Although EBP only began pursuing IoT-enabled products in the second half of 2015, Reuben says the company already has some items on its vendor wish list.

At this early stage of IoT’s progression through the cleaning industry, the company prefers to do business with manufacturers that do two things: embrace what Reuben calls “an open architecture” in their software platforms, thus allowing for the connection of other IoT devices; and demonstrate a willingness to share generated data up and down the supply chain.

“Those are two ways we’re evaluating our vendor partners,” he says.

The first point is one that seems to be underdiscussed around the industry. Each of these IoT-enabled devices tend to both operate and collect data within their own proprietary software programs. Obviously, manufacturers have an incentive to keep it this way, since it, in turn, incentivizes end users to stick with a particular brand of IoT-enabled soap dispenser or floor machine.

But once this starts to play out in reality, the situation quickly becomes untenable for end users. For one, many cleaning end users — particularly buildings service contractors — don’t have a say in what restroom dispensers are purchased in their customers’ facilities. What’s more, not every manufacturer sells every type of IoT-enabled product.

In many cases, distributors may be offering IoT towel dispensers — and the corresponding software platform — from Vendor A, but IoT floor machines and software from Vendor B. Even working with just those two manufacturers, a distributor will be asking its customers to train on and work within two disparate software programs. On top of that, many facilities already utilize IoT software to monitor HVAC, security, energy and water systems.

Asking  facility managers to monitor half a dozen IoT platforms is a good way to push them away from the technology altogether, says Reuben.

“They’re going to want to manage one platform where they can understand what’s going on across all of the different functions throughout their facility,” he says.

Similarly important to EBP is access to the data created by these IoT devices. Manufacturers’ stances on data rights have been a mixed bag, says Reuben, but the technology is so new that there is still room for negotiation on that front.

Davis reports similar findings in that regard.

“I don’t know that I have an answer to who owns that data,” he says. “Does the distributor own that data? Does the institution own that data?”

For Davis’ part, he has yet to encounter any significant resistance to Central Paper having access to its customers’ cleaning data. He expects this will be a continued point of contention, but, as of yet, the question of data rights has not gotten in the way of business.

To Reuben and EBP, access to this cleaning data is a sticking point largely because of what it could mean for his company’s inventory planning.

“As a distributor, you try to manage your working capital as best you can in terms of inventory, and that’s based on how well you understand your customers’ demand,” he says. “Now with IoT and the data that it generates, you can get a very, very good understanding of actual demand for a location, and if you know that then you can plan your inventory better and potentially really take a lot of slack out of the system. Every distributor carries a percentage of safety stock. … The more that you understand [the data], the less safety stock you have to carry.”

To be clear, asking for access to the data is not necessarily a small request on the part of distributors. Those who control data are not typically inclined to share it. But if distributors don’t have the data, they can’t help end users. Similarly, if distributors need to use multiple platforms to access the data, it becomes harder to assist customers. And without that help, end users may be reluctant to purchase IoT products.

In the past year, however, it’s become clearer that distributors have some say in these processes via their purchasing power.

“I think, all things being equal, if two vendors have connected dispensers and one plugs into all of the other IoT devices and one doesn’t, then the choice is kind of made for [the distributor],” says Reuben.

previous page of this article:
Finding Partners In The IoT Supply Chain
next page of this article:
Building An Internet Of Things Market