Leveraging Data to Improve Operations
RIPON, Wis. — We live in a data-driven society. Don’t believe me? How quickly does it take you to settle a movie trivia question bet?
The speed of answer is limited only by the speed with which you can type, “How many best actor awards has the Academy awarded Paul Newman?” in your smartphone. By the way, the answer is shockingly just one Oscar for The Color of Money in 1987.
Even when we aren’t looking for it, data is constantly being put at our fingertips. Something as simple as low tire pressure on our vehicle is not only flashed on your on-board diagnostics screen, but noted by an e-mail from OnStar. Even your maintenance tasks are kept top of mind with reminders and oil life percentage tracking.
With this amount of data at our fingertips in our personal lives, I’m continually surprised that more on-premises laundries aren’t leveraging data to improve operations and head off service issues by performing regular scheduled maintenance.
As I said, no longer is data something to go “looking for,” today’s technology puts it at your fingertips … literally ... on your smartphone.
For years, on-premises laundries were largely seen as cost centers that didn’t have much room for management, meaning the sole measure of the operation’s effectiveness and efficiency consisted mainly of if the daily volumes were being processed.
Today, we know that’s far from the reality. Higher levels of efficiency are possible, costs are able to be better controlled, throughput volumes increased and quality made better and more consistent.
However, making these elements a reality is predicated on data collection. But that’s just part of the equation. I’ve met with a number of laundry managers who have the right idea by investing in technology to give them operations information, but then fall short in creating a standardized process for review. Others fall short in interpreting the data and using it to improve processes.
The bottom line is data clarifies. Data isn’t subjective. Data gives you a foundation to present to staff—a precipitating event to drive change and improvement.
So, what data is meaningful to managers? We are all busy, so the easier the reporting function is to review, the more apt a manager is to act upon the information. Some systems enable them to enter their operation’s raw costs—labor, utilities, etc.—and thus the reports that are generated are true reflections of the overall costs.
Managers will want reports that track utility expenses, equipment utilization, productivity, and overall operational expenses, with the ability to toggle between different views, comparing daily (by hour), weekly, monthly numbers to spot any trends.
It’s also important to be able to monitor each individual machine. Again, this enables managers to pinpoint issues, not only in processes, but also any maintenance items before they become more serious service repairs.
A good starting point to review would be to look at productivity numbers.
For instance, how long is the time in between cycles? If there is significant time between when a cycle is completed and the door opened, that’s impacting throughput and labor utilization.
Review what cycles are being used. Managers know the type of loads running through the operation, so if staff is selecting incorrect cycles, it’s definitely impacting quality.
The same holds true on the drying side. Managers who invested in moisture-sensing tumble dryers want to make sure the correct cycles are being used and loads are not being over dried. It’s another seemingly minor issue that has far-reaching impacts in linen quality and lifespan as well as labor usage.
Managers will also want to keep an eye on error code reports to ensure machines are being used properly.
For instance, if a washer-extractor is seeing a high amount of out-of-balance errors being logged, it’s likely a clue that staff is consistently under loading the unit. This wastes chemicals and water every cycle.
In addition, loads are likely taking longer to dry, as the washer-extractors didn’t hit the maximum G-force in the extract cycle. The result is wasted time, labor and utilities. These are just a few examples of how data can help solve problems and reduce costs.
Data is a powerful tool for change. It is a cornerstone for helping laundry managers monitor performance and quality. When you think of the size of investment made to equip a laundry with new, more efficient machines, it seems prudent to invest a little more in laundry management systems to ensure the operation gets every bit of that promised efficiency.
Such systems are valuable partners in quality. However, they also need to be positioned correctly with staff. If they are viewed as “big brother” watching when the manager isn’t there and trying to catch them doing something wrong, the system will not boost teamwork.
However, if it is used as a positive tool in fine-tuning processes and even a scoreboard to inspire greater sustained productivity (think a rewards system with a pizza lunch or a small token to celebrate wins), they can rally teams.
Bottom line is if you aren’t embracing data and process change, you should be.