ECJ explores the latest solutions to the problems faced by the cleaning industry in monitoring staff attendance and finds that state-of-the-art technology is making investment in such systems a more viable option for businesses of all sizes.
Because it relies on such a large labour force, the cleaning sector faces significant challenges when it comes to managing and monitoring cleaning staff. Whatever the size of operation, staff will often be spread across a multitude of sites and may be working in small groups, or even alone. How can a contractor be sure that cleaners have even arrived for work?
Attendance, or lack of it, is a serious issue across the industry and often contractors are simply unaware of problems until clients make a complaint. Now however, technological developments are making it more practical and affordable for cleaning contractors to take control of staff attendance, offer a high-tech solution to clients and differentiate themselves from the competition.
LPM Intercity in the UK is a cleaning contracting company which decided to investigate software solutions to its attendance issues. Its sales director Jamie McGivern told ECJ: “The cleaning industry traditionally has had a problem with staff attendance. This means if you only have one or two cleaners on any particular site you’re in danger of a 50 or even 100 per cent failure rate. Often the site supervisor does not know about any problems until the customer complains, which is not a good situation in terms of the client’s perception of the contractor.
“We needed to take action and to take control,” he added. “We also wanted to innovate and differentiate ourselves from other companies – we found that many other contractors were not so forward-thinking or high-tech in their approach.”
Having explored what options were available, LPM rejected the idea of a telephone-based time and attendance system. “We found these were unsuitable for us because we would have to impose on clients to use their phones lines. We also found these systems can be compromised and their integrity is open to question.”
The company finally opted for VISION Site Manager, a Business Process Management (BPM) solution developed by Servisional for management of all remote sites but aimed specifically at cleaning contractors. Login and logout times are captured on-site and transferred by General Pocket Radio Services (GPRS) to a central server, allowing for the automatic production of time sheets and attendance records.
“Each cleaner has a key fob with a PIN to log in and out so it is almost foolproof,” explains McGivern, “so for us it made sense because the integrity was secure and there was no imposition on the client.”
Another recently launched system, also based on GPRS technology, is the Nohmad from Feedback Data. The Nohmad is actually a terminal which is installed on cleaning sites (it is designed for businesses requiring 10 or more units). Worker identification is through an iButton – each worker has their own token about the size of a coin, again usually on a key fob, which they touch against the terminal on arrival and when leaving the site.
Hugh Mackie, technical sales consultant at Feedback Data, explained the rationale behind the development of Nohmad. “Above all, the system had to be affordable and had to provide real time information, ie, it had to be instantaneous. It was that which was very difficult to achieve in terms of technology. When we first explored the possibilities of GPRS five or six years ago it simply was not an affordable option for most companies. But then, as always happens, the technology started to come down in price so it became more feasible. Key to this affordability is the fact that with GPRS there is a permanent connection and users are charged according to the amount of data they send, rather than time.”
Because cleaning contracts change so regularly, it is also vital that any time and attendance monitoring systems are uncomplicated to install and uninstall. “They must also be independent of any host,” Mackie continued, “because cleaning contractors told us they cannot often use the clients’ networks, or often a network is simply not available.”
LPM Intercity has now actually installed the VISION system on a number of contracts, with encouraging results. It now actively markets the system as a valuable service to clients as LPM VISION, giving them the confidence that the company is providing the service as specified. “With this system, everything is open and transparent and if the contractor chooses, the client can have access to all information online,” explained McGivern.
“There is often a general fear among contractors about sharing information with their clients, but we have found this to be only a positive development in that it makes our clients more trusting of us as a contractor. Because of that we see this as a real innovation for the industry.”
Another contractor which has invested in time and attendance software and is convinced of its benefits is Regent Cleaning, part of the Samsic Group. Its joint managing director John Critchell told ECJ: “We have recently purchased the Staff Check System by Expolink, a telephone-based solution. We see the system as a great selling tool as well as being a cost saving device in the long term – allowing us to be more efficient by helping us avoid service failures. We can also give our customers the assurance that they are getting the hours they are paying for and be safe in the knowledge that we ourselves are not paying for hours the cleaner has not done.”
With both the Servisional and Feedback Data systems, there is much scope for further development according to contractor and client requirements. Hugh Mackie explained: “The software in the system can be as simple or as complex as needed. If you just want a log of the cleaners coming in and out, you can do that. However there is a software developers’ kit (SDK) which means further applications can be developed as the contract demands.”
The possibilities offered by new technology are also exciting for LPM Intercity, as Jamie McGivern outlined. “We can now analyse absences over time and are better placed to tackle recurring issues at certain sites. The reduction of administration in payroll and worksheets are other obvious benefits. But that is just the tip of the iceberg because VISION has enormous potential. Other ideas include the management of consumables and it could become our intranet, enabling our staff at various sites can contact us directly. We are also discussing with our clients the development of an extranet and we will be led by the requirements they have.”
Recent developments in GPRS technology have clearly made time and attendance monitoring a more feasible option for cleaning companies of all sizes and Jamie McGivern concludes by summarising the considerable benefits LPM Intercity has experienced. “This type of solution still offers a genuine differentiator between cleaning companies, facilitates full management control of information, gives transparency to clients and increases trust. All cleaning companies should explore the possibilities.”