The Digital Restroom: Big Data’s New Frontier

Austrian hygiene company Hagleitner equips the restrooms of fast-food restaurants, hospital operating theaters, and cruise ship bathrooms with sensors to optimize resource planning. To handle the immense volumes of data that result, Hagleitner uses a central platform based on SAP HANA.

In Austria, any patrons visiting the restrooms of their favorite fast-food restaurant are unlikely to notice the sudden abundance of sensors. They keep track of how many people use the facilities, how often faucets are used, and whether sufficient stocks of soap, air freshener, and paper towels remain.

Image: Hagleitner

Image: Hagleitner

How many people use the facility and how much soap is left can be monitored on a tablet PC. Hagleitner customers can optimize stock levels and better plan inspections. The senseManagement server runs on SAP HANA.

“The sensors regularly transmit their data to the base station,” explains Gernot Bernert, managing director at Hagleitner, a hygiene specialist headquartered in the Austrian lake-side resort of Zell am See. He is not, however, interested in how long a customer spent washing his hands. His aim is to create mathematical models that will revolutionize restroom resource planning. “We want to add value,” says Bernert, an electrical engineer. “Our data even allows us to optimize how we deploy cleaning personnel.”

From Big Data to value-added services

To Hagleitner, the “digital restroom” means better customer service. Speaking at the SAP Innovation Days event, he said: “We used to sell paper, now we sell expertise.” Hagleitner used to develop and produce disinfectants, dispenser systems, and cleaning agents that were used everywhere, from hotel bedding to airport restrooms, and even in hospital operating theaters. This midsize company, which employees 950 people and generated revenue of €84 million in 2013, is now going even further. Having digitized restrooms, it wants to offer what Bernert calls value-added services.

It all began in 2011, when Hagleitner business developers laid out 130 scenarios in their vision paper on Big Data. At the core of their efforts was the concept of networked systems. They would enable the company to offer added value to their customers and to benefit from this added value themselves. For instance, Hagleitner’s engineers improved electronic systems and developed an add-on wireless circuit board that enables dispensers to relay their current fill levels. Customer feedback, however, was less than enthusiastic, with most customers unconvinced that it was worth putting advanced technology into restrooms. Despite these reactions, Bernert and his colleagues held onto their idea.

100 patents for the digital restroom

Some 100 registered patents later, customer interest was finally awakened. Following in the footsteps of the fast-food chain, a hospital near Hagleitner’s headquarters in Zell am See equipped their 1,300 dispensers with the senseManagement sensors. A cruise ship company was the next customer. Before their vessels reach the next port, workers there already know how much toilet paper and soap was used, and how many paper towels need to be brought on board. “With far greater precision than ever before,” says Bernert.

Whereas a fast-food restaurant generates just 45 megabytes of data per day, large companies and hospitals have to handle much larger volumes of data. A single dispenser transmits 27 measurements, alongside time data, the location of the device, and the customer name. After the data is collected at the base station, it is forwarded to SAP HANA.

“We use SAP HANA in the cloud,” says Bernert, who is looking for answers to big-picture questions. “The cloud server defines how the data is used. That’s what we use SAP HANA for,” says Bernert, explaining how he stays on top of so much data. The analysis that run on SAP HANA have a clear purpose: Bernert wants to know how to match supply and demand, how to save storage space, and how to optimize logistics and the deployment of personnel.

Hagleitner’s customers aren’t the only ones who benefit. Hagleitner itself has now reached its long-term goal of knowing how much disinfectant and how many dispensers to produce.

Producing to demand, saving warehouse space, simply producing what the market wants as sustainably as possible are the goals the company wants to achieve. The amalgamated data from all of Hagleitner’s customers soon reaches the terabyte range. “That’s when it gets really interesting,” says Bernert, whose pet phrase in his talks is “Big Washroom Data.”

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