ROUND TABLE: Understanding Current Technology & Practices in Cleaning & FM
Dated: 21-04-2019

Innovation and technological advancement have always been at the forefront of the cleaning and hygiene industry. The world over, the industry is undergoing a major transformation with new procedures and policies, sustainable cleaning practices and digitalisation. Several organisations – both globally and regionally - are constantly working towards the betterment of this segment, and few have already taken a step further with the launch of robotics, introducing state-of-the-art training centres for the work force, regularising recruitment processes and so on. 

Here, we feature the leading professionals from the cleaning and hygiene industry gathered together for a roundtable discussion on understanding the current technologies and practices in the industry. The roundtable discussion was moderated by Pamini Hemaprabha, Complex Executive Housekeeper, Mina Seyahi Complex.

The rationale: Adopting innovation 
Today, there is greater momentum towards achieving manpower efficiency through technological references. Smart washrooms designed for customer needs with reduced human interference are a great example of this trend. For instance, the market place offers technology that intimates cleaning personnel through a pop-up message on their tablet or smart phone when there is a requirement for a refill rather than requiring the cleaner to physically check the refill status every time. Dorothee Stein, Head-Facility Care, Dubai Airports, agrees, “The industry is definitely looking forward to digitalisation. Robotics has been a topic of discussion for probably two years now. If we want to remain efficient, we have got to address the requirement for innovations. All of this assists us in working more efficiently and offering a better customer experience.”
 
“The economies of scale can only be achieved by clever use of manpower. In the past, the industry was working towards investing in manpower for cleaning; but now instead, manpower is used in a defined manner that ensures that you can cover more at a lower cost,” explains Vijayshankar Kavasseri, General Manager, Emrill Services. Providing a glimpse into the other side of the coin, Adrian Jarvis, Director, FSI Middle East, says, “As a technology service provider, we continue to see evolution within the practice of use of technology. Currently, we are working on sensors that can keep a track of footfalls, for example, in public spaces like washrooms.”
 
Andrea Deutschbein, Director FM, Soft Services, Emaar, finds it imperative that there be a good partnership between client and service provider when it comes to adapting smart technologies along with the willingness and ability to go for it. It cannot be handled singlehandedly, may become very expensive and can lead to failures in case one partner is against it. She says, “Emaar adapted a CAFM system for all their services, which enable the FM Manager every month to analyse any pending cleaning and treatment tasks, whether some tasks need a reduced or increasedfrequency, or are not required at all. This results in cost control along with an overview of the average time a cleaner may require for a certain task and the average number of cleaners required for that task in the first place. Your workforce will be much more productive as a result.” She adds that Emaar is also planning to use smart technology to monitor air quality in all washrooms, footfalls, for e.g. on escalators, and this information will not just be useful for the soft FM department but also for other departments such as marketing, etc. “We just have to be open to use technology in the right way,” explains Deutschbein.
 
Imran Ahmed, Regional General Manager, FM & Support Services, ADNH Compass, pointed out that innovation doesn't necessarily mean technology; it also could mean the processes put in place to become more efficient in driving quality. “We have implemented the Six Sigma system in our organisation. It is actually putting in a process and offers us a good understanding of where we have wastage and where we can be more efficient. And, it doesn’t involve a huge investment. There has to be a balance between the cost of the technology and the returns.” “I like the fact that CAFM systems are predominantly designed and developed to help increase efficiencies and periodic planning. However, we haven't seen this system being applied in the soft services field mainly because the cost of such systems to be used is extremely expensive. However, there are other systems that are in development right now, which will primarily look at soft services, and this is where we envisage looking at in the future,” adds Ahmed.
 
From Farnek’s perspective, technology is crucial. Julian Khalil, Director - Soft Services, Farnek Services, shared, “We started our journey few years ago by investing in and developing our own technologies with the target to drive efficiencies in operations and enhance customer experience. Our inhouse developed smart watch helps to ease communication between all team members, reduces response timings and ensures optimum deployment. In addition to that we are automating and digitalising many other processes in administration reducing manual work and time spent. A challenge of new technology is that it is not commercialised and investments are high. Especially in this region manpower cost are rather low and therefore high investment cost do not pay off that easy. This is one of the reasons we started to look for our own solutions.’’
 
According to Deutschbein, a service provider's role is to educate the client about the benefits of the latest technologies and convince them to use the most effective ones in view of the long-term returns that offset the initial cost. She adds that sharing cost is the best model in that respect. Ahmed says, “The only innovation that is costly is the one applied in the wrong place. Yes, the initial investment is expensive, but if you don't have a long-term partnership, then innovation can't be subsidised over a short period. This is when it becomes expensive. We must be sure that we have long term partnership in place to cover the cost.”
 
Role of sustainability 
Sustainability and ecofriendliness go hand in hand with innovation. “Through the technology we provide, we have been privy to a more measured idea of service delivery and how that is managed,” says Jarvis. He adds, “We are moving towards output specifications in the region to ensure that contractors are more efficient; but a part of that involves monitoring what is being used and recording it and therefore being able to show clients how their facility is performing. From a hard services perspective it has a very big economic and sustainability element to it.”
 
On the other hand, while we talk about adapting sustainable solutions the real estate industry is already in line with this. Dubai and Abu Dhabi probably have some of the most fantastic buildings in the region, and with the ongoing construction boom, the majority of the buildings that are under construction are adhering to the LEED standard. “It’s not going to be an option any more for cleaning companies to not adhere to these policies while the government is also very keen on pushing forward greener initiatives. We have already implemented Estidama in our organisation. Going green is no more a choice; it’s a social responsibility,” explains Ahmed.
 
