Concepta and Clean the World Partner to Create a Dynamic Online Portal for Hospitality Customers

What happens to the soap after a guest checks out of their hotel? This question posed by frequent business traveler, Shawn Seipler, inspired a green movement. He embraced the opportunity to turn one man’s trash into another’s life-saving treasure.

Clean the World is the result of that vision. It’s mission: “recycling soap to save lives.”

Concepta became a partner in that mission by providing a new automated system for interaction with their hotel partners. This automation means Clean the World can now bring on thousands more hospitality partners and improve customer service at the same time.

Responsible Profit

Clean the World has paved the way for another unique movement. In 2014, they became Florida’s first Benefits Corporation (B-Corp). A social enterprise with a charitable mission and an environmentally-conscious corporate ethos. Where many non-profits struggle with donation-based funding, this business model ensures stable funding to all their charitable programs. And business is thriving.

Complex social and environmental climates leave no shortage of need for Clean the World’s services. For a decade, the organization has provided bars of soap to the communities of developing nations. This has resulted in a 60% reduction of the death rate of children under the age of five due to hygiene-related illnesses. In addition, Clean the World’s foundation provides hygiene supplies for emergency response. When disaster strikes, whether home or abroad, victims are recipients of their hygiene kits.

Clean the World funds their mission through their hospitality partners, who pay to have hygiene products collected and recycled, and thousands of generous donors and corporations that support Clean the World’s programs. By partnering with Clean the World, businesses earn a reputation of corporate social responsibility.

Today, over 8,000 hotels participate in Clean the World’s recycling program. Participation results in a reduction of their negative environmental impact and allows them to spotlight their company's humanitarian side. Housekeepers around the world collect hygiene amenities from over 1.1 million hotel rooms daily and contribute to the diversion of over 20 million pounds of hotel waste from landfills. Combined, these efforts ease both an environmental concern and a humanitarian crisis.

It’s more than a philanthropic gesture, of course. Customer experience and hotel reputation are critical brand differentiators for travelers, especially with rates leveled by bargain apps.

“People want to know that their money is going back to a worthy cause,” explains Sandra Beauchamp, CTW’s Vice President of Marketing, Products, & Technology. “They’re starting to choose hotels based on the give-back programs they have.” Clean the World’s data is a major marketing boost for hospitality partners, who can share measurable results to share with their guests.

How It Works

The collection process is simple. The housekeeping teams gather the leftover hygiene items after a guest checks and deposit them into dedicated bins. When the bins fill up, the hotels submit a request for pickup. The bins are then swapped for empty ones and the full bins get shipped back to a Clean the World facility.

Teams of volunteers help sort the collected hygiene products. Clean the World recruits these volunteers from local businesses and organizations that emphasize volunteering as a morale boost and team-building event.

The sorted soap is then ground down, treated with a proven disinfecting process, and reformed into brand new bars. Bottles such as shampoo, conditioner, and body wash get recycled or sent to an Energy from Waste facility.

Volunteers and businesses also support Clean the World by assembling hygiene kits containing soap, shampoo, conditioner, socks, and toothbrush and toothpaste. The kits are distributed with the help of NGOs, both domestically as well as in 127 countries around the world. Hygiene kits find their way to shelters, refugee camps, schools, deployed soldiers and more.

Popularity Problems

Proof that their methods benefit all stakeholders while contributing to a cleaner environment has won Clean the World international acclaim. This has attracted the interest of many more prospective hospitality partners.

That’s great from a profit standpoint, but with substantial growth came an increased need for a tool that would help with logistics. A manual system for requesting bins, printing shipping labels and viewing impact statements would no longer suffice. They needed a tool that would create a good customer experience while streamlining logistics.

Their previous model required reliance on direct contact. A staffer had to address every request, even for a routine shipping label. This was easy to do when Clean the World was small, but as they grew it became progressively unmanageable.

Over time, the hassle experienced by hotel partners could have translated into less frequent impact updates. Room attendants, unable to see the results of their efforts, could have stopped taking the extra step of collecting the toiletries.

That’s dangerous for a program that relies on internal buy-in. If the team isn’t on board and there’s no visible impact to motivate them, the hospitality partner might lose interest in the program altogether.

Clean the World needed a better way to facilitate shipments and demonstrate impact to their growing network of partners.

The Search For The Right Developer

As enthusiastic supporters of technology, Clean the World started looking for a development partner to address the issue instead of considering a more analog solution.

“We went through a very extensive vetting process. We had 15 that we were looking at and we narrowed it down to 8, then compared them across the board,” Beauchamp said of the decision process.

