From continuously monitoring the temperature to automatically turning off the lights to bolstering building security, the Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming how commercial properties and their managers do business. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, interconnected Wi-Fi-enabled devices that use sensors to gather and transfer data are expected to generate upwards of $150 billion in economic value for office buildings by 2025.

One area that hasn’t been as commonly “connected” is the office restroom. But Onvation™, a smart restroom management system created by Kimberly-Clark Professional, is bringing IoT technology to commercial bathrooms. It sends real-time alerts to users via the mobile device of their choosing when towels, tissues and soap run low; batteries need to be changed; or a paper jam occurs. The system also provides data on foot traffic in the bathroom and product usage, so building managers and cleaning staff can optimize cleaning schedules and proactively manage inventory levels.

“The bathroom is a low-priority place that’s in sore need of increased prioritization, and we are arming building managers and owners with a powerful tool to optimize usage,” says Lori Shaffer, associate director, Innovation Commercialization Excellence at Kimberly-Clark Professional.

Through Onvation, proprietary sensors are placed inside soap dispensers, towel dispensers and door counters, where they can gather real-time data. That data is then sent through the cloud over a secure network to a dashboard used by facility managers and users. The Onvation dashboard provides data on how many people use each bathroom, how frequently (or infrequently) people use each dispenser and other data points that collectively paint a clearer picture of a restroom’s state. Facility cleaning managers and building owners can act on the data to cut costs and expenses, reduce waste, boost sustainability and enhance tenant satisfaction.

“Bathrooms have been managed the same for the past 100 years,” Shaffer says. “IoT technology has now changed the game for the better.”


IoT Leads to Bathroom Repairs

In the past, facilities managers could only find out about paper jams in the towel dispenser or shortages in the soap dispenser in two ways: Staff would catch it on regular rounds, or, worse, tenants would complain. Often, solutions were avoidably inefficient and expensive — for instance, facilities managers would order a soap dispenser when a simple repair could fix the existing one.

“You were just shooting in the dark,” Shaffer says. “You’d get a phone call saying what was wrong with the bathroom, but you wouldn’t know the full extent of it until you sent someone there.” The advantage of IoT data is that it gives facilities managers a real-time snapshot of what is malfunctioning in the restroom and what needs replacing.

“If your cleaner is going in and changing out rolls before they get an alert informing them to do so, that’s an opportunity to reduce waste,” Shaffer says.

Data on the amount of soap, towels and tissues inside each dispenser throughout a building also enables janitorial staffs to devote more time to other cleaning projects.

We have one customer who has completely freed up [her] night shift to perform deep cleaning of each restroom in the building, something [the customer] never had time to do before because every dispenser had to be checked to confirm product level," Shaffer says.


Smart Building Data Optimizes Value 

According to Kimberly-Clark Professional research, 75 percent of building tenants say a bad restroom equals poor management. Implementing IoT technology in the restroom will enable building managers to better allocate resources and, ultimately, resolve problems before they become complaints, improving overall tenant experience.

“Our customers want to be viewed as innovators, and this technology is an opportunity for them to do this,” Shaffer says. “Smarter data saves time and money, and leads to cleaner, better bathrooms too. That’s something to make both managers and tenants smile.”

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