Intel Takes IT into the Toilet

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Note -- this news article is more than a year old.

Deep in the bowels of Intel headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., the restrooms have been plumbed with technology designed to enhance the experience of uh freshening up. From overflowing toilets to empty towel dispensers to faulty faucet motion sensors, Intel employees can now swipe their washroom maintenance requests using smartphones.

Near field communications (NFC) chips recently installed in the restrooms of Intel's Robert Noyce Building let employees anonymously report maintenance needs with a tap of their mobile phone. Those without NFC-enabled smartphones have the option to scan a QR code.

Streamlining the service request process addressed a big challenge for facility maintenance staff according to Joe Maestas, project manager for Intel Corporate Services.

"One of the things that everybody loves to complain about is bathrooms," he said. "But people never report issues."

That general lack of movement prompted Maestas and his team to plunge into finding a way to unclog the restroom maintenance request process and get things flowing down the right pipe.

"There is [generally] a 15- to 30-second time period from when a person sees something to when they will report it - if you make it really easy," said Maestas. "Outside that 30-second window, the opportunity is lost."

Previously, employees could submit service requests via an 11-step process on the company intranet or call them in, neither of which had much sense of urgency. The restroom signs with NFC chips and QR codes keep opportunities to report issues from going down the drain by making the process easy - now 3 clicks or fewer - and immediate.

The process may be smoother, yet remains far from straining to meeting demand: During a pilot phase, less than 10 percent of work order requests were submitted using the NFC/QR process. Before the end of the year, the program goal is to push usage upwards of 50 percent, according to Maestas.

Initially, usage has been divided along gender lines with approximately eight in 10 requests coming from men's restrooms. According to IT in the Toilet, a study conducted by marketing firm 11Mark, smartphone use in the bathroom doesn't differ much for men (74 percent) and women (76 percent), but men are more likely to bring their smartphone: 30 percent claimed they never go to the bathroom without their phone, compared with 20 percent of women.

"I know I don't bring my phone into the restroom," said Michelle Creed, a project manager on the program. "Maybe the guys keep it in their pockets or have it on their belt. So, that could be the difference, the mobile phone actually going with the person."

Regardless of where the requests come from, there is some anecdotal evidence that the new smartphone process has shortened response time to maintenance requests. Maestas cites the example of an empty soap dispenser that was refilled before the person who submitted the request had even left the restroom.

"From a customer perspective, that is what you want - real-time results," he said.

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