Not very long ago, building service contractors ran their businesses armed with clipboards, spreadsheets, logbooks, pagers and tape measures. Complex tasks such as workloading or preparing a janitorial proposal were done manually, based entirely on BSCs' personal knowledge of the local market. Estimating the size of a facility, cleanable square footage, and the time required to complete cleaning tasks was much more of an "art" than a "science." Quality control and client communication were performed in a similarly ad-hoc fashion. As a result, key business decisions were often made on incomplete or inaccurate assumptions costing businesses time and money.

Now, sophisticated BSCs use a variety of technological tools to accurately and efficiently manage virtually every aspect of their operations, thereby mechanizing functions and trimming costs. The latest generation of custodial management software can easily streamline BSCs' custodial operations with tasks such as workloading, bidding and quality control, just as easily as it has been assisting with basic accounting, timekeeping and payroll tasks for years. When used correctly, software can provide BSCs with all the information they need to make informed business decisions, especially if they are faced with declining revenue from customers' spending reductions.

Capturing Data

Even the best custodial management software is often underutilized because users are intimidated by the technology and dread the necessary configuration and data capture phase of the implementation. The common perception is that an IT specialist is needed to assist with the implementation, and that it will require an enormous amount of time, resources and staff to gather and input the necessary core data.

However, most well-designed systems guide users through the configuration phase in a logical and orderly manner. The latest generation of workloading software has even automated the survey process, incorporating laser measuring devices and hand-held data collection software used while touring a site.

Once the basic measurements are captured, users can then start applying additional factors such as building density, surface types, traffic flow and specialty finishes to further enhance estimates. Then, users apply a set of industry standards, cleaning specifications and frequencies to develop workload numbers.

Most importantly, it's easy to change assumptions and analyze multiple scenarios. This is especially helpful in today's economic environment. It's very easy to adjust tasks and frequency to identify areas where a BSC could trim labor costs.

At its core, workloading is an extensive database of time standards, which have been applied to basic industry functions. It's used to answer the question, "How many people should it take to clean the facility?" But when BSCs combine workloading software with an integrated bidding program, the data becomes even more powerful. A well-constructed program can be used to analyze costs, "right size" staffs, create "What if" cleaning scenarios, develop short staffing plans, and even re-assign custodians to activities that better serve the facility.

For example, when Bayaud Industries, a Denver-based BSC, prepared a multi-million dollar custodial contract renewal, the company generated three "What if" cleaning scenarios based on their client's projected budget and needs. While the three scenarios relied on the same mandatory cleaning tasks and frequencies necessary to meet their client's cleaning standard, each scenario allocated the remaining available labor hours and equipment to a unique set of specifications, easily providing the client with a menu of choices based on their priorities.

In one scenario, trash collection was reduced to every other day with the remaining hours re-allocated to increase hard floor maintenance. Another scenario identified low-population areas and reduced cleaning frequency accordingly. The labor savings were re-allocated to cleaning in high-population areas, which improved quality and client satisfaction.

Without the use of an integrated workload/proposal generation program, Bayaud would have been hard-pressed to quickly and accurately identify multiple scenarios, which met the client's available budget.

Once the baseline data is collected and integrated into the software, it's very easy to optimize the custodial operation. When fully implemented, workloading and bidding software can create short staffing plans, optimize cleaning budgets, assign and balance workloads, streamline management, adjust for fluctuations in occupancies/census numbers, and adapt to building renovations.

The software allows the BSC to evaluate new cleaning processes, such as new equipment, tools or chemicals, and determine if they improve productivity. This provides management key information before making a purchasing decision.

Ensuring Quality Through Inspection

Workloading and bidding helps BSCs get started at their accounts. But another key function within a custodial management software system, inspection, helps ensure that quality control is maintained on a day-to-day basis.

Good inspection software is comprised of three components: inspections, communication and tracking. Electronic performance inspections can be customized to meet facility needs, all the way down to room-level specifics. A user can also assign various weights to performance service levels, matching a BSC's inspection criteria to client priorities.

Users can link inspection results with digital photographs. If deficiencies are found, the inspection system will create a work order and auto-assign the task to the appropriate employee. This is a very efficient way to perform important functions with less manpower.

Software also helps improve client and BSC communication by integrating inspection reports with e-mail and text messaging. Reports can be sent to multiple stakeholders with a simple click of a button. Critical issues can even be automatically escalated to management, if configured properly. Communication is automatic, seamless, traceable, and can be done in "real time." Better communication and quickly addressing cleaning errors will bolster the BSC/client relationship.

Reporting can be organized and analyzed by the client, the facility or the employee. It can quickly identify service trends based on key performance indicators, and provide historical perspective to each issue. Users can even track work order response and completion times. If necessary, new work orders can be created and routed instantly if the inspection warrants.

From creating cleaning scenarios, to automatically communicating inspection results to a client, to tracking work orders, a well-designed custodial management system is an effective way to improve client service, and help both BSCs and their clients "tighten their belt" in the current economic climate.

BJ Mandelstam is the founder and president of Cleaning Matters, a Denver-based custodial consulting practice. Previously, she was the owner of an award-winning contract cleaning company. For more information, visit