The Changing Landscape of Exterior Maintenance
Efficient Management of Exterior Services through Technological Innovation
The last few decades have marked significant change for the entire landscaping industry. Exterior facility management began to see a drastic shift in the early 1990s as corporations began to centralize operations and services, attempting to consolidate in an industry of fragmentation. Changes in the economy, budget constraints and new methods of store and facility accountability helped shape this transformation, but none of these factors equaled the impact of technological advancements and innovation. These same factors are continuing to change the face of the industry today, as technology and research contribute to growth and efficiency.
Tools of the Trade
One of the most significant factors for the evolution of the exterior facility maintenance environment is the development and implementation of various software applications and Web-enabled management tools. Internet and hardware advancements have delivered automated accounting software, Web-enabled portfolio management, digital cameras and a way to effectively manage your entire location footprint for quality assurance regardless of location. The trend toward technology integration on the part of many Exterior Service Management (ESM) companies provides retail facilities with the benefits of increased productivity, improved quality, reduced cycle times and increased responsiveness.
In the past, companies were limited to manual access of critical data about their owned and leased holdings, costing valuable time and money, especially for those with the responsibility of maintaining their own in-house services or independent contractors.
Today, most professional ESM companies offer up-to-date property information at the touch of a computer key. Database-driven and web-enabled programs utilized by ESM companies store and document all client information in an ultra-efficient, user-friendly system. With an ability to supervise all aspects of portfolio management via any computer with an Internet connection, facility managers have the opportunity to save time and money through lower administrative costs and elimination of the need to travel on-site for property inspection.
Digital photography, wireless laptops and supportive software allow a national facility manager to monitor routine services as well as emergency damage control at retail operations across the nation and make time-sensitive decisions to get the store back in operation. Furthermore, many large-scale exterior service operations take advantage of the latest accounting software, guaranteeing an improved capacity for handling transactions and obtaining greater reporting detail.
Strides in Snow Removal
It’s hard to believe that not long ago the most common method of snow removal included local residents or hired help hitting the streets with shovels! Most store owners were responsible for clearing their own property, as well as the street on which it was located. The first use of the snowplow is noted to be the city of Milwaukee’s concept of attaching a plow to a cart pulled by a team of horses. It wasn’t until 1913, less than 100 years ago, that operating motorized dump trucks and plows became the common practice.
Current technology has combined on-board computer systems with vehicle hydraulics systems, making breakthroughs for the spreading of deicing agents in recent years. These on-board computers can determine pavement temperature and calculate the appropriate amount and blend of deicing agents for safe, undamaging operation.
Landscaping, irrigation and snow removal equipment have all been significantly impacted by advances in technological innovation, allowing for more precise, efficient and cost-effective machinery that can be tailored to specific environments and situations. From pavement temperature sensors to Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and real-time video installations, machinery is now equipped to operate more quickly, more effectively and most importantly, more safely, all with the capability of being monitored by off-site personnel.
Other interesting innovations in equipment design and software include the research and development of computer-based training tools. One such program is the introduction of computer-animated video simulations which allow for the virtual operation of pavement equipment. The training program allows the user to set factors such as equipment controls, weather conditions and mix ratios while monitoring pavement temperature and troubleshooting common difficulties that may occur in the field.
As studies continue to show that increased comfort levels positively affect work productivity and quality, machinery manufacturers and designers have begun to integrate ergonomic considerations into their designs. Ergonomic factors prove especially relevant when considering the number of worker’s compensation injuries claimed within the industry each year. In the past, machinery was designed with pure functionality in mind, regardless of what that meant for the operator. Today’s trend shows easier controls grouped together for convenience, operator size adjustments, improved seat cushioning and suspension as well as softer steering wheels and levers.
The Future of Forecasting
Perhaps one of the greatest advancements for exterior maintenance is that of weather-prediction and monitoring software. Certain programs, many of which are geared specifically toward road and transportation-related snow and ice removal, feature detailed weather forecasts generated multiple times per day, data grids, pavement surface temperature predictions, user-friendly descriptions of atmospheric conditions and the capability for notification via fax, pager and e-mail.
More advanced technology is now providing commercial software applications which revolutionize snow and precipitation forecasting. The system utilizes statistical forecasting techniques which improve response times when compared to traditional numerical projection models. Such technology provides highly specific precipitation and intensity predictions nationwide to be accessible for appropriate decision-making processes and preventative measures in the event of severe weather.
So what does all this increased technology mean for retail operation management? In essence, expect more! Innovations are improving response time, efficiency and cost-effectiveness every day. If you are still working with independent contractors that seem a bit behind the times, or are attempting to maintain your exterior assets with in-house personnel, perhaps it is time to consider an upgrade. Although the marketplace is flooded with new technologies, the information generated is useless without an understanding of relevancy and the skills to apply the given information accordingly.
Experienced ESM companies are professionally trained to understand every aspect of exterior maintenance and have spent years researching weather patterns, population density, and transportation statistics and staying abreast of evolving technologies in order to more effectively manage your facilities’ exteriors. By taking the time to familiarize yourself with what is available to the industry, you will have a better understanding of what you should expect from a qualified ESM company and guarantee the best service for each of your locations nationwide.