Sharman Property Services, “SPS”, is a provider of contract cleaning and other building services. SPS started in 1990 and has over 400 employees managed through offices in Gladstone, Townsville, Cloncurry and Christchurch, New Zealand. Our Head Office is at Rocklea in Brisbane.
How would you describe your business?
We are a provider of cleaning and ancillary building services.
Who are your clients and customers?
Our customers are mostly large organisations that outsource services. For example, we deliver our services to national facility management companies, state and federal government departments, mining operations, hospitals, schools and a wide variety of commercial clients.
We provide an essential service to facilities, keeping their environs clean and hygienic. Our focus enables us to provide a highly skilled, fully trained and experienced workforce to manage contracts of all sizes anywhere in Australia and New Zealand.
What changes are taking place in your business category?
In recent years we’ve become more sophisticated in the use of technology as part of our business. It’s a major area we believe we can innovate in, helping us to be more responsive to our clients needs, further differentiating ourselves from our competitors.
We have a geographically fragmented workforce, so we need to collect workforce information such as work times, performance and attendance records from all over Australasia.
Five years ago it was all paper-based. Then we had a workforce of about two hundred. We realised that we had to embrace technology to improve our business processes, so that we could expand and grow. We looked at using the internet to manage the expansion.
In many ways, it didn’t work at the time. The infrastructure wasn’t up to speed, internally or externally. More recently a significant ICT infrastructure up-grade is transforming the way we do things. Now it’s driving productivity.
How have you been successful?
We’re a family owned business, passionate about what we do. Over twenty years of experience in the industry has given us deep knowledge of the industry and we are willing to innovate and invest.
We focus on running a good business. Education and training have been important in achieving that outcome.
Do you have a website?
Yes. It’s www.sps-cleaning.com.
What prompted you to upgrade your IT system?
As I mentioned before, we needed to become better at managing our business to grow successfully. This meant reviewing our IT system to see how we could use it more effectively.
We had used TAAConnect as a telecommunications provider for many years. Originally, we bought our PABX system and ten handsets from them plus about twenty mobile phones.
Then over time our IT needs became more sophisticated. We were unhappy with our existing IT services company and we were about to move offices. We planned to install a new PABX system when we moved, so we decided the change of location was a good time to review our complete system.
We were also looking into issues of risk management and disaster recovery at the time, so we put everything into the review.
We were having constant problems with our IT crashing and not being available, so we decided to try to find an IT services company that would be able to manage all our needs from telephony to IT.
I spoke to TAAConnect about whether they had the capacity to do this and it was clear that they would be able to handle all of our requirements. This was in 2009.
We began by engaging TAAConnect to review the infrastructure that we had. They proposed two options – one to fix what we had and the other to upgrade the system entirely. They concluded that if we wanted a stable platform that we could build on and grow with, we needed to start again…which is what we did.
The decision was made to upgrade the system in two stages, starting with telephony as part of the move to the new offices and then upgrading the IT system once we had settled in.
So on moving, we put in the new Mitel system, which allowed us to use Softphones but we brought our inherited IT problems with us. Once the telephony system was installed, TAAConnect worked on the IT system to fix the problems.
We had four servers before the move, each dedicated to a different piece of software. With the new system utilising virtualisation technology we’ve been able to generate a lot more efficiency across our system.
With the upgrade we standardised our operating systems – deploying Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010 in a Sharepoint environment. Our goal is to move to a terminal server environment as the existing desktop computers fail.
Did you write a project plan?
Yes. We developed the plan with TAAConnect. They were responsible for implementing it.
The Mitel PABX system runs a program call UCA that allows phones to be synchronised with MS Outlook. So we can run a message bank system across all our computers and phones. We had training in how to use the program from TAAConnect. Training is important if you want to get the most out of any system.
The system also allows audio web conferencing, which was delayed because of our IT issues. This is an important program for us because we have regular operations meetings with our regional managers. We are so geographically dispersed it is important and the new program will improve the way we interact with the management team.
Also, we believe the audio web conferencing will help with inducting and training our staff. We need to be able to deliver this type of training to employees anywhere they are. By utilising the web and this type of technology we believe that we’ll be able to achieve this far better than we do now.
How much time did it take to get up and running?
The Mitel system went in during February and was up and running quickly. The IT system upgrade was next. We realised we needed to do more than just tweak the system. We needed to upgrade it completely.
At the end of April, we reviewed the proposal from TAAConnect and approved it in early May. One of the big issues was finance approval. We found that a lot of lenders didn’t want to fund these types of assets. Next time we would probably look at finance directly from one of the IT suppliers.
