Throughout history, the best leaders have been those who connect well with others using the communication methods of their given eras, says Orlando-based marketing and technology coach Terry Brock.

"Today, CEOs who understand how to connect, not only using e-mail but through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn — LinkedIn is a big one with them — and use of technology to send a quick video, they're able to do a whole lot," Brock says.

Brock, who has spoken at ISSA's annual trade show and convention, says cleaning industry professionals showed some initial confusion about which devices would be the best fit.

"I think the question is, ‘Is this the right technology for you, in your situation?'" he says. "What kind of tools can you bring in that will help give you a competitive advantage?"

The best way to know what kind of technology is going to work well for a given individual or company is to stay on top of trends by reading technology magazines and websites, connecting with tech-savvy professionals who can give advice, researching the options that fit within an organization's budget and making sure that the chosen devices are fully understood by those who use them.

Execs who understand technology and implement it in ways that their employees and customers can benefit from are able to use it to their competitive advantage, Brock says.

"It's not a choice anymore. It's not just a good idea. It's imperative," Brock says. "You need to know this and those that do not know it are woefully left behind."

From mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to websites that allow building service contractors to connect with customers, employees and the general public, the world of technology is ever-changing. Smartphones such as iPhones, Blackberrys and Androids, and tablets such as the iPad, put a world of information and methods of communication at one's fingertips.

Harnessing the power of technology to enhance connectedness and productivity might seem daunting, but it is increasingly the mark of thriving companies.

"For the cleaning industry, those who get out there and really connect with customers, connect with employees, and do it in a genuine way are the ones who are going to be the most successful," Brock says.

Making the Transition

Although tablet technology, smartphones and software have made work in the industry more efficient, building service contractors need to be aware that many employees are "old school" and may resist change driven by technology.

"Our generation is an analog generation, so we are immigrants in a digital world," says Fernando Cruz, the president of Dynamond Building Maintenance in Provo, Utah.

"Our minds work in analog so it's hard for some to understand how the digital world works. It's really hard for some people. To make everyone integrate from analog to the digital world is the hardest work we have to do. Some of our managers are used to using a pencil and a piece of paper and they don't want to let that go," he adds.

For the individual, it takes valuable time, energy and a willingness to migrate into the digital world, according to Cruz. Some people will be tougher to train and manage in terms of their use of technology, a dynamic that sobers the implementation and evolution of tablets, smartphones and emerging software in the industry.

Investing in technology, and training employees to properly use technology, pays off, Cruz says. That translates into a more competitive service enterprise.

"The customer wants to know that they are working with most professional and most organized company," Cruz says. "With that in mind, how can we show and sell that in the building maintenance industry or cleaning industry?"

Cruz answers that question through software that lets him create presentations that allow him to make his company's service offers more tangible.

"We can show them how organized we are and at the same time, how ahead of the game we are with our technology," Cruz says. "This helps us to be ahead of a lot of our competitors who are operating like they were in the ‘90s."

All supervisors and managers at Dynamond Building Maintenance have a smartphone. These devices allow them to communicate with each other and enter client and site information into a software application that keeps track of accounts.

"It's priceless," Cruz says. "I can understand and evaluate the programs that we have and determine whether the systems that we have put in place are working or not. The bottom line in how it helps is that it allows me to pinpoint problems in our organization."

Jason Combs, president of Kleen-Sweep Janitorial Company, Orlando, Fla., is another avid user of his smartphone. Smartphones, which offer a high level of connectivity and computing ability, are garnering a lot of attention throughout the industry, especially when they are coupled with the latest relationship management software, which enables the online exchange of information and communication between BSCs and their customers.

Just by the very nature of the building service industry, Combs says it's essential for clients to be able to get in touch with cleaners.

"They want instant access to their janitor," Combs says. "In the fields that we are in, we're doing our jobs off hours. We don't come in until 5 or 6 p.m. when all of the other staff is leaving. You don't want to take a chance on missing someone and you don't want people leaving notes on scrubbers."

Combs' firm employs a software suite that replaces notes on scrap paper with a virtual central service desk. The software allows users to create work orders, special messages for cleaners and clients and inspection reports. Combs says this type of software is revolutionizing the industry because it seamlessly creates links between clients, management and front-line workers.

"It routes the communication through a server," Combs says. "So it shows up as a work order. So from your desktop, you can see this work order."

In addition, depending on the settings, that work order can be transmitted as an e-mail or even text message to anyone involved in the account. For example, clients can enter a request into the system. Combs then is alerted to the request and forwards it on to the field staff. When the special request is fulfilled, a field manager or Combs can notify the client through the system.

Not only can technology facilitate communication, but it can also give BSCs and their employees the freedom to perform work from wherever they are.

The Freedom to Go Mobile

Chris Terrell's office is his automobile. The regional manager at Bentonville, Ark.-based Service Group 360 spends his work week on the road in that mobile office, visiting sites, training employees and meeting with clients.

