Facility managers in all kinds of businesses and organizations, from healthcare facilities and schools to high-rise buildings and auto repair shops, are now making product selections online. For the most part, online purchasing is easy and quick.

However, with all their ease of operation, the one thing missing from online services is that most cannot or do not really help the purchaser make buying decisions. This is the homework behind buying online and traditionally is totally up to the purchaser. And things can get pretty complicated, especially when purchasing a new product. This can often result in a lot of trial-and-error purchasing, which most managers would like to avoid.

Some sites allow the visitor to compare features and benefits of different or comparable products, but typically it is still up to the online purchaser to select those products for comparison. But, what if you are the building manager for a large healthcare facility and plan to transfer to a green cleaning strategy? Is there a way to tell the retailer’s website which traditional (non-green) products you are currently using and get suggestions from that site for environmentally preferable alternatives?

Online purchasing might also not be ideal in a facility using a certain cleaning solution that performs well, for example, but the facility manager is curious about how its cost compares to other similar products. In an industry with literally hundreds of similar products from dozens of different manufacturers, it is unlikely the retailer’s website will provide the answer this facility manager is looking for.

However, technology is changing. Some distributors of major sales and marketing organizations have access to web-based “dashboards” that provide distributors and their clients such information as:

  • Credible product alternatives that compare costs and performance
  • Green alternative suggestions
  • Details on more cost-effective products and, in many cases, better-performing products
  • Product insight so users can make sound, strategic purchasing decisions
  • How to achieve supply chain and strategic sourcing optimization

Essentially, these dashboards are used to find “hidden opportunities” that uncover cost savings and help a purchaser quantify the value of a product before making a selection. We should note that even though some distributors have or will have access to these new technologies, this does not mean the janitorial distributor’s role is disappearing—far from it. Their role in keeping facilities healthy and operating effectively is expected to play a bigger part in facility operations in years to come. (See sidebar: “Why a Janitorial Distributor Should Always Be Part of Your Building’s Team.”)

How they work: the five steps

While not all systems work in the same manner, we will use the following five-step example of how at least one dashboard system functions. The process works essentially the same whether facility managers are working with a distributor or on their own.

  1. Discover. What are the facility’s key challenges and goals when it comes to cleaning? Usually these are such things as reducing cleaning costs, improving the health of the facility, meeting green and sustainable objectives, and increasing cleaning worker productivity. This section can truly help a facility manager customize their experience and discover their goals across several business needs.
  2. Evaluate. Often, especially in multiple facilities operated by one organization, there is considerable waste and redundancy as well as high operational costs associated with product procurement. This includes ordering products, warehousing, and logistical issues, as examples. An analysis of the supply chain is designed to eliminate these issues and assist the customer in understanding their ordering and purchasing habits.
  3. Explore. A more in-depth piece to the process, an exploration of products throughout a client’s facility allows a customer to pull the roof off of their facility and compare multiple products depending on their needs determined in the discovery phase of the software.
  4. Worker Productivity. When it comes to cleaning, labor costs are the most expensive item.  In some cases, 70 percent or more of the cost of cleaning involves labor. Some of these programs offer an analysis of how a facility is being cleaned now and where steps can be implemented to streamline procedures and reduce costs.
  5. Conclude. Customers are able to review a cleaning comprehensive analysis summary that takes them through their savings and potential product interests from top to bottom.

Future cleaning technologies

Anyone who has been a part of the professional cleaning industry for a decade or more — or who has worked with the industry as a building owner or manager — knows the industry traditionally moves at a slow pace. Many of the products and equipment introduced in the 1960s were still being made with only moderate changes into the 1980s and 1990s.

However, technology is evolving, and among the most significant changes that building owners and managers will soon encounter, if they have not already, are the technologies discussed here. These systems are a win for everyone because not only do they help eliminate trial-and-error purchasing, they offer much greater transparency so that purchasers can make better purchasing decisions with solid reasons for selecting a product.

Michael Wilson is vice president of marketing for AFFLINK, developers of the eLev8 and the ELEVATE analytical tools that provide managers with the evidence, facts, and figures necessary to make a product selection and the supporting evidence to qualify their decision with confidence.