The Internet of Things is an odd mix of old and new. It’s an old concept — that of collecting information to improve processes — but a new term. It’s an old technology — by technology standards — yet recent advancement has opened up new applications. It’s old — again, by technology standards — in certain markets, but new to the cleaning industry.

“I think [the cleaning industry is] a pretty low tech industry to begin with,” says Boscher. “For the majority of the tasks performed, it’s very labor intensive. Mops and buckets and hand towels, things like this still rule the day. I would assume [IoT] would come later to this industry than to others.”

The tipping point, says Boscher, came when cleaning industry end users began to take notice of the advancement of IoT in the consumer marketplace. Using a smartphone, a person can now control their thermostat, their refrigerator, even their garage door.

“When the cleaners walk through Home Depot and there are entire sections devoted to the connected home — these start to create a tipping point, and they say, ‘Hey, this might not be such a farfetched idea to see this in my workplace,’” says Boscher.

These days, technology can often create a fear of job loss or reduced hours, especially in an industry like professional cleaning, where workers worry they’ll be replaced by machines. But as the workers have become more comfortable with IoT technology, they’ve begun to see where it can actually improve their work.

In that regard, this idea to improve processes through data collection and connectivity was born from minds of manufacturers, not end users.

“It was more recognizing a need and a change in the market,” says Jimy Baynum, director of market development for SCA, based in Philadelphia. “Customers weren’t asking for it because they never thought it was possible. With the development of Internet of Things technology, and many things out there today, if you ask people when they see it actually developed if it’s beneficial, they say, ‘Yes.’ But if you ask them prior to development, ‘Had you ever thought about something like this,’ they would say, ‘No, it just wasn’t possible.’ You go all the way back to the launch of the iPhone. People didn’t even know what they would want from a phone until the iPhone was actually launched, and then they realized all the benefits.”

Another tipping point was that the IoT technology advanced to a point where it finally made financial sense to bring it to this market.

“Technology has gotten cheap enough and small enough to put sensors in almost everything,” says Baynum. “And because of the availability and the affordability of sensors, now people are deciding, ‘Well, where should I put sensors so that I could get information?’”

Some manufacturers began posing that question years ago. The engineers at Minneapolis-based Tennant Company, for example, have been working on IoT-enabled technology in some capacity for more than 10 years, says Michelle Nissen, senior product category manager for Internet of Things solutions.

Initially, the work was very conceptual, says Nissen, focused primarily on the wider field of wireless communication. But as wireless communication technology matured, Tennant engineers began incorporating that technology into the company’s commercial cleaning equipment, around 2012.

“Maybe we didn’t know exactly how it would take shape,” says Tennant’s Kathryn Lovik, director of global communications, “but we’ve always known that data is important to our customers.”

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