Their requirements were simple but non-negotiable. As a B Corp, Clean the World needed a responsive developer with a clean reputation, someone who wouldn’t damage the brand they’ve worked hard to build. They wanted a partner with a portfolio of similarly high-volume projects that demonstrated quality and flexibility.

Also important was the potential for long-term collaboration. “We didn’t look at this as one project. We have a lot of technologies we want to do going forward, so we want someone we can grow with,” says Rob Keefe, Manager of Products and Business Development at Clean the World.

Based on these requirements, the team settled on fellow Orlando business Concepta. Proximity tipped the balance in Concepta’s favor. Their downtown office gives the team a physical location to meet and talk over issues.

Programming Around Bottlenecks

After identifying the main bottlenecks in Clean the World’s process, Concepta went to work on an ambitious solution. They designed a digital platform that provides hospitality partners real-time, round-the-clock, direct access to Clean the World’s services.

Requesting new bins is now an automated process that generates shipping labels and orders new bins on demand. The need for frequent direct contact has been eliminated. Hotel staff can simply sign in, print labels, and schedule the exact bins they need.

Most exciting is the responsive Impact Portal. Partners can pull up live, site-specific metrics illustrating exactly how much they’ve accomplished. The feature was one of Clean the World’s priorities, says Beauchamp.

“A big part of our service is the impact statements. Hotels want to know their impact: how much waste they’ve diverted, and how many bars of soap have been distributed because of their hard work. We want to show room attendants the results of their efforts, so we can make a huge difference in the lives of the people we serve. Soap really does save lives!”

Results That Shine

The online portal went live December 4, 2018, and the impact has been transformative. Where once 10 people were responsible for adding new partners manually, onboarding is now an efficiently automated process. In one day, Clean the World onboarded over 4,000 hotels - a feat which would have been impossible under the old system.

“It’s a turnkey process,” Beauchamp explains. “They get started faster, they can send their soap in faster, and we can process and get it out faster.”

She adds that the impact statements are a huge success with hospitality partners. “It’s like a competition now. They say, ‘I want to get to 1,000 bars!’ or ‘Let’s do a million by the end of the year!’ Knowing how many bars they’ve shipped, how much waste they’ve diverted, that keeps them invested.”

In a year’s time, Clean the World’s online portal has nearly 20,000 users, with more than 60,000 sessions logged so far. The self-service option has been a big hit. Users are spending a consistent average of 5 minutes on the portal per visit, which surprised the CTW team. “I expected that at first, because we have training videos on there. But we’ve maintained a 5-minute average visit. That’s great! It means people are staying involved and engaged.”

Freed from tedious tasks, Clean the World can focus their efforts on higher quality customer service. “We still get calls, but they’re more technical,” Beauchamp says. “The nice thing is that now it’s quality conversations we’re having with our clients.”

Next Steps

Concepta and Clean the World plan to use the portal to automate even more processes. Today, hospitality partners are able to upgrade their accounts through the portal. For example, some only use the soap recycling program. They’ll are now able to upgrade to bottled amenities right within the app.

There’s also an in-app retail store in the works. The store would offer shirts for crew members, recognition items for top performers, marketing materials, and other products to help hospitality partners make the most of Clean the World’s services.

Beauchamp has also anticipated a need for the dashboard to be customizable on an individual level. Hospitality partners will be able to adjust what they see and arrange things to fit into their unique workflows.

For now, the portal is living up to Clean the World’s high expectations. Beauchamp was enthusiastic about the wider benefits it provides to hospitality partners. “Of course, they can get an answer more quickly, cut down the time to service, but it’s also a chance to see the exciting things Clean the World is doing. They’re able to see their dollars being utilized in a meaningful way. Clean the World partners are able to engage with us better than ever before. Any time there’s a hygiene crisis, we respond, and our partners are a part of that story.”

Founder and CEO Shawn Seipler says, “The development of the portal has been an instrumental component of the onboarding process. Partners can see their real-time impact and Clean the World can allocate more resources to our mission: recycling soap to save lives.”

That’s the real impact of the portal: more resources being diverted from landfills and sent where they’re most needed. It’s a win for Clean the World, a win for the hotels and resorts involved, and a win for the planet.

Kingdom Strollers: How Technology Helped Make Strollers Big Business In Orlando

Kingdom Strollers started out of a condo in central Florida as a small family business in 2010. It is now a well-oiled, data machine, looking to implement business intelligence solutions next for features like up-selling opportunities on insurance, beverages and other add-ons and better visualization in forecasting inventory levels. Their investment in technology made them an industry leader in Orlando tourism.

