AI concept

Technological advances have helped building service contractors (BSCs) over the years, and the new era of artificial intelligence (AI) is proving to be no different. Ryan Ferons, director of software development at Cora Technologies, offers some perspective on the trend. His company is a subsidiary of Maryland-based Pioneer Building Services, which is a member of the Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI), and he and his colleagues have developed a number of software programs for the building cleaning industry. Chief among them is cleancode, an online platform that tracks, schedules and validates cleaning activity using QR codes. 

“I consider myself a technologist,” Ferons says. “I love using technology to improve our lives and to make work easier. AI fits into that really closely. Over the last several years, I’ve spent a lot of time keeping up with the advancements in machine learning and AI. A lot of our discussions have been, ‘How do we incorporate AI into Pioneer and into our processes? What actual problems can we solve?’” 

For the purposes of this article, Ferons focuses the discussion on generative AI, a type of artificial intelligence technology that can produce various types of content including text, audio, imagery, and synthetic data.  

“When you talk about chatbots and ChatGPT and some of these other technologies out there, you’re specifically talking about generative AI,” he states. “How most people are using it today is within the admin functions of a company. I’m talking about your marketing teams, your sales teams, your client engagement teams — your people who are communicating with people. These generative AI tools have become an enhancer for productivity for those types of roles. You can use it for brainstorming ideas. You can use it to translate text into multiple languages. You can use it for several different tasks that you would typically find in those admin roles.” 

Ferons believes the biggest advantage that most BSCs are striving for with technology is to give employees a tool to enhance their productivity.  

“The goal is to do more work in less time, thus saving money,” he elaborates. “You don’t have to hire more people to take on the same amount of work. For those individuals, their work is made easier. They can leverage the AI tool to do a lot of the ‘grunt work’-type thinking, and they can refine and adapt it as needed. One example of that is you can ask these AIs to brainstorm ideas. You can ask it to do research on specific ideas. A lot of these AI tools out there are becoming quite sophisticated in this regard.” 

Ferons concedes that there can be a certain intimidation factor with such cutting-edge technology. For BSCAI members looking to make an early foray into AI, he recommends getting a ChatGPT account: “You can do that by Googling ChatGPT or OpenAI, [the name of the company that developed the ChatGPT chatbot and launched it in November 2022]. Start with a free account. The interface is simply a chat interface. So, anybody can just sit down and start asking questions or typing into the chat interface. Go there and just start using it, become familiar with it.” 

He continues, “As you do so, the next step I would recommend for people looking to deploy this across an organization would be to consider getting a paid account. The benefits are pretty significant. You get access to better models. They put limits on how much you can ask. So, when you have a paid account, those limits are much higher. You have more access to the tool itself. Then, encourage more members across the organization to try it out. You want multiple people throughout your operation to explore and test and interact with the tool and discover how they augment their processes with it. Sharing throughout an organization is how you build a culture of innovation. Give your employees the opportunity to explore and experiment and then provide a forum through which they can share with others what they learn.” 

For Ferons, keeping up with technology is both one of the top joys and biggest challenges of his job.  

“I really do enjoy coding,” he says. “This is a very creative environment for me. I also enjoy interacting with our employees and getting the feedback for how the tool I’m building is impacting their work. Sometimes, it’s good. Sometimes, it’s not so good. You take the good and the bad, and you improve. I enjoy that process very much. I will say, managing expectations is always a difficult challenge when it comes to technology projects. Sometimes, we have the expectation that things should move faster and be done quicker than they really should.” 

Ferons remembers something a mentor of his once told him early on. “Consistency is key.” He adds, “That’s especially true when you’re writing code. But it’s also important to have consistency in how you treat others and how you work with others. When you say you’re going to do something, follow through and do it. I think it’s also important to have a sense of urgency behind doing what you do.” 

Looking ahead, Ferons says he is excited to continue seeing the evolution of generative AI tools. He concludes, “We’ve only had ChatGPT for a short time. In that time, it completely disrupted what people think of the future. It will be really interesting to see how technology evolves as these tools get smarter. I am particularly interested in seeing how the interaction between generative AIs and robotics is going to impact the robotics industry, especially within the contract cleaning industry. Robotics has been this ongoing promise but has never quite come to fruition. So, I think that with the advances in AI, we’re going to start to see true autonomous robotics that can actually augment a staff and don’t need too much supervision.