The Internet of Things is the world of devices connected to the internet, devices that track, detect, and measure pre-defined functions, and then collect and share the data. Metsä Tissue’s Katrin Live smart washroom concept is a superb example of the IoT in action. A smart washroom can send alerts when the paper or soap are running out, among other things.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you hear something, and it makes your thoughts flow like a flood – ideas one after the other in an endless rush of amazing clarity, making you feel that nothing is impossible? Something like this happens to me on a regular basis. Sometimes, there are obstacles in the way, and other times I have an inkling of an idea that creates its own path, extending the boundaries of the real world but progressing steadily and determinedly, impervious to doubt and objections. Here is an example.
A few years ago, my colleagues from the large-scale consumer team suggested to me that we could install electronic sensors in our paper towel dispensers. These sensors would let you see how many towels were left in the dispenser via the internet. It was an interesting idea, but it was hard to see any real advantages. How would it benefit us or our customers, such as cleaning companies and their employees? What help would it bring? Would it be profitable, or would it just create costs? The idea stuck with me, and it eventually became the topic of my MBA thesis.
I began to collect thoughts and organise background information collected by my colleagues. The flood of ideas began with a modest trickle: I realised that labour was the largest single cost in cleaning, and that our company’s products constituted only 2 per cent or so of the total cost. The trickle became a stream when I realised that by collecting data, we would be able to avoid unnecessary work – that is, unnecessary costs – and create cost savings that would easily exceed the value of our products many times over. The real flood began when I started to create an ecosystem of properties that would utilize the Internet of Things, collecting data from a wide range of sources – from weather forecasts to cleaning machines, and from access control to reports of completed cleaning work.
When I became head of Metsä Tissue’s Away-from-Home product development, our competitors had already announced similar systems, but they had not yet commercialised them. My team and I set out to build a limited smart dispenser solution for our business operations that could eventually become part of a larger ecosystem. We started looking for partners, and with a little luck, we found companies with components that suited our purposes. We modified and supplemented these components, implementing our project quickly and created a highly functional service. This fascinating project taught me a great deal about service design, data processing – and even electronics. I also learned how to lead an extensive network towards the goal of increasing shared value.
Our idea of connecting the dispenser system to a larger, open ecosystem has been met with enthusiasm among our customers who use a cleaning or property management system. Even customers without such systems are interested in the service, which we have named as “Katrin Live”.
The Katrin Live smart washroom concept is based on easy-to-install, wireless network-connected sensors. They provide data on the use of the toilet facilities, the consumption of hand towels and soap, and the actual fill rate of dispensers, for example. All of this helps in predicting the need for cleaning. In addition, useful information about stock levels and whether dispensers need refilling is available via a computer, tablet or smartphone. The system tells the maintenance personnel when refills are needed in a timely manner, eliminating the need for unnecessary checks or urgent refill visits. The system also provides statistics about visitor numbers and consumption. The smart washroom solution provides our customers with significant added value. It makes them more efficient, reduces upkeep and maintenance time, improves service quality, and cuts costs. It makes it easier to make sure that these facilities keep up the level of quality that was promised. And if you miss or forget something, the system will remind you!