Whether we are managing facilities, serving food, or supplying uniforms—appearances matter. When something looks clean, it inspires confidence.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, facilities cleanliness focused primarily on removing dirt and dust. Now, we are all much more attuned to invisible threats. With unseen pathogens lurking in the air and on every surface, “clean” has taken on a whole new meaning.
“These days, our business is about creating environments that allow individuals to safely return to school, work, or play,” says Bruce Alperin, Vice President of Marketing, Facility Services. “Healthcare facilities have always focused on disinfection, of course. Now all our lines of business are thinking that way.”
The pandemic heightened the need for solutions that enhance cleanliness and safety, plus deliver peace of mind to occupants. It also accelerated our industry’s innovation pipeline by an estimated two to three years. Here’s a look at our R&D process and how our AIWX Connect platform is driving a safe return for building operations.
A Proven Process
Any innovation starts with a problem. Sometimes we identify a need and invite partners to solve it with us. Other times, ideas percolate from within our operational teams. “A partner may come to us and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this great new product, can you help us test it?’” shares Alperin. “We can provide locations for piloting and scaling new technologies.”As Matthew Judge, Senior Director, Facilities Program Development and Innovation, puts it, “We are always looking for ways to leverage innovations on behalf of our clients.” Judge chairs the Technology Review Team responsible for vetting new solutions, made up of subject matter experts in environmental services, cleaning, maintenance, engineering, safety, IT, and other disciplines.
This team evaluated almost 70 new technologies in 2020, scoring them against criteria for safety, efficiency, efficacy, usability, and more. If an innovation is deemed worth pursuing, it must go through a proof of concept and then a pilot before we formally introduce it into our program. Training and activation plans are developed to ensure its success.
The pandemic infused this innovation process with urgency and creativity. “We’re looking at both existing and emerging technologies through a new lens, and accelerating the timeline where possible,” says Judge.
What Sensors Can Tell UsWhy clean something that isn’t dirty? That question was the genesis of Aramark Intelligent Workplace Experience (AIWX Connect). Organizations typically schedule cleaning staff on a set timetable. Yet, on any given day, some spaces may be unoccupied—and therefore may not need to be cleaned. “We believed that cleaning resources could be better deployed if we knew where and when facility spaces were used,” Alperin explains.
Developed prior to the pandemic, and with our strategic partner Microshare, AIWX Connect leverages the internet of things (IoT) to optimize demand-driven facility cleaning services. Wireless sensors placed throughout a building capture information about occupancy levels, traffic patterns, room temperature, service requests, and more.
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The pandemic offered a new application for AIWX Connect, providing our clients a data-driven approach to enhancing workplace safety and improving building performance. The technology has successfully been applied in commercial, healthcare, and education settings.
“The beauty of AIWX Connect is that it has many applications beyond cleaning,” according to Alperin. “These play a role in the fight against COVID-19 and in making spaces welcoming to returning employees.”
New Applications for the PandemicAlperin and Judge explained how the use case for AIWX Connect evolved to address today’s unprecedented workplace challenges.
1. Increase cleaning frequenciesBefore: Teams cleaned on a fixed schedule. High touch points—such as doorknobs, guard rails, and telephones—were serviced once a day.
Now: “Our clients are looking for high-frequency cleaning, using existing resources,” says Judge. “With real-time occupancy data, we can confidently allocate resources to serve the most-needed spaces.”
2. Enable social distancingBefore: Social distancing wasn’t on anyone’s radar.
Now: AIWX Connect sensors can send alerts when they detect overcrowding.
3. Increase customer satisfaction
Before: Restroom supplies were restocked equally, even though genders use them at different rates.
Now: We can replenish toilet paper and other items based on demand. Service requests made through touchless systems can also capture occupant satisfaction and prompt immediate response.
4. Recalibrate space occupancy
Before: Spaces were serviced assuming full occupancy.
Now: With lower occupancy levels, AIWX Connect can help our clients with space and workplace management while maintaining social distancing.
5. Optimize energy performance
Before: All spaces were heated and cooled based on fixed schedules.
Now: Clients can now condition spaces based on real-time occupancy, reducing their energy consumption and costs.
6. Monitor systems remotely
Before: Mechanical equipment and buildings systems were visually inspected for maintenance.
Now: AIWX Connect vibration sensors can monitor the health of HVAC equipment 24/7, and maintenance repair actionable alerts are sent directly to building operators. This allows teams to provide continuous diagnostics and predictive maintenance, avoid disruptions to operations, and reduce costly repairs.
Here to Stay
AIWX Connect is just one example of the technology that is helping our industry navigate the pandemic and to a new era of building management. The past year has also seen innovations around air filtration systems, noncontact temperature sensing, disinfectants, ultraviolet light, autonomous cleaning systems, and cleaning validation, as well as the debut of our EverSafeTM platform.
“People remain fearful of encountering the coronavirus, and locations can’t reopen their spaces without sufficient measures in place,” states Judge. “These technologies can help both the perception and reality that space is safe for return.”
What’s more, Alperin predicts that remote monitoring and data-driven decision-making will become a workplace staple: “The pandemic has proven that you can work virtually for an extended period of time, across many industries. And that shift is drawing more attention to technology like AIWX Connect, which was designed to do just that.”