interesting and growing space. It is a very expensive concept, so it is still confined to specialised areas such as health, where it is needed most. Similar technologies are being used overseas already to track and regulate the availability of important staff members such as nurses and surgeons. The systems and concepts are not entirely new, however it’s starting to become less expensive and less difficult to implement.
Now, more than ever, we have technologies that are readily available to allow our inventories to speak for themselves. The software can control the cleaning tasks and the inventories could be tracked based on usage. The information would then automatically flow back to distributor and then the manufacturer. No doubt an important benefit will be the strengthened relationship between distributor and manufacturer.