SMB/SMEs have many start-up costs that are a priority. Investing in digital and business intelligence tools seems like something that can be developed later, yet delaying the launch of complementary technology can actually be the reason a business rapidly stagnates.

From a rented 6,700 square-foot space to a newly built, 16-000 square foot warehouse they can call their own, Kingdom Strollers can clearly see the return on investment from digitizing the business.

Kingdom Strollers, a stroller and crib rental company serving tourists and one of only a few Disney-preferred providers, has seen its revenue grow 40 percent year over year since working with Concepta on custom web development. This included adding abilities such as inventory tracking, online booking, delivery updates and travel agent referral tracking to its website.

The owner, Matthew Wilhite, knows the world of stroller rentals is not a glamorous one. The investment in technology made the company considerably more “attractive” though.

There is a lot of tracking involved with one simple order, from checking an inventory constantly in flux, to ensuring on-time delivery and knowing the exact stroller location drop-off. One major pain point for the company was constant updates to an order, all previously done through countless phone calls and changes to the master spreadsheet. Now, the order and update process is managed through the website—a win for the company and the customers.

Many small-to-medium size businesses struggle to update their processes as their business grows, not realizing that custom options for automation, insights and analytics are affordable. Kingdom Strollers prioritized the digital transformation of the business early.

The Importance of Scalability In Software Design

Scalability is an essential component of enterprise software. Prioritizing it from the start leads to lower maintenance costs, better user experience, and higher agility.

Software design is a balancing act where developers work to create the best product within a client’s time and budget constraints.

There’s no avoiding the necessity of compromise. Tradeoffs must be made in order to meet a project’s requirements, whether those are technical or financial.

Too often, though, companies prioritize cost over scalability or even dismiss its importance entirely. This is unfortunately common in big data initiatives, where scalability issues can sink a promising project.

Scalability isn’t a “bonus feature.” It’s the quality that determines the lifetime value of software, and building with scalability in mind saves both time and money in the long run.

What is Scalability?

A system is considered scalable when it doesn’t need to be redesigned to maintain effective performance during or after a steep increase in workload.

Workload” could refer to simultaneous users, storage capacity, the maximum number of transactions handled, or anything else that pushes the system past its original capacity.

Scalability isn’t a basic requirement of a program in that unscalable software can run well with limited capacity.

However, it does reflect the ability of the software to grow or change with the user’s demands.

Any software that may expand past its base functions- especially if the business model depends on its growth- should be configured for scalability.

The Benefits of Scalable Software

Scalability has both long- and short-term benefits.

At the outset it lets a company purchase only what they immediately need, not every feature that might be useful down the road.

For example, a company launching a data intelligence pilot program could choose a massive enterprise analytics bundle, or they could start with a solution that just handles the functions they need at first.

A popular choice is a dashboard that pulls in results from their primary data sources and existing enterprise software.

When they grow large enough to use more analytics programs, those data streams can be added into the dashboard instead of forcing the company to juggle multiple visualization programs or build an entirely new system.

Building this way prepares for future growth while creating a leaner product that suits current needs without extra complexity.

It requires a lower up-front financial outlay, too, which is a major consideration for executives worried about the size of big data investments.

Scalability also leaves room for changing priorities. That off-the-shelf analytics bundle could lose relevance as a company shifts to meet the demands of an evolving marketplace.

Choosing scalable solutions protects the initial technology investment. Businesses can continue using the same software for longer because it was designed to be grow along with them.

When it comes time to change, building onto solid, scalable software is considerably less expensive than trying to adapt less agile programs.

There’s also a shorter “ramp up” time to bring new features online than to implement entirely new software.

As a side benefit, staff won’t need much training or persuasion to adopt that upgraded system. They’re already familiar with the interface, so working with the additional features is viewed as a bonus rather than a chore.

The Fallout from Scaling Failures

So, what happens when software isn’t scalable?

In the beginning, the weakness is hard to spot. The workload is light in the early stages of an app. With relatively few simultaneous users there isn’t much demand on the architecture.

When the workload increases, problems arise. The more data stored or simultaneous users the software collects, the more strain is put on the software’s architecture.

Limitations that didn’t seem important in the beginning become a barrier to productivity. Patches may alleviate some of the early issues, but patches add complexity.

Complexity makes diagnosing problems on an on-going basis more tedious (translation: pricier and less effective).

As the workload rises past the software’s ability to scale, performance drops.

Users experience slow loading times because the server takes too long to respond to requests. Other potential issues include decreased availability or even lost data.