His locked file cabinet has been relegated to the back seat as his iPad now sits shotgun. Lugging files in and out of that file cabinet has become a thing of the past for Terrell and many other building service contractors as invaluable technological tools and gadgets, such as tablet PCs, have continued to emerge.

"I now have more on my iPad than what is in that filing cabinet," Terrell says.

The use of tablets and e-readers, such as the Apple iPad, Motorola Xoom and Barnes & Noble Nook Color, is one of the latest trends to hit the building service contracting industry. This technology, Terrell says, does not directly help BSCs win market share. It does, however, create a more efficient, nimble and organized enterprise. As a result, it allows staff, supervisors and executives to spend their time more wisely, earning clients trust and keeping them satisfied.

"I can get all of the functionality of an office without actually being in an office, which allows me to be in the accounts more and to see what's going on more," Terrell says. "Being in an office wastes a lot of time; we don't make our money being in offices."

Regional managers are now equipped with iPads and they use the devices to e-mail report documents, bid on jobs and to communicate with other managers, employees and clients.

"I use it to keep pictures and presentations. So if I have a presentation with a client, I always have it right there," Terrell says. "I keep all of my proposals and user manuals for all of my equipment with me so at any given time I can pull up an account or pull up a piece of equipment and look up a spec on it."

According to Terrell, technology that removes the need for paper changes the playing field by putting a premium on presentation while with clients. For example, if two identical sales associates — one with a clipboard and a pad of paper, and one with an iPad — sits down with clients, each will likely have a different result.

"I could cycle through a very simple presentation," Terrell says. "I can put on a very nice, professional presentation with the same effort I put into a paper presentation, and I could have just a much more powerful presentation with the iPad."

Mastery of technology exudes confidence, organization and a commitment to make financial and resource investments in the firm and in the relationships with clients. These elements strengthen the perception that a potential or current client has of a BSC, according to Terrell.

"I think many clients, when they see the iPad and I say that all of our managers have them, they know we are willing to invest and provide the tools for our guys to be able to take care of their needs," Terrell says.

Another way to address customer needs is through utilization of social media — which can take on educational, interactive and marketing slants, depending how it's done and what sites are used.

Utilizing Social Media

Although BSCs still rely on Twitter and Facebook to reach out to potential and current clients and keep tabs on the competition, LinkedIn has emerged as the social media choice for business professionals.

LinkedIn offers several features that allow building service contractors to expose themselves to potential clients, recruit young professionals and generally promote themselves to a wider audience. One of the main reasons building service contractors enjoy LinkedIn is its ability to attract viewers and to link managers and employees under the same company page.

An industry-specific site, myCleanLink, an offshoot of Contracting Profits' website,, has emerged as one of the only sites specifically for networking between janitorial contractors.On myCleanLink, members can participate in discussions, post blogs, join groups, post photos and link up with other professionals in the cleaning industry.

Kathleen Bands, the director of marketing and business development at My Cleaning Service Inc., in Baltimore, uses a social media dashboard that helps her organize all of the company's social media pages at one time, in one place.

"It's nice to be able to send out company news and relevant industry news or anything like that," Bands says. "You can do it from anywhere. It's really nice that you don't have to be sitting at your desk to be doing that part of your job."

Bands says social media can be time-consuming, but in the long run, it pays off. Whatever route a building service contractor decides to take, Bands recommends that they make sure it is directed back to the company's website through a link.

"Anything that we do on social media comes back to our site where we can generate leads," she says. "It all trickles back to our site."

Purchasing Wisely

Contractors should shop around for hardware and software before purchasing. Many technology companies offer discounts on bulk and many cell phone companies do not charge for hardware when it is purchased with service and group plans.

As a result, those building service contracting professionals making smartphone and tablet purchases need to understand the marginal costs of buying a few extra devices or licenses may result in cost-savings during the lifetime of the service contract. Those extra devices also come in handy when an employee drops one in a toilet or forgets their device at home.

Bands suggests closely examining the durability of hardware, especially if it is the field.

"We have insurance on our phones, but it is not like they can be easily replaced," she says. "We keep a regular, simple phone at the office for anyone that happens to lose their phone or it gets broken ... so we don't lose any efficiency."

Those making the purchases should use some of their negotiating skills to get the best price and services for their enterprise. Another key in making these types of purchases is realizing that technology is somewhat of a moving target.

"You should plan ahead to make sure you are following the speed of the technology," says Cruz, whose company takes advantage of a two-year upgrade option with their cell service provider. "The bottom line is to have the tools that allow us to do our jobs. We are always planning ahead so we are not spending $400, $500 or $600 for a piece of equipment that you can get for free."

Staying educated about and investing in technology is the modern-day equivalent of sharpening pencils, Brock says.

"The key is knowing what's available, and secondly, knowing how to use it," Brock says. "I think you've got to continually educate yourself. We're all in school today. School is never out for the cleaning industry professional. As soon as we say, ‘I'm finished. I don't have to learn anymore,' that's the first sign you're in trouble."

Brendan O'Brien is a freelance writer based in Greenfield, Wis. Additional reporting by Lisa Ridgely, deputy editor of Contracting Profits.