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The Technologies Disrupting Cleaning
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The Technologies Disrupting Cleaning
Date: 12-10-2016

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Our previous Talking Point article argued that we are seeing the early signs of a tidal wave of digital change sweeping through the commercial cleaning sector in the Middle East. The starting point in developing an appropriate response is to undertake a Digital Landscape Analysis for your business. To assist you, this follow-up article takes a brief look at the main technologies threatening to disrupt commercial cleaning and the current progress being made across the region in terms of digital business transformation.

Seven disruptive technologies

Social Media

As a consequence of the social media revolution, business buyers are no longer passive recipients of sales and marketing messages. They proactively use digital and social media channels to become more fully informed about potential vendors. It is now critical for suppliers to establish a strong digital and social media brand presence; using social channels to establish brand authority and trust through disseminating high quality content that adds value to customers. This is certainly the approach we adopt at Arpal Gulf.

Enterprise Social

It is also important that organisations become ‘social’ internally.

Most cleaning organisations continue to operate on traditional, hierarchical, command and control structures. This type of structure fits uneasily with the fast moving, dynamic and increasingly digital world we operate in. It certainly sits uneasily with the growing number of millennials and ‘digital natives’ beginning to enter senior management and executive positions in cleaning and related industries.

A wide range of Enterprise Social tools now exist for empowering staff, improving business processes and internal communications, building collaborative, agile, flexible, fast moving, efficient and effective organisations ‘fit for purpose’ in an increasingly digital age.

The Cloud 

Migrating a substantial part of your IT estate to the cloud can deliver major business benefits in terms of lower IT costs; scalability; reliability; manageability; enhanced security; 24/7 any place, any device access; rapid project mobilisation; delivery capability and so on. In an industry operating on tight margins with multi-location workforces, these are important issues in the cleaning industry. Cleaning operators who do not migrate to the cloud will become less competitive.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

Closely related to the above, a ‘tipping point’ is being reached in the use of IoT in the global cleaning industry. It is one of the most exciting and disruptive trends affecting the sector. Almost every aspect of the cleaning process can now be tracked thanks to IoT technology. Examples include towel and restroom dispensers that send alerts when stock is running low; scrubbing machines and vacuums that track runtime, user location and more; cleaning chemical dispensers and dosing equipment; fleet management and so on.

Big Data & Predictive Analytics

The data generated by IoT devices and equipment will increasingly become a major source of competitive advantage in the industry. Future ‘winners’ in commercial cleaning will be those organisations who develop predictive analytical capabilities to unlock the power of big data.

Artificial Intelligence/Intelligent Machines/Automation 
‘Rise of the robots’. From an employment and labour market perspective, this is one of the most contentious and hotly debated topics relating to digital disruption in commercial cleaning. In the Middle East, experiments are already taking place with increasingly sophisticated and specialised computers, machines, robots and algorithms that can do many routine, repetitive cleaning tasks; such as autonomous floor cleaning robots in shopping malls, airports and industrial premises. While no definitive research has yet been undertaken regarding the number of cleaning jobs to be lost as a result of automation, one thing is certain - industry labour markets are facing an era of severe disruption. 

The Blockchain
The new kid on the block as far as digital disruption in the cleaning industry is concerned is the Blockchain; the publicly distributed ledger system that experts predict will revolutionise a wide range of industries. This is one to watch for the future.

Is the Middle East ready?

Contrary to some perceptions in the West, the Middle East is not a laggard in the digital transformation race. If anything, the complete opposite is the case. 

There is growing awareness across the region of the need to ‘adapt or die’. For example, the Digital Disruption Summit held in Dubai last December started with the following comment – ‘What's your digital strategy? Don't have one? You'll be out of business tomorrow”. While an exaggeration, it does highlight the urgency of transforming digitally. 

Across the region, a large number of exciting digital transformation projects are underway in both the private and public sectors. A detailed 2015 report by Accenture concluded that leading businesses and governments in the Middle East already have strategies and projects in place to fully leverage digital transformation opportunities.

The report, based on detailed interviews with more than 200 senior decision-makers in the public and private sectors of the UAE and Saudi Arabia (KSA) concluded that digital has become part of the fabric of many organisations’ operating DNA. “Leading organizations in the Middle East are already planning and executing on their digital transformation goals in response to the fast-changing needs of this digitally-savvy population.”

A majority of respondents (62 per cent in UAE and 83 per cent in KSA) have seen the pace of technology adoption in their organization increase over the past two years. About half of the organizations surveyed (48 per cent in UAE and 53 per cent in KSA) are actively investing in digital technologies, while another four in 10 are assessing them (41 per cent in UAE and 43 per cent in KSA).

Governments too have been very active in this area with Dubai already being internationally recognised as one of the most technology advanced cities in the world. E-government initiatives have been launched elsewhere, for example, in Abu Dhabi where ADSIC launched a new e-Government strategy last year.

A brief look at the agenda for GITEX 2016, currently taking place in Dubai, leaves no doubt about the rapid pace of digital change taking place in the region. During the one week event, a series of major event are being held covering the impact of emerging digital technologies across a range of sectors such as Healthcare, Finance, Retail, Marketing and Energy. Technologies being covered include Smart Living and Wearables, Augmented Reality, Drones, Robotics and Automation.

For cleaning operators in the region, the message is clear, ‘adapt or die’.

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