The IT equipment was installed in July, tested and by September we were ready to roll out the full system,
Were you happy with the work and help given?
We were very happy. The key for us was fulfilling a range of expectations that are non-technical for our IT and telephony system. People want technology to work. They expect it to work. So unless you can manage these expectations successfully, you haven’t delivered a solution.
From a management perspective, we wanted integrity of our data. We wanted it all in one place, so we have control of our information and its dissemination. If we can have a system that can do this…great.
The other issue, I mentioned before is risk management and disaster recovery. Our operational requirements dictate that we be up and running again quickly if there is a problem of any kind.
We have to be able to rely on the system to run our business at all times. We do regular tape backups of data every day and we are investigating off-site automatic backup options.
We also want to be able to minimise our environmental impact and measure it. Reducing the need for physical servers improves our efficiency, reduces our power needs and environmental impact.
Document management is important in our business, including version control, because we have many procedure manuals and reference documents.
We want to be able to control, manage and deliver documents of all kinds into our contracts electronically. The ultimate goal is to replace our paper-based system completely.
What about costs?
Most recently we’ve invested over a quarter of a million dollars across the whole system. For a business our size a significant investment! Nevertheless, it was still a move we had to make. We needed to be able to rely on our system in order to build our business on it, so that we could expand. We now have that.
What are the business benefits?
We now have stability across our operational system. We have better business recovery in the event of a disaster. We have reliable data. We have the ability to centralise documentation, processes and procedures. All these are very important to the business but not immediately quantifiable.
We had one software program that never ran properly in the past. Now it does what it should have done in the beginning, saving one person a couple of days a week. That increase in productivity has allowed us to change job tasks and create a new role. In effect that saves us over $25,000 a year for that one person. We expect we will find other savings elsewhere.
We have made costs savings on call costs with the new IP Telephony system and it is now easier to communicate with staff that are a long way away.
Customer service has improved. A lot of this is about perception management. Clients need to trust and know that we are managing their cleaning contracts effectively. If a question arises, they know that no matter where we are, we can be contacted on any issue at any time.
We can be counted on in a way that meets our client expectations. They can relax knowing that we are always at the end of a phone, or contactable via email no matter where we are. Our new system ensures that can be done even more effectively than before.
Are customers happy?
At this stage customers wouldn’t know. But in the near future, we are thinking of implementing a web based client portal. On it we plan to publish data such as our insurance certificates, important for our clients risk management processes, or performance data in relation to areas such as quality, occupational health and safety, and environmental sustainability.
Are staff happy?
They are happy because the new system is reliable, stable and doesn’t crash on payroll day.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned in the last year?
I’ve learned the power of a virtualised environment, the power of using server space more efficiently. Power costs are a lot less. The software is far more effective in performance. I was very impressed.
TAAConnect ran an information session, which was very informative explaining what was happening in the telephony and virtualisation space.
What are you planning to do next?
We are going to really leverage the technology that we have invested in. Over the next 12-18 months we will replace all our paper-based documents.
We will also create a number of web tools to allow us to work directly with our staff on administrational and procedural issues like timesheets, holidays, procedures etc.
We want to innovate to gain further efficiencies. In a labour intensive business, we need to become more effective and productive in order to deliver better services. With our old infrastructure, we became less productive than we should have been.
We have a business focus on continual improvement. We were already reviewing our overall processes and activities at the time we put in the new system. The two things go hand in glove.
One thing I have learned is that we are not on our own. All medium sized businesses are dealing with the same issues. They have silos of data that don’t talk to each other. They are working to integrate their systems to become more effective.
We see the potential tools such as iPad’s have, providing a hand held platform with far more productive user interfaces.
Currently we use a paper based quality audit tool. We’re been looking at software products such as Topcat, a quality audit program currently deployed on smart phones. We believe it would operate far more effectively on an iPad platform.
TAAConnect, have told us they can provide a solution for us. IT should be about solutions.
IT people are usually good at day to day IT. But managing change successfully requires the ability to explain the business benefits simply and clearly as well as building and managing the IT solution. Hardly any IT companies do that well, no matter how big they are.
Going forwards, we need two things. We need the project completed and we need a good ongoing relationship with out IT services company.
Recently, we provided TAAConnect with a brief on how we want IT services delivered. We want a service level agreement that is similar to the way we are expected to deliver cleaning services to our major clients.
The agreement will cover annual, monthly and weekly expectations plus responsiveness when there is a problem. The brief helped TAAConnect understand what we want and they have set up a dedicated phone line specifically to help us on any issues that arise. That service agreement is critical for us to manage our business expectations for today and into the future.