BSCs that have successfully deployed robots know the importance of preparing staff for the inevitable cultural change.

"You can't just drop off a robot and hope it works," says Rudin. "There's a significant learning curve and change management process. So make sure when they're introduced into the environment it's done appropriately."

Train agrees with Rudin. She says the most successful BSCs are the ones that have committed a person who will roll out the robot and integrate it culturally with the teams at the site.

"If they just plop a robot down and say 'use this,' it's destined to fail," says Train.

Prior to launching its robot at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto, Oxford Properties met with janitors and union members so it could introduce the robot as part of the company's cleaning strategy and assure the workers that the robot would not be replacing any staff members. The night staff has already embraced the robot and given it a name, says Joe Rodrigues, maintenance manager.

"You have to have a conversation with the staff, and be upfront," says Rodrigues. "You also have to provide a significant amount of training and minimize the number of people who are in charge of the robot."

While most BSCs must contend with how best to integrate robots into their existing workforce, Jon Hill, CEO and co-founder of LaserClean Systems, has taken a different approach: Together with Pat Manuel and William Dillon, he started a contract cleaning company specifically to use robots as part of a broader approach to quality management.

Manuel, a former high-school teacher and football coach, witnessed firsthand the lack of proper cleaning practices in schools, leading to a revolving door of BSCs. After meeting Hill, a former CFO at Intellibot, the two started talking about using automation and technology to improve the quality of cleaning.

"One of the benefits of a robot is that I can increase the frequency of cleaning without extra labor; for instance, during flu season," says Hill. "It also allows us to focus on preserving assets — our schools — because it doesn't use recycled water like a mop bucket does."

More importantly, Hill believes that automation is part of a larger effort to change the culture of the cleaning industry by offering employees better wages, benefits and training, which in turn motivates them to take ownership of the company.

It is this approach that attracted the attention of Middlesex County Public Schools in Saluda, Virginia. The school district outsources custodial services and periodically reviews its contract. During this time, Peter Gretz, superintendent, heard about LaserClean and was intrigued by their business model.

"LaserClean is trying to revolutionize the cleaning industry — not just by using robots but by rethinking the role of the custodian and training him with a different set of 21st century skills," says Gretz. "So the automated cleaners are part of a bigger picture."

In June, LaserClean began cleaning Middlesex County's elementary, middle and high schools. The robots are used in large, open areas, such as hallways, cafeterias and gymnasiums, in conjunction with intelligent mops that clean the edges beyond the robot's reach and provide feedback to the robot when done.

The robots have been in use for only a few weeks; however, Greg Harrow, director of operations, says that he is very pleased with the results.

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