Sodexo is well known for its food and facilities management services, but now the company is bringing a new type of service offering to its clients—Internet of Things (IoT) technology. The company is using sensors, applications and other services provider platforms that it can place into its own platforms and in turn flow to its service delivery tools.
The concept began last year after Sodexo signed a partnership with Microsoft. The company looked at the services it delivered in its respective space as well as advantages the Microsoft partnership provided and decided to move forward with making IoT part of its offerings to its clients.
“We saw this golden opportunity to take this technology that we can roll into our service delivery, make ourselves more efficient, get key information and then just deliver higher quality services to our clients,” Sodexo North American IoT Product Owner & Facilities Systems Quality Assurance and Operational Excellence Lead William Keys said. “We were looking at market trends and seeing how we could improve ourselves. We’re constantly challenging ourselves to improve, whether that be in a particular service line or in technology, (Embracing IoT) was an internal challenge to make ourselves better.”
Sodexo’s IoT approach mirrors its business approach according to Keys—the company has a lot of business lines and has looked at how it could build a platform that it could utilize IoT to support each of them.
“What we try to do is take the approach of, ‘How can we build this so I can deploy different solutions to benefit different sites for the services we have at that (particular) site?’”
Given that Sodexo operates across several segment types including corporate services, universities and schools, healthcare, energy and resources, government and sports and leisure bringing IoT into the fold was a natural fit for the company as it can apply the technology to any of these verticals.
“As a global provider in food and facilities management, we believe that because our services improve the quality of life for individuals, the progress of organizations and sustaining communities that the outcomes that we drive from that are the patients will be healed faster, the students learn more and employees are more engaged and productive,” Sodexo Executive Vice President Cheryl Carron said. “IoT acts as an enabler to further deliver our value proposition, which is quality of life. Sodexo is certainly leading the industry with IoT innovation.”
By embracing technology, Sodexo has been able to gain tactical information that can help in its decision-making process. For example, the company can deploy an IoT solution to see when a building’s restrooms are being used most often and set its cleaning schedule accordingly.
“If I know peak time is at 9:00, we’ll schedule a fresh up at 8:45 or 9:15, but if I know certain things or certain criteria is met, I could flow someone in there at 8:30 or 9:30 based on real time conditions because we’re getting data in real time,” Keys said. “We’re adjusting schedules to be more efficient, but also flow to work in real time based on conditions collected.”
Additionally, IoT solutions can be beneficial to tenants who are conscious of getting what they pay for in terms of real estate. In that regard, Sodexo can deploy a space utilization solution that ensures conference rooms are being used to their highest potential. Conference room monitoring helps make sure five people aren’t having a meeting in a space meant for 20.
“Having that information helps the workplace experience be adjusted for the next iteration,” Keys said. “(Clients) are hungry for innovation, yes, but they’re also hungry for real data they can use to adjust their workplace and make it higher quality, more efficient, laid out better, etc.”
Meanwhile, Sodexo has also used IoT to control individual room temperatures, power tablets used at for checkout stations in some of the company’s food environments, for sensors in parking garages that help people find open spaces faster, sensor-driven lighted pathways so people can feel safer as they walk through corridors and driving the volume and activity in cafeterias to direct traffic so employees can get in and out quickly and the queues can be controlled.
“IoT enables not only people and organizations to move through their days with ease, but also to get work done,” Carron said. “Providing real time data, analytics and insights makes for a much more informed and productive workplace experience.”
All of the industries Sodexo serves have leveraged the IoT offerings in one way or another, but its corporate services clients have led the charge, according to Carron. She attributed that to corporations needing to provide a quality workplace experience so their employees can complete their duties in an efficient manner. However, there are also external factors that could be driving the IoT embrace in Corporate America and elsewhere Carron said.
“Corporate environments are highly aware of the implications of the societal issues that are plaguing North America in particular, but certainly all over the world,” she said. “Because of that we are using IOT to gain access in situations like security— for example an active shooter environment. That is a real and tangible concern of most, if not all of our clients, regardless of the industry that they are in. IoT is leading the way and helping us get more information out and making sure people are aware of what’s going on in their environment.”
Sodexo’s healthcare segment is another one that could continue to benefit from IoT. Between artificial intelligence (AI) computing and IoT, the ability to remotely diagnose and monitor diseases as well as behavioral-based methods, medication compliance and healthy behaviors will continue to evolve, according to Carron.
“IoT is certainly going to be a big part of all of that, Carron said. “I think even further out we’ll be looking at things like remotely performing medical care, which is pretty amazing if you think about it today. I also think The same benefits and efficiencies that you’ll see throughout any other industry are going to be consistent in healthcare as well.”
While Sodexo’s clients enjoy the efficiency and data these IoT solutions provide, they prefer the company not use their wireless networks to bring these solutions to them. Cyber security is the top priority for Sodexo and its clients’ organizations, so the company has taken a few different approaches to collect data for the client without touching their Wi-Fi.
First, it deploys its own “mini” network with a wide-area network technology called LoRaWAN that allows for sensors to communicate throughout a given space. It does not interfere with Wi-Fi or cellular networks and is reliable, according to Keys. It also works on a global scale, which is critical as Sodexo operates worldwide.
The second option is to create cellular networks, which Keys admits is not as cost effective and the company tries to avoid. If Sodexo does have to put cell on a particular sensor or however, it can do so. The primary choice though is to deploy the LoRaWAN gateway since thousands of sensors can be put on one gateway with just one cell connection, versus needing a cellular connection on every individual sensor.
“I can have one provider access Sodexo on one platform that we’ve built with essentially endless sensors and those sensors can collect multitudes of data points, Keys said. “That’s how we flow the data to our service delivery tools that we need to be more efficient and flow to work in real time.”
As with most technology, where IoT is now from a capabilities standpoint is not where it will be in the future. Companies’ and individuals’ needs will change and what IoT can do to make their day-to-day lives more efficient will have to evolve as well.
“There will likely be more innovation, but there won’t necessarily be more technology for the sake of technology, Carron said. “Innovation will drive the needs of whatever new technology does appear. I think the way we use the technology, and you can see it with every launch, we’re determining new ways to leverage and use it. Much more data analytics are going to drive technological leads.
For Sodexo, IoT has been a great resource in terms of data collection, but its true value comes from, and will continue to come from, how the company puts that data to work to benefit its clients.
“We’re trying to focus on utilizing the Internet of Things and sensors integrated into our service delivery so we can enhance the collection of significant tactical information,” Keys said. “But it’s not just to have the information. It has to be actionable data that helps us enhance our services, either through efficiency or quality. Every time we look at a solution or introduce something new, we have to try to make sure it fits that.”
“We’re ultimately using and leveraging IoT as an enabler for our value proposition, Carron added. It’s very important to us, it’s certainly a differentiator in our market, in our industry and one that we’re remaining true to as technology trends come and go. That is one thing we will continue to align as we look to seek greater outcomes for our clients and our people.”