Clean restrooms are integral to helping building service contractors ward off complaints, but this isn’t all that’s required. Keeping them fully-stocked with soap and towels is also essential for creating content customers. In fact, according to a recent survey by Contracting Profits, the issue of empty soap and towel dispensers ranks as the No. 1 gripe coming from facility executives. 

But keeping dispensers from running out of stock isn’t as straightforward or as easy as it seems. For one thing, janitorial crews are often spread pretty thin and sometimes over very large facilities; a reality that can make frequent monitoring of these dispensers challenging. That’s unfortunate because there’s a lot that can go awry with dispensers. They can suddenly malfunction or jam. Product levels can drop unexpectedly, such as when someone pulls out one paper towel and multiple towels fall to the floor or when there’s a sudden, unanticipated increase in demand. 

Getting an accurate handle on usage volume and traffic patterns in order to maintain appropriate supplies is tricky. Sure, there are certain times of the day — such as the morning rush and lunch — that can generally be predicted to result in heavier product consumption, but this is hardly set in stone and can swing depending on what’s going on in the building or even the time of year.

All of this can keep janitorial crews busy and not always efficiently so. Of course, the last thing a BSC wants is for the staff to check on these dispensers too infrequently. But unnecessary vigilance that results in a whole lot of running back and forth isn’t much better since this creates inefficiencies, chewing up both time and money. However, a solution to this dilemma has arrived in the form of soap and towel dispensers equipped with Internet of Things (IoT) technology designed to keep an eye on supply levels when actual eyes cannot, generating data that enables BSCs and their crews to approach restroom maintenance with a greater degree of control.

IoT Technology

Specifics will vary somewhat by manufacturer, but in general, IoT dispensers are outfitted with sensors designed to monitor and report on a variety of conditions via alerts generated and sent in real-time to web-enabled devices such as mobile phones and tablets, as well as laptops or desktop computers (rather than using alerts, there are also systems that notify through a dashboard, also sending this information to mobile phones, etc.)

Standard monitoring with IoT includes: product levels and when refilling with product, or replacing with refill containers, is required (most dispensers are compatible with any brand of product); if the wrong refill has been inserted; low/dead battery; and the condition of the dispenser, for example, if it needs attention or has malfunctioned. In addition, many IoT systems allow for customization. 

The location of every dispenser is also provided, as are ongoing changes in product status, such as when a low-product level approaches a “critical” point, says James “Jimy” T. Baynum III, acting vice president of e-commerce, North America for Philadelphia-based Essity Professional Hygiene North America LLC. Additionally, some dispensers are equipped with automatic product reordering, eliminating another task for BSCs.

Customers can decide at what level they want to receive alerts, says April Bertram, business development director SMARTLINK Solutions, GOJO Industries in Akron, Ohio.

“For example, a customer with slower-traffic facilities may configure the system to send alerts when there is 5 percent of the product remaining,” she says. “However, a higher-traffic location may set it higher so they have time to proactively service the dispenser before the product in the refill is completely gone.”   

Proactive alerts allow janitors to service dispensers before a problem occurs or a customer becomes aware of it. 

IoT-equipped devices not only generate reports on how quickly product is consumed but can also collect and make sense of more complex data. Examples of this data include: detailed analytics such as visitor counts/traffic patterns by daypart, thereby providing insights on times and areas of heaviest (or lightest) use — information that can give BSCs a better understanding of what areas may require more attention than others and improving operational efficiencies, says Bertram. 

“The combination of hand soap and hand sanitizer dispenser data with the traffic data can be used to service restrooms according to traffic patterns and immediate consumable needs, rather than each restroom equally,” she says. “This leads to higher tenant satisfaction since restrooms are properly stocked.”

Data can also be used to develop digitized cleaning plans, says Baynum. Accessible by the crew at the start of each shift, this could direct them as to what should be on their carts and what areas of the facility they should immediately attend to and what these require.

“Understanding which areas are most frequented at specific times of day can help facilities be more prepared,” says Marc 
Robitzkat, global director of marketing technology for Diversey, Charlotte, North Carolina.

Manufacturers will typically consult with customers, tailoring the report format to their requirements. The kind of data collected and reports generated from that data can also, in many cases, be customized. Usually, the BSC managers or facility operators receive and analyze the data, says Robitzkat. But manufacturers will also help with this aspect if desired, so that BSCs — and the facility’s tenants — derive the biggest benefit from the data.


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Realizing Janitorial Resource Optimization