You Talkin’ to Me?

You Talkin’ to Me?

In our houses, cars, and now many developed urban landscapes, we are increasingly surrounded by tiny, intelligent devices that capture data about our lives and what we do. They are now beginning to talk to one another, and before too long, we will be able to set them up to respond to our needs, solve our problems, and even potentially save our lives by alerting us to serious health issues. This is the language of the (near) future: Tiny, smart things all around us, coordinating their activities. Coffeepots that talk to alarm clocks. Thermostats and light fittings that talk to motion sensors. Manufacturing assembly lines that talk to the power network as well as to boxes of components or drums of raw materials.

Just over a dozen years ago, WiFi put all our computers on a wireless network. And half a decade after this, the smartphone revolution put a series of pocket-size devices on that network. We are now seeing the dawn of an era when the most mundane items in our lives can talk wirelessly among themselves, performing tasks on command, giving us previously unimaginable volumes of data.

Think of farm animals with a microchip installed that communicates vital health and nutritional information to their owner wherever they are grazing, or a car that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low. That’s the Internet of Things (IoT).

Re-imagine a hotel room where the lights, the stereo, and the blinds are controlled from a central station and adjust to your logged preferences before you walk in. Think of a gym where the machines know your workout as soon as you arrive. Or re-imagine your home with sprinklers taking orders from moisture sensors to water the lawn. These are all examples of the IoT in action.

Or consider traffic, which is undoubtedly getting worse as the statistics prove. According to a survey by satellite navigation company TomTom, commuters in 2014 spent an average of 66 more hours stuck in traffic than they did in 2013. It is not too difficult to see the promise and appeal of connected self-driving cars that allow data about individual journeys, routes, and vehicles to be centrally monitored, controlled, and systematized allowing for autonomous, remote management of key junctions and intersections to speed up the journey times of all. In fact, once computers are in full control of our cars, will we even need traffic lights at all?

So far though, the IoT has been most closely associated with machine-to-machine (M2M) communication in manufacturing and power, oil, and gas utilities. However, the much-hyped Apple Watch is potentially a tipping point in the IoT revolution. With orders of the product totaling millions in a matter of hours, IoT has hit the mainstream, moving into the public consciousness and heralding an acceleration point in the evolution of smart technology. There is a distinct possibility that wearable technologies—whether in the form of a watch or a pair of glasses—will become as essential and everyday as their current analogue versions.

Against this backdrop of rapid technological progress, I was truly shocked when I entered this industry two years ago to find that technology is not as prominent as in certain other industries that I have worked in, such as automotive and chemical manufacturing. Yet I sincerely believe that is on the cusp of change.

According to Gartner, who many regard as the world’s leading information technology research analyst firm, the IoT will explode to 26 billion devices by 2020. If we add in smartphones and tablets, that number grows to more than 33 billion devices. Gartner projects IoT will result in US$1.9 trillion in global economic “value-add”—the combined benefits that businesses derive through the sale and usage of IoT technology. Consultants McKinsey & Co are even more bullish, estimating that 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020, and this in turn, will drive the total value of the IoT sector to $6.3 trillion.

It is my vision that those who aspire to be winners in our industry will ride this trend and excel at providing connected, smart devices—to a market that does not typically understand the technology and services—and create e-business models that make sharing data the norm.

If you apply this concept to the specific and complex needs of the global cleaning industry, new platforms are being innovated which connect machines, dispensers, sensors, beacons, and other smart devices to finally achieve broad insight into equipment usage, consumption, and operations.

The practical advantages of these insights include improved safety and operational performance, enhanced productivity, remote monitoring, visibility of assets, task prioritization, more accurate dosing, reduced use of water and/or chemicals, and increased hand hygiene compliance.

Quality managers now have more information than ever to manage their operations; information is power, and it is also the power to drive customer satisfaction. And operations management is a point that is greatly connected with people. In the Information Era, new technology leads to decentralized and mobile operations management.

Imagine a day when your staff can follow a food safety course or a hygiene module from home, from the beach, or in a train station! Imagine a day when all your compliance reports, audits, and inspections can be stored in one website. Imagine a day when you can enjoy 24/7 service on site, without the technician being physically there. That day is here already!

To me, this is nothing less than an e-revolution, one that provides virtually endless opportunities and connections to take place. The insights given by the data from connected devices give real and immediately quantifiable value to our customers and allow them to raise the overall qualitative standards.

For example, take the challenge of hand wash compliance among employees. Here, smart dosing and dispensing systems enables building operators/owners to know the rate of usage of their hand soap dispensers from both employees and customers, remotely! In food service locations, for example, this allows for higher levels of food safety thanks to clean hands plus higher levels of guest satisfaction and better subsequent online reviews due to the fact that dispensers never need be out of soap or paper ever again.

Floor cleaning machines is another product category which is already seeing the benefits of connected technology and robotics. Fleet managers can now remotely monitor their machines. Machines with wireless reporting systems keep track of information, such as pinpointing exact machine location, low battery level alerts, analysis of the total number of running hours, and the number of working hours between crashes (which in turn might suggest the need for further operative training). Robotics amps the benefits of technology still further and hands-free floor cleaning could well be the norm for many locations in the near future.

Innovating with technology is going to be massive in the months and years ahead, and foresighted companies are already actively innovating applications whose impact can’t be fully appreciated today. This is the future of cleaning!

Dr. Ilham Kadri

Dr. Ilham Kadri is president of Sealed Air Diversey Care.

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