All of this discourages future use. Employees will find workarounds for unreliable software in order to get their own jobs done.

That puts the company at risk for a data breach or worse.

[Read our article on the dangers of “shadow IT” for more on this subject.]

When the software is customer-facing, unreliability increases the potential for churn.

Google found that 61% of users won’t give an app a second chance if they had a bad first experience. 40% go straight to a competitor’s product instead.

Scalability issues aren’t just a rookie mistake made by small companies, either. Even Disney ran into trouble with the original launch of their Applause app, which was meant to give viewers an extra way to interact with favorite Disney shows. The app couldn’t handle the flood of simultaneous streaming video users.

Frustrated fans left negative reviews until the app had a single star in the Google Play store. Disney officials had to take the app down to repair the damage, and the negative publicity was so intense it never went back online.

Setting Priorities

Some businesses fail to prioritize scalability because they don’t see the immediate utility of it.

Scalability gets pushed aside in favor of speed, shorter development cycles, or lower cost.

There are actually some cases when scalability isn’t a leading priority.

Software that’s meant to be a prototype or low-volume proof of concept won’t become large enough to cause problems.

Likewise, internal software for small companies with a low fixed limit of potential users can set other priorities.

Finally, when ACID compliance is absolutely mandatory scalability takes a backseat to reliability.

As a general rule, though, scalability is easier and less resource-intensive when considered from the beginning.

For one thing, database choice has a huge impact on scalability. Migrating to a new database is expensive and time-consuming. It isn’t something that can be easily done later on.

Principles of Scalability

Several factors affect the overall scalability of software:

Usage

Usage measures the number of simultaneous users or connections possible. There shouldn’t be any artificial limits on usage.

Increasing it should be as simple as making more resources available to the software.

Maximum stored data

This is especially relevant for sites featuring a lot of unstructured data: user uploaded content, site reports, and some types of marketing data.

Data science projects fall under this category as well. The amount of data stored by these kinds of content could rise dramatically and unexpectedly.

Whether the maximum stored data can scale quickly depends heavily on database style (SQL vs NoSQL servers), but it’s also critical to pay attention to proper indexing.

Code

Inexperienced developers tend to overlook code considerations when planning for scalability.

Code should be written so that it can be added to or modified without refactoring the old code. Good developers aim to avoid duplication of effort, reducing the overall size and complexity of the codebase.

Applications do grow in size as they evolve, but keeping code clean will minimize the effect and prevent the formation of “spaghetti code”.

Scaling Out Vs Scaling Up

Scaling up (or “vertical scaling”) involves growing by using more advanced or stronger hardware. Disk space or a faster central processing unit (CPU) is used to handle the increased workload.

Scaling up offers better performance than scaling out. Everything is contained in one place, allowing for faster returns and less vulnerability.

The problem with scaling up is that there’s only so much room to grow. Hardware gets more expensive as it becomes more advanced. At a certain point, businesses run up against the law of diminishing returns on buying advanced systems.

It also takes time to implement the new hardware.

Because of these limitations, vertical scaling isn’t the best solutions for software that needs to grow quickly and with little notice.

Scaling out (or “horizontal scaling”) is much more widely used for enterprise purposes.

When scaling out, software grows by using more- not more advanced- hardware and spreading the increased workload across the new infrastructure.

Costs are lower because the extra servers or CPUs can be the same type currently used (or any compatible kind).

Scaling happens faster, too, since nothing has to be imported or rebuilt.

There is a slight tradeoff in speed, however. Horizontally-scaled software is limited by the speed with which the servers can communicate.

The difference isn’t large enough to be noticed by most users, though, and there are tools to help developers minimize the effect. As a result, scaling out is considered a better solution when building scalable applications.

Guidelines for Building Highly Scalable Systems

It’s both cheaper and easier to consider scalability during the planning phase.  Here are some best practices for incorporating scalability from the start:

Use load balancing software

Load balancing software is critical for systems with distributed infrastructure (like horizontally scaled applications).

This software uses an algorithm to spread the workload across servers to ensure no single server gets overwhelmed. It’s an absolute necessity to avoid performance issues.

Location matters

Scalable software does as much near the client (in the app layer) as possible. Reducing the number of times apps must navigate the heavier traffic near core resources leads to faster speeds and less stress on the servers.

Edge computing is something else to consider. With more applications requiring resource-intensive applications, keeping as much work as possible on the device lowers the impact of low signal areas and network delays.

Cache where possible

Be conscious of security concerns, but caching is a good way to keep from having to perform the same task over and over.

