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By Nils J.van der Zijl, VP Sales & Marketing, Softbank Robotics EMEA

The current innovation model is broken

Innovation within the facility management and commercial cleaning industry has not delivered the required benefits in an industry which, even long before the Corona crisis, was struggling to manage squeezed margins, heightened demand for improved performance and extremely challenging resourcing issues. The need for true innovation has never been greater.

Research we recently conducted amongst FM leaders across EMEA shows that 81% have had innovation efforts that have failed to deliver in the last two years. This is down to a whole range of factors, from technical complexity and a lack of required skills and leadership in the business, through to prohibitively high capital expenditure and difficulties finding strategic technology partners.

The result is that many organisations have now become sceptical about the prospect of delivering genuine innovation – in fact, as many as 96% of FM leaders admit to being more cautious about innovation moving forwards, and many feel that they are slipping behind their competitors as a result.

The time to innovate is now

COVID-19 has added further pressures, with FM and commercial cleaning contractors at the forefront of the fight against the disease. The deep sanitisation of surfaces is believed to be critical to slowing down and preventing the transmission of COVID-19.

Contractors are having to deliver improved cleaning performance in extremely challenging conditions, and at the same time protect the health and wellbeing of their staff, many of whom are absent due to sickness or needing to self-isolate.

Rather than shying away from change and innovation, more than ever the FM and cleaning industry needs to adapt and flex to this new landscape, by embracing new processes, behaviours and technologies.

But FM leaders can’t do it on their own. They need support, advice and reassurance. And, most of all, they need to minimise their risk.

Innovation must be about more than technology

As an industry, we need to stop approaching innovation through solely a technology lens, and instead recognise that genuine innovation is only possible through changes in operational processes, business models, culture and behaviour.

FM leaders need to ensure they have the right strategic partners to deliver real organisational transformation, rather than simply supplying them with the latest technologies. They need a long-term trusted partner that can guide them on their innovation journey.

Strategic partnerships should be based on shared risks and rewards

FM leaders should ask more of their technology partners during this time and work together with them to drive through innovation. This means shared strategies, plans, risks and rewards.

Nils J.van der Zijl

Nils J.van der Zijl

Our research shows a strong appetite for closer partnerships with technology suppliers and, alongside that, new commercial models which formalise a shared commitment to success.

57% of FM leaders state that performance-based fees are attractive from a cleaning technology provider, 46% would welcome gain-share models and contracts, and 44% report that commercial risk-sharing would be an appealing commercial model.

Alongside this, there is demand for lease-based procurement models (which eliminate the need for large capital expenditure up-front) and shared innovation roadmaps between clients and suppliers.

Understandably, given the track record of innovation within the industry, FM leaders want to work with partners that can offer genuine support and guidance, and are willing to demonstrate their commitment to long-term success and delivering real business impact.

A cobotic partnership model to drive the FM sector forward

A cobotic business model gives FM organisations exactly the support, flexibility and low-risk approach to innovation that they need. Cobots, such as Whiz, are collaborative robots which work alongside cleaning teams and undertake repetitive and time-consuming tasks such as vacuuming, freeing up staff to focus on other tasks such as the deep cleaning of hard surfaces which is critical in the fight against COVID-19.

Cobots are accessed on a leasing or ‘cobot as a service’ model, where businesses pay a monthly subscription for each machine, with all maintenance and upgrades included within the price. This means no exorbitant capital expenditure and total transparency and flexibility on costs.

Alongside this, cobotics is based around trusted, long-term partnerships, where suppliers work with clients to develop a shared vision, goals and measurement around innovation. And it means looking beyond technology; this joint strategy covers skills and leadership within the organisation, cultural and behavioural change, and new commercial and operational models.

Ultimately, it is about agreeing and committing to a long-term vision for transformation and operational excellence which delivers real business impact. Get this cobotic partnership right and the rewards are there for all.

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