Disruptive Innovation in the Cleaning & Hygiene Industry
Date: December, 2016
 

 A floor that does not require cleaning, a carpet that easily lets go of the toughest stains or spills, a chemical dispenser that can predict your weekly consumption and call for replenishments accordingly, a Floor Sweeping machine that is automatically activated when it senses particles on the floor. No, this is not a scene from next big Hollywood sci-fi movie; this is the next wave of technology for the cleaning & hygiene Industry - one that is already taking shape in R&D labs, shop floors and the market place.

One of my favourite scholars on the subject, Clayton M. Christensen, defines Disruptive Innovation as, “an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products and alliances.”
 
Just a few years ago, there may not have been many who could have predicted that a mobile app that aggregates all the available cars in a neighborhood could reshape public transportation in the developed and developing world. For people who would think that only the service industry is getting disrupted, spare a thought for the CDs or the bulky volumes of encyclopedias or even cameras. Today, all of these collectively find a place with many others in a slim device nestled in our pockets or palms. For someone born into a generation that has witnessed disruptive innovation in many business segments, I have been fascinated at the prospect of how it will impact the cleaning & hygiene business.
 
Before we go down the road imagining a world of Robots and Apps invading our business, I would like to call out that disruption doesn’t just mean new technology or increased automation. To me disruption is about new thinking or new approaches to our business. And at the recent Middle East Cleaning Technology Week, there was ample proof that new thinking and approach has already found its way into our business. There were some very interesting and entirely operational examples of IoT at the event. And the buzz around these seemed to suggest that these may well move from ‘Great to look and rave’ to ‘Specified as Standard equipment’ soon enough.
 
So, my classification of disruption in the Cleaning & Hygiene Business is fairly linear - Product, Process & Pricing. Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that Product Disruption will come from the move towards chemicals with cleaner formulations and more eco-friendly after-effects. There is certainly the case for molecular intelligence for surfactants and enzymes to increase their performance on dynamic surfaces. We have already seen the increasing concentration for cleaning formulations. At 3M itself, we have championed this with our Twist 'n Fill™ Cleaning Chemical Management System. This has helped customers achieve consistent and less wasteful solutions with simplified storage.
 
I have personally found housekeeping and F&B professionals to be leading the process disruption. The speed with which they have adopted the use of vinyl gloves or the now universal usage of extensions for the vacuum cleaners that makes it easier to access the hard-to-reach spaces are all signs of how housekeepers are constantly evaluating and adopting methods that add value for the corporations, people and customers. Needless to say, Process Disruption is as much about measurement. Customers also want to validate the results of the performance of a cleaning solution, and it’s not uncommon to see hand-held detection meters in our business.
 
We’re already witnessing Pricing Disruption with the smaller and less capital intensive products going the ‘Razor and Blade’ model. Freemium and Tiered pricing have occasionally been spotted for share gains. However, the one that has caught on fervently is the Leasing model for large and small cleaning & hygiene systems. By offering the customer an option to actually lease a capital intensive product, we have opened up the market, reduced the barriers of entry for new technology and new players, increased consumption and tapped on new opportunities to grow value and volume.
 
The possibilities continue to enthrall me and the fact that we take it from thought to action to dollar value realization makes me believe that disruptive innovation is here and we’re well poised to grow with it.