Lead with API

Users connect through a variety of clients, so leading with API that don’t assume a specific client type can serve all of them.

Asynchronous processing

It refers to processes that are separated into discrete steps which don’t need to wait for the previous one to be completed before processing.

For example, a user can be shown a “sent!” notification while the email is still technically processing.

Asynchronous processing removes some of the bottlenecks that affect performance for large-scale software.

Limit concurrent access to limited resources

Don’t duplicate efforts. If more than one request asks for the same calculation from the same resource, let the first finish and just use that result. This adds speed while reducing strain on the system.

Use a scalable database

NoSQL databases tend to be more scalable than SQL. SQL does scale read operations well enough, but when it comes to write operations it conflicts with restrictions meant to enforce ACID principles.

Scaling NoSQL requires less stringent adherence to those principles, so if ACID compliance isn’t a concern a NoSQL database may be the right choice.

Consider PaaS solutions

Platform-as-a-service relieves a lot of scalability issues since the PaaS provider manages scaling. Scaling can be as easy as upgrading the subscription level.

Look into FaaS

Function-as-a-service evolved from PaaS and is very closely related. Serverless computing provides a way to only use the functions that are needed at any given moment, reducing unnecessary demands on the back-end infrastructure.

FaaS is still maturing, but it could be worth looking into as a way to cut operational costs while improving scalability.

Don’t forget about maintenance

Set software up for automated testing and maintenance so that when it grows, the work of maintaining it doesn’t get out of hand.

Build with An Eye to the Future

Prioritizing scalability prepares your business for success. Consider it early, and you’ll reap the benefits in agility when it’s most needed.

Are you looking for software that can grow with your company? Set up a free appointment with one of our developers to talk about where you need to go and how we can get you there!

Kingdom Strollers: How Technology Helped Make Strollers Big Business In Orlando

Kingdom-Strollers

When Kingdom Strollers started in 2010, it was a small family business operating out of a condo. It didn’t stay small for long. The steady flow of tourists to Central Florida created an opportunity to provide an often-overlooked service that makes vacations much more enjoyable for families: quality strollers and cribs delivered on demand to hotels and vacation homes.

By the third year owner Matthew Wilhite was overwhelmed with the tiny details of daily operations. It felt like he couldn’t go 30 seconds without some urgent situation blowing up his phone.

Things were made both better and worse when he secured one of three coveted spots as a Disney stroller provider: better because his business was growing fast and worse because it was now taking up the majority of his time.

At this point Wilhite made an unusual move: he made digital transformation a priority and began pushing high-level technology projects at a point when many small businesses are just becoming profitable.

Growing Pains

Updating businesses processes to cope with growing business is something most companies struggle with, and Kingdom Strollers was no different. As demand grew they ran into challenges operating at scale.

They took orders by phone, requiring additional calls every time a customer needed to make a change to their reservation. Inventory management was complicated since had to be updated manually after every call and equipment delivery. That made it hard for staff to know what was available, let alone prospective customers.

Delivery presented more challenges. Drivers planned their own routes and had to update orders manually as they returned to base. There was no easy way to change delivery times. Plus, customers couldn’t track their delivery status in real time.

On top of everything, Kingdom Strollers was spending too much time compiling and processing reports. Wilhite’s business was beginning to boom, and he needed a fast, accurate reporting mechanism to support that growth.

kingdom-strollers-appHow Kingdom Strollers Took Advantage of Technology

By partnering with Concepta, Kingdom Strollers found solutions to help them scale. They had a new website built complete with a customer service portal.

Now customers can access inventory lists, add additional services or products to their orders, change delivery times, and more at their convenience. With the inventory system linked in, the availability problem was solved as well.

A custom driver app provides more flexibility to both drivers and customers. Optimized delivery routes made drop offs and pickups more efficient and responsive to customer changes.

Drivers can scan in products for up to-the-minute order status, and they have a dynamic view of each order and its special requirements.

Everything is tied together with a customized reporting dashboard. Now Wilhite and his team can pull detailed reports across the business with a few clicks.

Results That Speak for Themselves

With Concepta’s digital solutions in place Kingdom Strollers has been able to continue providing the kind of customer experience that brings visitors back for more. Since putting the system into action they’ve seen an average of 40% revenue increase year over year.

The rise in demand pushed them to move from their rental warehouse to a privately-owned facility with more than double the space. Besides the lucrative Disney contract, Kingdom Strollers is also recommended by popular guide books like Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers.

Better yet, Wilhite can now make it through an entire dinner in peace.

You’ve seen what we did for them- now find out what we can do for you! Schedule your free consultation today!

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