Companies are reassessing their software needs in the light of COVID-19 and rapid technological change. What tips do professionals have for successful implementation?
Technology’s advance is relentless: the Internet of Things promises to be a game changer, while digital twins – virtual replicas that professionals can use to run simulations before devices are built – could revolutionise health and safety.
The pandemic is also having an impact. As Rodolphe d’Arjuzon, managing director and global head of research at technology analysts Verdantix, says: ‘In the middle of a crisis, you have to leverage your existing tools, but there’s been a massive realisation that digital is going to be fundamental to the “new normal”.’
More broadly, the sector has undergone a late and rapid digitisation. ‘Five years ago, paper-based processes were still common, even at some quite big organisations,’ says Rodolphe. ‘The learning curve has been tremendous as technology decisions have moved back to the functions.’
The introduction of new environmental, health and safety (EHS) software should be simple, he says. ‘It’s a mature market, solutions are well built. They’re extensive, there are options. It’s not the most complicated bit of software ever released. But, actually, as an industry, we make a lot of mistakes.’
Kurt Coelho, a health and safety consultant and interim risk/health and safety director, admits he learned the hard way at Capital Radio Group.
‘Their issue was about protecting a workforce that was mainly office-based, enthusiastic and hard-working beyond the normal working week, which posed a risk of ill health related to DSE [display screen equipment].
‘I met several companies who had DSE offerings and most of them were rejected because the software would not have held the creatives’ attention. Everyone’s used to iPhones, tablets and downloading apps. There are no instructions on these devices, they work because they’re intuitive. However, it turns out the software we chose was more looks over substance. It worked, but it would fall over and glitch. The back end of the reporting side of it wasn’t as strong as it should have been.’
Get it right from the start
To avoid a disappointing result, Rodolphe identifies three key questions to begin with:
- What are you trying to achieve? ‘People often put the horse before the cart by trying to select the product before they have a written vision or strategy for what their software investment is going to deliver. If you don’t do that, you can’t sell it across the business and you’re going to change your scope as you go along, which will increase costs.’
- Have you assessed your processes? ‘It’s painstaking, but assessing your existing processes and systems is vital. It may be that you just need to fix a few processes. Shiny bits of tech are never the silver bullet that solves all your problems, but people are always drawn to them.’
- Have you thought about data? ‘People overlook the need to feed data into the system to make it work. Unless you’re thinking hard about data, you’re not going to get the value that you’re hoping for.’
Sally Philip, digital transformation specialist, also has advice around decision-making and managing organisational behaviours:
‘One step that’s often overlooked is around stakeholders,’ she says. ‘It’s not only pinpointing the champion/key sponsor, it’s what’s driving their decisions, how will they make those decisions, and who else will influence them?
‘Where you’ve got the chief information officer, procurement, compliance and legal, and so on, you need to get those people in a room and say: “We need a clear understanding of the decision-making process and who is going to make the final decision.” Everyone always assumes it’s the champion or the sponsor, but that person will often defer to others.’
A related aspect is organisational behaviour. Sally says: ‘If you’re in a business not accustomed to moving at pace and you’re asking them to implement software quickly, there will be resistance.
‘You’ll need communication strategies that allow for the typical change curve. You need to prevent your team dropping into the anger/confusion stages. There’s going to be a dip while they’re storming and forming before they come back out into the norming cycle. Productivity will slow down at certain key points. This is normal.’
Rodolphe also makes the point about starting small: ‘You’re much better off working on a smaller scale and making sure it’s adopted. Getting people behind you is generally the recipe for success rather than huge overambitious scope that gets bogged down.’
Five tips for successful software implementation
Nicola Mercer, health and safety consultant at Computershare
- Engage line managers right up to board level. What do they want out of the software – for example reporting – and how flexible is this to change?
- Test the software at all levels within the business – does it do exactly what you want it to do? If not, can it be modified and if so, agree a price first. We agreed that our contract, and therefore any charges, would commence the day the software went live, based on agreed deliverables.
- Agree additional costs in advance: for example for licence expansion and software development.
- Create a user manual and communicate prior to software release. Hold software workshops for those that have problems using the software for the first time.
- Hold regular meetings with the software supplier to identify areas for improvement or development – this benefits both parties by improving the end user experience and adding value to the supplier’s software package.
Who to involve?
‘A classic mistake is to exclude corporate IT,’ says Rodolphe. ‘Sure, they’ll have lots of questions and they might slow things down but, actually, it’s for everyone’s long-term sanity. IT will be on top of security requirements and you’ll need their corporate view so that everything’s going to work together without creating gaping flaws. Also,
they’ll have really strong project management capabilities.
Kurt agrees: ‘IT has to be involved from the beginning. They’ll also tend to favour software-as-a service and cloud-based systems, as they represent a lower impact on their resources and potentially IT security.’
He adds that he’s learned that sales teams are ‘hard-wired’ to say: ‘Yes, we can do that.’ ‘Some organisations build software on the hoof. They nail the sale and then they build. Watch out for those who show you mock-ups with nice images, but nothing working.’
His advice for securing organisational buy-in is that ‘you have to take your people on the journey’. ‘It may be a health and safety professional’s enthusiastic idea, but it will never have life breathed into it unless the end-users have been consulted in terms of what it should look like. You must have them engaged and have them in a working party. Because if you don’t have that, your product won’t work, it doesn’t matter how good it is.’
Rodolphe adds that people will often overlook what he call the ‘edge users’. ‘A wealth of data comes from mobile apps, directly from assets,’ he says. ‘For example, an organisation’s truck drivers. If you don’t get any of their feedback, how are you going to achieve buy-in with them? They’re often missing from the list of key people to get input from.
The final word goes to Sally, who points out that organisations don’t have unlimited time, nor budgets. ‘If you have peers who’ve gone through a similar process, have a chat with them. Find out their learnings and whether they like the software supplier they’ve chosen. Don’t reinvent the wheel.’
Mind your language: Code cracking
Alan Newell is a chartered health and safety professional with 20 years’ experience. During the lockdown, he’s been learning the programming language Python.
One of my previous roles as a health and safety consultant allowed me to get involved in developing systems in-house and that’s what sparked my interest. Through coding, you can develop whatever systems you need. For example, with COVID-19 you can create object detection through OpenCV; you can detect the distances people are keeping and see any violations; you can even check whether people have the correct PPE before granting them access. This can be done on something as basic as a Raspberry Pi, and it has applications far beyond health and safety.
OSH professionals should look at designing their own software. You’re the one who knows health and safety inside out and when you can also speak the language of developers it makes life a lot easier. For anyone interested, a good place to start would be Udemy, a US online learning platform.
You’d obviously need to write a business continuity plan and any coding would need to include information on how it works. But if you can get to the stage where the IT department only has to test, rather than develop, it saves time and money. These kind of skills are going to be of increasing benefit to companies and it’s a case of seeing what everyone can bring to the party.