Smarter Service

ISS Group is transforming the Facilities Services industry through technology.

Imagine this scenario. A client drops by unannounced, and your boss asks you to book a conference room for an impromptu meeting. To your dismay, every room is reserved for the next few hours, so the two of you are forced to take the client to a nearby Starbucks. When you return an hour later, you and your boss happen to pass a nearby conference room – that’s completely empty! Your boss is furious, and your week is effectively ruined.

Look around and you’ll see that modern workplaces are filled with inefficiencies. But thanks to a new era of digital transformation, that’s about to change. A world in which conference rooms know they’re empty – and act accordingly – is within reach.

ISS Group, one of the world’s foremost Facility Services companies, is leading the charge to transform the services industry through technology. ISS provides support such as maintenance services, catering and cleaning to thousands of corporate clients around the world. In partnership with IBM Watson, the company is installing smart technology in some 25,000 buildings that will radically change the way ISS operates.

How? By making buildings – and the people that service them – smarter and more efficient. Sensors installed in bathrooms will detect how much soap is left in the dispenser and prompt cleaning staff to replenish it. Devices installed in elevators will alert employees when maintenance is needed, and shed insight on utilization. Sensors placed on plate dispensers in employee cafeterias will keep chefs apprised of demand, and help them determine whether or not to whip up more food. And, yes, sensors installed in conference rooms will automatically cancel meetings if attendees don’t show. Employees will also be able to make or cancel room reservations via text message!

The broader implications for ISS Group’s business model are potentially profound. For instance, the ability of elevators and bathrooms to notify maintenance staff when service is needed could eliminate the need for hourly wages, which remain constant regardless of whether or not work is being performed. Instead, one could envision per room payment structures, whereby employees are paid based on actual work performed. Likewise, employers will have the ability to monitor their employees’ behavior with greater precision, which will help them uncover efficiencies and unleash greater labor productivity and employee responsiveness.

There are also promising environmental implications. For example, enhanced information regarding cafeteria traffic will prevent oversupply, reducing preventable food waste. More generally, ISS Group’s new data will be instrumental in informing environmental efficiency measures through a better understanding of how buildings and their inhabitants use water, electricity, and other services. There is a no end to what ISS could accomplish using the data it will eventually collect.

And yet, a key challenge that ISS Group could face going forward is just that – the endlessness of opportunity its new treasure trove of data presents. There is much that could be done with this data, and the temptation for ISS Group will likely be to do it all – because it can, and because the initial investment ISS has made in installing new technology infrastructure likely far exceeds the cost of adding on various bells and whistles. It will be critical that ISS Group’s management think carefully about what new technological features and capabilities will truly create value for its customers. For example, particularly in the service industry, adding unnecessary complexity to workers’ daily tasks has the potential to impede productivity, an undesirable outcome for ISS and its customers. Capabilities should be continuously evaluated to gauge synchronicity with the business’ core value proposition.

As an employer of over 530,000 people worldwide, ISS runs a distinctly human-centered operation. However, the technological capabilities it stands to gain, which will likely increase and improve over time, have the potential to fundamentally transform the nature of the business. With conference rooms handling bookings and cancellations, bathrooms and elevators demanding service on an as-needed basis, and beyond, buildings will require fewer and fewer human hands to function – in some cases, perhaps the need for human intervention will be eliminated altogether.

This has enormous implications for the workers ISS employs, and for the very identity of ISS as a company. In the not-too-distant future, ISS may need to address insecurity in its workforce, and figure out how to reassure its employees that their jobs are secure even as their hours and duties are reduced. In the long term, ISS must grapple with tough questions about what kind of company it wants to be, what its future workforce will actually look like, and how it will define its competitive advantage when the services its own people once provided are delegated to another company’s machines.


Word Count: 772



ISS Group Website,

ISS Turns to IBM Watson IoT to put the ‘Human Touch’ into Buildings, (June 2016) ISS World Website

Green, “How Watson IoT is Making Buildings Better” (June 2016) IBM Think Blog

Wired Insider, “IBM Watson set to transform 25,000 offices into ‘smart buildings,’ (June 2016), Wired

Porter and J. Heppelmann, “How smart, connected products are transforming competition,” Harvard Business Review (Nov. 2014)


Smart Meters: Gateway to a better grid


The Facebook Flu: How Social Media is Changing Disease Outbreak Monitoring

Leave a comment