Case Study: Cleaning Service Industry & Technology

The global cleaning service industry is a huge and growing market. According to Frost and Sullivan, revenues in North America alone will reach USD 14 billion in 2015 [FS09]. The cleaning service industry is highly competitive. A small number of multinational companies account for a  large share of the market, complemented by small – not only specialized – operators. Demand is mainly driven by building service contractors, commercial offices, hospitals, hotels and industrial facilities. Among all facility maintenance services, janitorial services are the most commonly outsourced services. Main competitive factors include cost savings, strong customer relationships, geographic reach, service quality, experience and reputation. In order to meet customer’s cost expectations, large cleaning service providers constantly push for technological innovations.

This demand is addressed by companies such as Kärcher, the world market leader in cleaning technology with more than 11.000 employees and more than 12 million machines sold in 2014. The Kärcher product portfolio mainly includes high-pressure cleaners, vacuums,  scrubber driers, sweepers, water dispenser, municipal equipment,  vehicle cleaning systems, industrial cleaning systems, detergents and several complimentary service contracts and services, such as software and consulting

Modern cleaning machines are powerful technologies, and facility management and cleaning service providers rely on large fleets of these types of tools to meet their efficiency and cost targets. For example, a banking customer with 3.000 branches recently awarded a cleaning contract to a large facility management company. The facility management company requires about 6.000 advanced cleaning machines to service this contract. The contract is renewed on a yearly basis. The facility management company will often try to pass some of its own risk on to the equipment provider by negotiating contract conditions which would require the equipment provider to take back his machines if the end customer contract is canceled. So it is in both companies best interest to manage such a fleet of 6.000 machines as efficiently as possible.

These types of scenarios are the reason why Kärcher decided to develop a fleet management solution for cleaning machines that uses wireless connectivity to manage the equipment and provide fleet managers with a centralized, near-real-time view of the fleet status and provide additional functionalities like equipment utilization optimization and preventive maintenance.

Kärcher Fleet Management Solution

The diagram below uses the Ignite|IoT Solution Sketch template to illustrate the key elements of the Kärcher Fleet Management solution named as Kärcher Fleet. The solution manages many different kinds of cleaning machines, from larger cleaning machines such as big scrubber driers  to smaller vacuums, used in industries such as facility management, healthcare, retail and others. The solution supports processes such as planning and controlling, fleet monitoring and preventive maintenance. Key user groups are facility managers  and branch managers of the respective facility management company. The solution provides role-specific views for facility managers, branch managers and others. The role-based web-portal includes a dashboard, a machine planning perspective, a visual mapping of machine positions to locations, and detailed views for machine status and KPIs such as machine availability, machine efficiency, cleaning reliability and theft and abuse rate. The solution can receive and process different types of events from the machines, including machine status and machine position. Business rules allow for flexible customization of alarms and notifications. The Kärcher Fleet Management solution is delivered as a multi-tenant capable cloud solution. Customers can integrate the solution with their own in-house ERP and other applications.

Ignite Solution Sketch for Kärcher Fleet Management

Ignite Solution Sketch for Kärcher Fleet Management


A key feature of the solution is the role-based web-portal. A screenshot of the main dashboard can be seen in the figure below. The fleet overview widget provides a high level overview over the whole fleet utilization as a pie chart. The notification widget shows the most high-priority notifications, such as machine errors, violations of machine usage schedules or use in invalid geo locations. The machine status overview widget shows only the status of those machines which are currently requiring attention. The machine location widget shows the location of the machines which are requiring attention. The performance and utilization widget provides an overview of machine health, scheduled start reliability (last full week), machines assigned to facilities (are machines in use or still in the warehouse?) and deployment ratio (are machines where they are supposed to be?).

A full report can be exported which includes machine utilization details, planned hours, deviations, etc. Machine status can be viewed in full detail, including status, battery charging levels, battery health, machine location & last known address, as well as data timeliness.

