Germs, toilets, and privacy: Evolution of public washrooms – Part 3

Technology as we know today has taken over every aspect of our lives. Automation is making inroads into every industry and personal spaces. Smartphones are passé now. We are in the age of smart buildings and technology taking over our lives at home. How did this growth in technology affect public restrooms in commercial buildings? What factors governed the need to move from simple washrooms to hi-tech spaces, that are changing rapidly? In this three-part series, the team at Zan delved into the history of public restrooms, their evolution over centuries, and how their management was governed by changing geopolitical scenario and cultural differences. Dating back to the Harappan civilization, there is evidence of well-structured washrooms connected to a sewer system. Over time, it appeared as if they regressed in time or did not grow in comparison to the Harrapan Civilization.

The management of these public spaces leaped in the 1970s when facilities management began organizing into a formal sector. With more people joining the workforce, development of commercial areas, the need to have public restrooms in the building grew. Though these spaces developed at a rapid pace, it also meant an increase in the number of people using these spaces and it gave rise to the question of keeping these facilities clean round the clock for the patrons. Using a public washroom can be a nightmare, if not maintained properly and reflects on the business poorly — most concerns towards giving the users a good experience focused on the users themselves. Companies directed their energies towards building systems that reduced the chances of contamination by minimum touch, reduced chances of a dirty washroom, and did not require personnel to be there to make sure everything is working well.

Automatic flush valves that eliminated the use of hand to flush, sensor-equipped faucets and automatic paper towel dispensers were some of the first benefits of incorporating technology into the use of public bathrooms. All innovations in this sphere tried to address the touch areas in the restrooms and made developments to eliminate that. As the usage increased, other regions began to come under the ambit of experiments. Companies introduced products that reduced touch significantly while using a public washroom. Touchless door sensors, waterless bathrooms(urinals), odor control options and many such inventions began to be used across restrooms. A very common bane of using a public restroom that often goes unnoticed is the long wait lines. Systems have been developed using different colored lights to indicate wait times, a blue light showing that a restroom is wheelchair accessible. In the race to make the smart washrooms of today, one aspect that was largely ignored was its cleaning force. With all the automation systems in place, people will be required to work to maintain the facilities.

How does technology change the experience for the janitorial service staff and their experience of maintaining these facilities? Many factors govern the idea of a system to streamline the services and increase efficiency. The number of times during the day such services are required, exact times when the restrooms need cleaning, the collection of data to understand the pattern, and based on those patterns to devise schedules, inventory and other things. One of the most striking points that came to light was that a lack of data-driven approach to cleaning and maintaining restrooms. The missing piece was the data and insights on how a specific restroom gets utilized, and how it varies from other areas in a given facility. This leads to improper provisioning of labor and thus a very stressful and chaotic work environment that could affect the quality of service. How do we account for these issues and improve the working conditions and efficiency of the janitorial staff?

Zan Compute decided to do precisely that when it was formed five years ago. Junaith, the founder and C.E.O, while talking to a facilities manager saw how his eyes lit up at the mere prospect that these services could be automated and managed through the cloud. As a company, Zan wanted to break the bastion mostly catering directly to users and move the conversation to the janitorial staff, providing them with the right tool to improve efficiency and quality of service for the users. Through its patent-pending Smart Washroom AI platform, it combines the power of wireless sensors with machine learning / AI to help facility managers to optimize building management tasks. The sensors detect paper levels, soap levels, garbage levels, and faucet activations. Through cloud computing data is analyzed, aggregated and provides input to improve schedules, track wastage, reduce inefficiency. Thus, the project deployed in production at multiple sites has already produced 30% savings. While achieving the above the Zan’s AI, proactively improves quality of service, make sure that the restroom users will never have to worry about a dirty restroom or an empty tissue paper dispenser.

These are the first steps of a long journey that lies ahead. Zan’s will continue to develop its AI capabilities further to provide actionable data, at the right time to the facility managers and the cleaning crew, who are and will remain an intricate part of the cleaning industry.