Imagine never having to pay for a lost key again. Imagine if the people with access to your computer network didn’t keep forgetting their passwords. Imagine if access to customer buildings, your own buildings, computer networks and time clocks could be controlled from one source.

While current access-control technology obviously works in most cases, and is better than nothing, it relies on the worker’s memory, which isn’t always reliable. And there’s nothing stopping an unauthorized guest from simply entering a building with a keyholder.

Biometric security — the use of variations in fingerprints, irises or voice — possibly could change all that. While fingerprinting devices, eye scanners and voice-recognition software isn’t yet ubiquitous, and may not catch on for years, they are starting to appear in unlikely places. At the 2001 Super Bowl, Tampa Bay Police used face scanners to match people in the crowd with a database of outstanding warrants. (A few matches were made, but nobody was arrested). Fingerprint scanners now are being used in several school districts as a means for paying for lunches.

Some of these technologies hold promise for building service contractors. At last year’s Comdex computer trade show, Identix introduced a portable fingerprint scanner for laptop computers. The $179 device fits into a computer’s PC Card slot.

More sophisticated technology such as iris or handprint scanning, is available for buildings and is currently in use in many prisons.

Upon entering a building, each person’s face or iris (the colored part of the eye) is scanned and matched against a database of authorized users. If the images match, the person is allowed to enter the facility.

Voice-authentication programs, too, may hold some promise for BSCs. For instance, many contractors currently require their employees to phone in to a telephone-timekeeping system. But with many of those systems, there is no way of knowing if the person who’s calling in and leaving the message or typing in an employee number is the actual employee. New voice-authentication systems can verify both a password or code and the voice itself, even over the phone.

These devices, however, aren’t cheap; Veritel of America offers a system starting at $4,995, plus a per-user license fee.

To some people, these devices seem like convenient, safe security measures. However, to others, biometrics seem too intrusive. Opponents of the Tampa Bay scanning, for example, have criticized the move as too “Big Brother.”

Others fear storing data as personal as fingerprints, iris prints or voice could lead to loosely guarded national ID databases.

Use Census Data for Market Research
While paying a market-research company to scope new areas and potential customers may be wise for some building service contractors, others may first want to start with the U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns Web site.

The site provides national, state and county data on the economics of, and employment in, various industries. Data is available by Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code from 1993 to 1997, and by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes for 1998 and 1999. (NAICS is a more specific replacement for SIC.)

One purpose of the site is so users can get a scope of an industry in a geographical area. For example, in 1999, there were 54,962 janitorial companies in the United States, employing 903,635. The vast majority of those companies — 47.821 — are small, with one to 19 workers; only 198 BSCs had more than 499 employees. But in a smaller area, say, Boone County, Iowa, there only are six janitorial businesses, employing a total of 13 people.

This data may be useful if you’re determining whether to expand your business into another geographical area.

But scoping out other industries can help you find out which niche markets to pursue. For example, if your company had standard office-cleaning operations in Ohio, but you wanted to see what other types of facilities may be available, you could take a look at the general economic activity of the state. In 1999, retail trade was the largest industry in Ohio by number of establishments. Further perusal of the data shows grocery stores dot the landscape more often than specialty food or liquor stores. Perhaps retail, or more specifically grocery stores, may be a lucrative opportunity for BSCs in Ohio.

In Washington, D.C., however, professional, scientific and technical establishments — most notably law firms — are widespread. While cleaning a law firm may not differ widely from cleaning any other office, contractors in the District may be better able to target their marketing materials with this information.

You Pirate, You Pay
Never mind that it’s illegal; there are many more reasons why it’s unwise to use pirated software (such as running the same copy of Microsoft Word on all of your computers). It seems that newly fired, laid-off or otherwise disgruntled ex-employees have been reporting their former employers for software piracy in record numbers, Wired magazine reports. While contractors may not have to worry about their janitorial staff turning them in, a savvy back-office worker or even a computer consultant could do the job. For more information about software piracy, visit the Business Software Alliance.

New Site, E-News for Stone Care
Building service contractors who offer stone-care services now have a new electronic resource at their disposal., a Web site and e-mail newsletter from stone-care manufacturer VIC International Corp., features several articles each month about various stone surfaces and techniques. Classified advertisements also are available. Professionals in the stone-care industry also can submit articles for possible publication.

Cell Phone Etiquette
The cellular phone is fast becoming as indispensable a tool for cleaning contractors as a mop and bucket. But it’s been a mixed blessing at best: too many BSCs leave their phone manners at the office. Here are a few tips:

  • Answer your cellular phone as you would your business phone. Let the person know who they’re talking to right away. “Hello, this is …”
  • Answer your phone within three rings or three vibrations. Or make sure it goes straight to voice mail.
  • Turn it off right in front of the customer. This shows that you’re interested in devoting your time only to them. Plus, it’s common courtesy.
  • Women, if they leave their phone on, should have it in an accessible location so they’re not searching through their purse trying to find it as it rings.
  • Keep in mind that talking while driving doesn’t allow the communicator to give 100 percent of their attention. (In some places, it’s illegal.)
  • Return voice mail messages within 24 hours.
  • Know the capabilities of your phone.
  • Avoid calling in areas where you know the reception is poor. Wait for better reception and an uninterrupted conversation.

Adapted from a Sanitary Maintenance interview with Eileen Brownell, president of Training Solutions, a Chico, Calif.-based firm. Brownell speaks and writes on communication issues.

Hazcom Goes Online
Complying with the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s hazard communication standard causes some building service contractors headaches, but a new partnership might help ease the burden.

Hampton, N.H.-based Actio Corp., an information-management firm specializing in regulatory compliance, and Milwaukee-based label maker Brady Corp., are setting up a real-time, Web-based way for customers to create labels for secondary containers in an instant.

The system uses information from material safety data sheets (MSDS) to create labels for use on secondary packaging, such as a spray bottle full of diluted floor finish. What’s more, is if the manufacturer makes any MSDS changes, the label information also changes without any additional input, and a new one can be printed out quickly.

This service, as well as other MSDS and compliance-related services Actio offers, are available by subscription. For more information, visit Actio’s site.