“Sustainability plays a major role in all the operations that are carried out at Farnek. We’ve recently been awarded with ISSA’s Cleaning Industry Management Standard Green Building (CIMS GB) with honours. To comply, Farnek met various criteria with a focus on sustainable cleaning practices, which include the implementation of a green cleaning policy, resource conservation plans and environmental impact analysis. Being CIMS GB certified, we automatically secure the required green cleaning points for our clients who are aiming at LEED EB: O&M (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Existing Buildings; Operations and Maintenance) certification. Besides, we are also trying to set a benchmark by measuring our CO2 emissions from our cleaning services with the help of our partners. The initiative provides environmentallyconscious businesses with the opportunity to offset their carbon footprint and neutralise the environmental impact of their cleaning operations by investing in a range of projects that replace the use of fossil fuels with renewable energy,” shares Khalil.
 
Deutschbein opines, “Sustainability is playing an important role in our organisation, and it is actually a part of our tender agreements. We have specifications on the products and machines that can be used in our organisation, the chemicals used should have as a minimum of green/eco certifications and are used in most economical proportions. In fact, we use pre-soaked mops, which eliminate the need for the cleaner to carry any chemical or water on site leading to no pollution or very less pollution and water conservation.” 
 
 
The hiring dilemma 
While it is all very essential to talk about technology and its adoption, manpower still remains a dominant aspect of any efficient cleaning operation. Growth within the organisation is another aspect of hiring. Several companies ensure that their staff is trained from the lowest level and offered the kind of experience and support that helps them climb the career ladder. Ahmed says, “We are fortunate to have office boys who started with us at a lower grade level and are now at par with my role as Regional General Manager; they have the capabilities - we just need to show them the right path.”
 
According to Khalil, while training is key, instilling a sense of motivation in the cleaning personnel is also an important aspect. He says, “Like Farnek, many companies have started to invest in professional training centres to educate their staff according to international standards like BICSc. Additionally, we offer our staff further career opportunities through our Career Center, which provides motivated team members to take up courses to go to the next level. Training and development is imperative to invest into especially when it comes to front-of-house operations.” 
 
Talking about the salary structure and expectations, Ahmed says, “A minimum salary structure is critical to retain quality staff. A lot of Asian countries from where we predominantly hire our workforce now offer similar salaries; so, its pretty obvious that workers are moving here with far better salary expectations. On the other hand, employers must ensure that the salary meets the staff’s living requirements in the region and to support their families back home. We have an ethical salary structure wherein we agree on a minimum salary with the embassies of their home countries. This can be perceived to be more expensive for our clients; but we’ve seen that with this, our staff is more willing to work and grow.” 
 
Kavasseri from Emrill Services counters this, “There are several smaller, unorganised companies that don’t offer their cleaners a minimum wage. As a result, it becomes much more easier for them to bid for projects with a much lower quote. This in turn puts experienced, ethical service providers under risk because their costs are built in to the contract. Moreover, a new challenge in hiring is the norms for recruitment set up by Expo 2020. Strictly adhering with the Dhaka principles, it indicates that workers moving to Dubai must not be mandated to pay their recruitment agencies a commission fee. As a result, the onus is on us as service companies to carry out this task. This is going to radically change the way we hire labour, the overall costing and the operations.” 
 
Offering the perspective of an end user, Deutschbein says, “We were one of the first clients to mandate that any cleaning staff in our mall must at least be BICSc certified. This came about at a time when it was most necessary to set a standard. Today, service providers have set up their own training centres. Yes, our costs do increase with such investments on behalf of the service provider, but the end-result is a higher standard of service.” 
 
Another recruitment challenge is in getting middle-or senior-level management on board, finds Deutschbein. She says, “Since Soft FM was not recognised as an important segment for a long period of time, the scope of generating career interest in this field was less. As a result while we hire FM or cleaning managers, we usually come across candidates with a hard FM background and lack of required specialised skills.” Ahmed contributes that it takes his company roughly 30-45 days to hire predominately soft services staff, cleaners, etc. He says, “I agree getting middle management on board is difficult, and it takes a lot more time and investment. Sourcing good, strong soft services managers with the skill and experience required is much more challenging.
 
Expo 2020
With Dubai being the first Middle Eastern country to host the much awaited Expo 2020, it is important to know how the cleaning industry views itself growing in the next one year. Ahmed says, “The Expo 2020 is an opportunity for everyone, and the fact that the whole world's eyes are on us - not only in terms of the expo but also in terms of this country’s overall development - puts us under the microscope. When it comes to the way we manage our soft services, I think we manage our processes much better than I have seen in the UK. The tremendous opportunities as a result of Expo 2020 have changed how we look after our cleaning staff. We also expect additional business with the news that 240 odd hotels are being built and that the Al Maktoum Airport will be fully opened by 2020.”
 
Kavasseri finds that the biggest challenge with regard to Expo 2020 will be of mobilisation and demobilisation. He says, “These aspects are covered under the ethical hiring process as this period will witness a huge surplus of manpower post the expo. At Emrill, we are trying to strategise and plan ahead how we can effectively take care of this manpower post demobilisation.”
 
Khalil concludes, “I believe we (both the industry and Farnek) have advanced quite a lot in the last two years. We gained a lot of inputs from across the world thanks to the multicultural nature of this country’s population. Moreover, with the ambitious targets the country is looking forward to achieve including making Dubai a smart city with zero waste drives organisations to invest in technologies and innovations; we are clear about where our future lies. The question is whether the industry can fully gear up to achieve these ambitious standards.”