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Balancing Human Touch in a Digital Era

Denmark-based ISS Facility Services has approximately 510,000 employees, making it the world’s fourth largest private employer. Jeff Gravenhorst, Group CEO, shares with Clean India Journal the success behind ISS growth, the power of human touch and the advent of digital facility management.

What is the success story of ISS?

ISS Facility Services started off way back in 1901 with 23 security guards. The key driver for ISS to step into this profession was the unprofessional way of dealing and taking care of assets. Properties were pre-dominantly looking at people who could not be used on the sublime, to keep an eye on the entire facility. ISS turned this unprofessional approach of “keeping watch” into a profession. The people in the Security profession were given uniforms, a decent pay and respect which has remained the secret of ISS’s success.

What are the three new concepts that ISS has introduced in the last three years?

In today’s work scenario, with late working hours and extensive travel time, employees work several hours, reach home, shop, prepare food… the younger generation definitely does not follow this trend. Hence, catering to the basic facility needs of the employees, ISS introduced a ‘takeaway app’ where the employee chooses a catering service and places order from his or her desk and picks up the meal.

Similarly, when it comes to washing their soiled clothes, employees could drop them at work for ‘dry-cleaning’, with the ISS team.

Also, as part of the valet parking, we clean and refuel the car for the employee. All these services make life easier for the end user in the facility.

ISS looks at creating a workplace which is engaging to work and where millennials would love to come to work. All enterprises want people to come to work to get the culture of the business.

In Silicon Valley, we have a service called workplace in a bus. Employees can get sandwiches and coffee on the way to the workplace. In order to make the workplace interesting to the employee, we have open offices where activity-based seating or focused zones have been created besides the normal work area. A lot of planning developing and management goes into enhancing the work experience of employees.

Should facility management companies take up waste management?

We might not do the whole waste management at any given facility, but we use partners for it. Our partners invest in the best disposable strategy for waste management.

How are you getting interconnected on a digital platform and how you are still maintaining the human touch factor on this platform?

We have a lot of digital solutions and have implemented them across the world in various facilities. IoT and digitalisation is all about big data, where one can assess and come to conclusions based on real time figures. As the development of robotics has been slow, we are dependent upon by our partners.

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Talking about digital, conceptualisation is the key. But it is not only about conceptualising the process, it is also about developing people’s tide. Service with the human touch is sort of recognising how important the service value is in doing the job.


Within a short period of time, robotics will be taking over larger areas. However, they are addressing only 10% of the cleaning areas presently. The windows, chairs & desks and all the agile stuff are nowhere near robotics. However, in large corporations, there is a need for experienced handling and with robotics that is not possible. We should try and use the skills of people in much better and creative way, i.e. the use of human touch shall be used.

Digitalisation is clearly the future, and it is already effective in Europe. Importantly, we can clearly look at cost reduction, effective workforce, and quality results. The hourly rate versus the machine use has a different equation compared to what we have in Asia, as there is less skilled manpower available here.

As the fourth largest employer, how would you engage manpower and improve quality to meet the digital requirement?

For development we need to recruit staff and keep them for a longer time. This is possible with a clear career and growth path for the staff. In the facility management business, it is all about servicing fewer and larger sites where there are more jobs to carry out.

If a staff is working on a large site as a cleaner, he or she can work his or her way up. We have programs to make that happen and leaders that keep an eye on them. ISS works on fewer larger sites with much expanded development programs for onboard service, for the human touch training and corporate learning programs that is rolled out in all countries, including India. In this industry, we are much better off to have people for a long time as opposed to a quick turnaround.

Is India ready for digital facility management?

Yes, the time has arrived. Our job is to make sure that digital facility management is not only being implemented but also experiencing the outcome. The key is in giving a better experience and making it more effective at a lower cost.

Where do you see ISS in the next four years?

The vital strategy for us is to be relevant. We have survived for 118 years and are proud of that. Being relevant to some is more important than being relevant to a lot. The whole focus is to be firm on key accounts and certain segments where we want to be absolutely pertinent. For example, healthcare, which is going to be a big market for us also in India. We are having a huge success in hospital services in Turkey and China, and in food & beverage services and tech services.

We have grown 10-15% organically in the last 10 years. By reducing what we don’t need, we can get back to the growth rate. We have had good steady margins, overall higher earnings and a growth based on emerging markets such as India, China, Indonesia and Mexico. The coming years, these will be the key areas of opportunity where we can grow the business.

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