With about 290,000 people coming through every day, Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport goes through a lot of toilet paper.
Kofi Smith, Ph.D., president and CEO of Atlanta Airlines Terminal Co. (AATC), which provides maintenance for the airport, ought to know. The company’s 1,200 contract employees are responsible for all janitorial and maintenance work in the world’s most traveled airport, from pest control and trash removal to HVAC upkeep and electrical distribution.
“Even though cleaning restrooms is a tiny sliver of our operating budget, it’s one of the biggest and most important parts of what we do,” Kofi Smith said, adding that access to clean restrooms is crucial to both business and leisure travelers as about 90 percent of the time they will use airport restrooms.
To ensure that the travelers have a good restroom experience, AATC installed a smart monitoring system from GP Pro to alert custodians when airport restrooms are out of paper towels and toilet paper. The sensors have proved a smart investment as from August 2018 to February 2019 paper towel outages in sensor-equipped restrooms were down 40 percent. In the same time period, tissue paper waste caused by replacing a toilet paper roll before it was empty was down 22 percent.
Like AATC, many companies and facilities are relying on data provided by sensor and software technology to help them run more efficiently. In addition to restroom supply monitoring, sensor and software data can help run building system equipment, billing programs, and workloading schedules, to name a few capabilities.
But once they invest in this technology, facility managers may become overwhelmed with the large amount of data they collect and not know what to do with it. They may question whether they have anyone on staff qualified to correctly interpret the data and put it to use, justifying the expense of the technology.
Setting up sensors to alert technology users of certain circumstances can alleviate the need to sort through large amounts of data. For instance, Bryan Smith, senior marketing manager for Tennant Co., said all companies want their customers to see clean floors, but many don’t want the customers to see the floors actually being cleaned. Sensors can alert mangers if a floor scrubber was operating after a facility opened to the public. This allows the managers to modify work scheduling and routines or to change their staffing requirements. By setting up an alert to notify them when scrubbers operate during business hours, users can focus only on sites that need additional help instead of having to analyze every site’s usage data.
Bryan Smith is one of several professionals in the sensor and software industry who have weighed in on concerns regarding this technology. Their answers to the following common questions may alleviate your fears regarding implementing data-producing technology at your facility.
How can facility service providers with no prior data-reading experience interpret results from internet of things (IoT) systems?
Greg Scott, president and CEO of Service Robotics & Technologies Inc., recommends that facility managers with no experience interpreting IoT data seek out technical support. He explained that many device manufacturers and integration companies will assist customers in understanding the sensor data.
“You can’t expect to do it all yourself, or at least not at first,” Scott said. “The worst thing to happen to any facility manager or service provider is to buy a new technology, and then either set up or interpret the hardware incorrectly or leave it in a closet gathering dust. Get the experts who best understand their device data to tell what’s important and how to track it properly.”
Andrew Martin, digital product global portfolio manager for Diversey, recommends that managers avoid being bogged down by focusing on data that shows operational savings. “In a dishwashing system, for instance, the introduction of IoT devices such as a temperature sensor allows users to monitor the temperature of the washing process to avoid a hygiene issue that could make people sick,” Martin said. “Or, in the most likely result, to avoid wasting water, chemicals, and energy, or in other words, wasting money, by putting items through another wash cycle.”
Bryan Smith agreed with Martin’s recommendation.“It’s critical to focus on outcomes—good IoT solutions provide actional insights—things you can do right now in your business that will increase revenue, reduce costs, or help you clean your facility better,” he said. “It’s easy to get lost in the data, so focus on the outcomes the IoT delivers then use that to demonstrate the value of the data that got you that improved outcome.
Do facilities need a staff specialized in in data trends and analysis?
“That should not be necessary—it is too much overhead for operations to have data scientists on board to make sense of the data trends and analyze them,” said Sri Sridharan, CPO of Zan Compute Inc.He recommends that facilities choose a sensor platform that provides data in an easy-to-use manner and focuses on the user experience as a critical part of the system.
Bryan Smith said that some users have hired staff specifically for data analysis, but they are the exception rather than the rule. “The key is to find the right IoT solutions that won’t require you to have full-time data analysts,” he said.
What are the top trends or items to seek out when reviewing system data?
Martin recommends reviewing data that tracks the use of consumables and resources such as water, heat, energy, and workers. Sridharan is a strong proponent of tracking restroom usage patterns and determining how they change due to events, weather conditions, and other factors. Scott concurs with both.
“There are many products out there that focus on monitoring power or water usage and providing insights to reduce costs and optimize utility services. Many of these focus around a specific software package that integrates with a specific hardware component to monitor a single utility within a building,” Scott said. “Another major trend is optimizing restroom check and cleaning schedules. With connected dispensers and door counters, custodial managers can proactively deal with inventory refilling before it becomes a problem.”
What items should facility managers showcase when looking to show return on investment (ROI) for IoT/sensor technology?
Scott believes data related to cost and improved service are the most important to showcase. For instance, if a sensor in a freezer at a school cafeteria sends an alert when temperature fluctuations are out of range and this monitoring system saves a worker 15 minutes per shift by no longer documenting the temperature of all the freezers in the cafeteria, that represents a clear cost savings.
“Showing improved service is more difficult but just as important,” Scott said. “What new tasks can that worker do every day for 15 minutes each shift that were not able to be done before the freezer sensors were installed?” Scott believes the answer to that question is a key data point for ROI evaluation of new technology integration.
Bryan Smith cautions that investing in IoT technology can’t solve business problems but can provide better visibility into what is happening and allow users to make decisions based on that reality.
“For example, an IoT solution can show that employees are incorrectly charging battery-powered machines, which drives increased maintenance expense,” he said. “While that’s interesting, what will really pay off would be training employees about proper maintenance procedures and then leveraging the data to hold the team accountable to those best practices.”
How do system settings play a role in the data collected?
Sridharan recommends choosing settings that provide an entire view of the system you’re monitoring rather than getting bogged down in small parts. “Providing a holistic view of the system is more critical than observing individual units, such as restroom dispensers,” he said. “If an alert is sent out for each individual dispenser, more chaos can be introduced into the cleaning staff’s schedule. It’s more effective to have a full view of the area for proper planning and scheduling.”
Bryan Smith advises users to find appropriate ways to group data to avoid information overload. “While it seems like more data would be better, more data can reduce your ability to make quality decisions unless you organize it into meaningful categories that tell a story,” he said.
What is the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to a facility manager who needs to prove a positive ROI for a sensor technology tool?
“My best advice is to start small and build from there,” said Scott. “It is pretty straightforward how you can prove positive ROI from a connected bathroom dispenser or a water-monitoring system as a single product. Then, when this ROI is proven, these systems can provide even greater ROI through additional integrated systems.
Martin reminds IoT users that their data metrics should be simple and easily measurable. “The key idea in all of this is an increase in efficiency,“ he said, adding users want clear proof that the addition of sensors has shown an optimization of man-hours, better energy or water usage, and an increase in square footage cleaned per hour.
Bryan Smith emphasized that no one technology is perfect for every business. “It is critical to deeply understand the strengths, opportunities, and goals you are trying to achieve and then invest in the IoT solution that can best support those business challenges,” he said. “These tools can be very exciting and interesting but be sure to ground your investments in a sound business case with clear, executable objectives.”