Screenshot: Main Dashboard of Kärcher Fleet Management (Source: Kärcher)

Screenshot: Main Dashboard of Kärcher Fleet Management (Source: Kärcher)

One interesting lesson learned from the dashboard design was the machine status widget. The internal sales team naturally wanted to focus on “what is actually working”. In the customer design workshops it became clear that the customer assumes that most of the machines are working, and that he only wants to see the “machines requiring attention”. This was important input for the design of this widget.

AIA for Kärcher Fleet Management

AIA for Kärcher Fleet Management

Asset Integration Architecture

The figure below uses the Ignite Asset Integration Architecture (AIA) template to provide an overview of the main technical components of the fleet management solution. On the asset, a custom made Fleet Management Gateway aggregates data from devices such as electric motors, batteries and sensors, and makes this data available to the backend via a cellular network. In the backend, this data is received, processes and stored in the central asset database, which also serves as the foundation for the portal. Customer specific applications can be integrated through a set of specialized service interfaces.

Lessons Learned

The following describes some key lessons learned and success factors from this project.

Project Organization

  • Management Support: Having direct support from the Kärcher board of directors was vital for the success of this project, because of its transformative nature – after all, this project is a significant step from a pure product business towards a service model. See the discussion in the introduction of this book on Servitization and “Machine guys meet Internet Guys” – this is exactly what is happening here.
  • Project Management: A small, tightly knit project management team with direct communication channels and a clear focus on management the interfaces to the various internal and external stakeholders.
  • Technology and Partner Selection: Selection “best of breed” components and suppliers based on a clear product vision and the results of the detailed stakeholder analysis.

Product Design

  • Customer stakeholder analysis: Detailed customer requirements analysis to ensure that this is not a technology driven project
  • Evolutionary product design: Small pilot that is developed and productized with lead customers, “design to time and budget”-approach
  • Focus on usability design: As was discussed in the portal section, getting direct input from customers on key UIs such as the dashboard was important. For these key UI elements, custom UIs were implemented and externally designed by an UI company instead of using pre-defined widgets.
  • Data ownership: Another result of the stakeholder analysis was the reluctance of end-customers to include certain sensitive data from their own ERP systems directly in the fleet management solution. Consequently, the solution now supports flexible segregation of data views.
  • Openness: A key decision that had to be made is if the hardware and software interfaces should also allow for integration of non-Kärcher equipment. The company eventually decided to do exactly this to provide their customers with a comprehensive offering that fits their potentially heterogeneous environment.
  • TCO (total cost of ownership): Cost for solution development and other costs must reflect the individual asset value, as well as the solution value add.


  • Adoption of new technologies: For a medium-sized business, openness for the adoption of new technologies cannot always be taken for granted. In this project, use of new technologies such as Amazon Cloud or Google Services was important.
  • Start of asset integration: The time and effort for integrating with the assets should not be underestimated. This is especially true if not all of the required hardware interfaces and sensors are already available and accessible. For example, the project found out that getting “battery health” data directly from the machines is not something that can be taken for granted. Devising and implementing a work-around for this took some time.
  • Localization: GPS positioning does not work well in closed buildings. Hence, the project team took to Google Services. At the end, this was more a cost than a technology question.
  • Telecom integration: Using a global carrier with a managed service helped ensuring 96% availability for GPRS-based communication services.

Transfer from project to line organization

  • Know-how: in-sourcing from external suppliers is important and takes time and resources
  • Training and support: creation and rollout of training concept, including train-the-trainer concept
  • Sales enablement: definition of pricing model, sales training and marketing support are very important tasks and need to be planned for accordingly – including resource allocation on both sides of the organisation
  • Organizational change: Set-up of a new competence center for these kind of products in the organization is a key instrument to support successful change management

We would like to thank Dr. Alexander Grohmann, Project Lead Fleet Management at Kärcher, for his support with this case study.