Let’s explore how a collection of smart tools, algorithms and the most advanced EHSQ platform in the world combine to solve important problems in an epically reduced timeframe
If you have attended or followed topics presented at analyst or industry forums, in or adjacent to, EHS over the last few years, you’ll know that both the analysts and vendor community have invested much time in framing how digital transformation drives the ‘4’ in 4.0. There’s a 4.0 for everything at the moment and Intelex is committed to strategies and is executing on actions that deliver results in an EHSQ 4.0 world.
We have seen presentation after webinar after presentation about the EHS trends we all should pay attention to. Of these trends, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) probably are the two most exciting and pervasive. They also are described as perhaps the most challenging, hence the apparent dearth of case study material. For a really good understanding of IoT for EHS and some discussion of AI, here is a journal article from ScienceDirect that reviews research across 100+ sources. Analysts caution against focusing on the technology over the problem we are solving and rightly so. Here’s a recent blog from LNS Research’s Dan Miklovic that investigates the meaning of digital transformation.
Walking the Talk
That these new technologies unlock value and insight and dramatically improve performance is undisputed, and Intelex finds itself in action mode as part of recently united group of companies capable of executing on the work required to deliver the transformational change EHSQ deserves and desires.
Our parent company, Industrial Scientific Corp. (ISC), is a pedigree-proven IIoT provider with vast expertise in gas detection, devices and connectivity in the industrial setting. Predictive Solutions, our sibling company, lives up to the name by leveraging arguably the largest dataset in the world for leading indicators to provide defensible analytics and models that allow organizations to derive safety event predictions. This is not hype or promise, these activities are in-play, today.
Strategic Partnering Is Crucial
It is important for us to recognize that we don’t have all the answers and to that end, deep partnerships with existing customers and early adopters such as Coeur Mining and others mean progress is real. Most importantly, the work we do is based on real-world, high-value use cases that are tested via proof of concepts with existing customers and partners.
There’s no shortage of opportunities for partnerships for Intelex outside of the customer base. The challenge is in identifying the right partner that has targeted and successfully applied their vision and innovation to real-world use cases. Applying AI in EHS is a good example of where the promise is strong, but the application has yet to deliver conclusive results. At least that’s what we thought before we took a very close look at how a prospective partner was attempting to rock the boat in EHS compliance.
Compliance has and will continue to be one of a number of established primary drivers in the adoption of technology (digitization) of EHS processes. Not complying with the requirements of regulations or not identifying and complying with specific permits can have a damaging impact on a business. Compliance in the EHSQ solution community is regarded as foundational and a critical building block to improving overall performance. Yet in many cases outmoded approaches still are prevalent and even in digitized form, the extraction of requirements relies heavily on manual effort from compliance professionals.
Trailblazing Veterans an Oxymoron?
Knowing the importance of regulatory compliance and respecting the skills of those involved in it, it, two well-known figures in EHS decided enough was enough and they resolved to attack and ultimately disrupt old school methods with new technology and are using AI to lead the charge.
EhsAI (pronounced e-sai) is the flagship product of a new venture led by EHS software and EHS compliance technology veterans Margery Moore and Greg Gasperecz. Located in Vancouver, Canada, they recently took home a $1M CAD prize in funding from multiple investors to facilitate their growth strategy (https://betakit.com/ehsai-silofit-neuraura-named-winners-of-the-2019-fundica-roadshow/).
Moore and Gasperecz saw that the application of AI, specifically, Machine Learning (ML) using NLP (natural language processing) as a tool for automation had the potential to turn an existing process on its head. Indeed, ehsAI delivers value to organizations in need of EHS compliance in a ‘better than human accuracy’ package executed in a fraction of the time currently taken. Having seen the effort it takes and truly understanding what the cognitive process (albeit repetitive) was for those doing this work, the ehsAI team were in an ideal position to apply AI to the problem.
Devil in the Detail
Knowing what constitutes compliance based on the nature of your operations, the jurisdiction or jurisdictions in which you operate and the specific regulatory landscape for the products or services you provide means that experienced EHS professionals or skilled consultants are required to map an organization (plant, operations etc.) to the legal landscape and then review relevant regulations and permits to provide specific and detailed requirements to which compliance is demanded..
These specific and detailed requirements must then be assigned ownership and dates, limits, reporting triggers and so on. The requirements have to be tracked and followed through. That’s a lot to digest. The current approach takes many hundreds of manual hours to complete and the accuracy level and consistency in interpretation can vary depending on the skill of the individual doing the work.
AI Takes on the Task
Moore and Gasperecz determined that the basic tenets of AI, again, ML, could be applied to processing EHS regulations and permits to identify, tag and relate requirements in depth. For this to be successful, ehsAI had to be capable of extracting information from the source regulation or permit (from multiple formats) then emulate the EHS compliance professional’s perception, reasoning and problem solving to produce verifiable, accurate and easy to consume and use output.
The founders’ experience in the EHS data management and regulatory compliance fields perfectly prepared them to recognize this opportunity. “I’ve been commercializing EHS software for two decades, and there was a big problem in the market that industry had been complaining about for easily that long: The enormous administrative burden of complying with complex legal obligations in permits and regulations,” says Moore, CEO and co-founder.
The first step has to be done by hand manually, deconstruction of the documents. “We are talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions of documents each year,” Moore continues, “We realized the cost to industry is immense and ML could play a substantial role in decreasing that burden.”
Gasperecz’s career spans regulation development for EPA, administering a state air quality agency, consulting to industry, and creation of one of the major EMIS platforms on the market. Together, they have brought forth a technology that will scan or upload a permit or regulation, use OCR to convert it to digitized text, and process it into a structured and indexed output that extracts the detailed compliance requirements for the customer. The technology “knows” when to combine text from separate sections to ensure and accurate count of the actual requirements. “The four pillars of quality for us are consistency, completeness, granularity, and accuracy,” says Gasperecz, CPO and co-founder.
Applying machine learning to this problem was timely for a few reasons. ML is finally getting out of the lab and into the hands of users, and processing power is a fraction of the cost it was even a few years ago. Couple that with the overwhelming amount of IoT data companies are creating daily and not leveraging, the corporate digitization initiatives underway and the ever shrinking EHS departments, now really is the time, and ehsAI has delivered.
Why Partnership Matters (for the Customer)
The question for Intelex was; as this disruptive shift takes hold, how does the system of record and compliance engine for requirements, responsibilities and associated tasks keep up with the efficiencies upstream? A great question for a rapid proof of concept we thought.
In a case of perfect timing, Intelex’s Global Services team in Denver had a customer with the need for specific regulations and permits to be processed with a clearly defined desired outcome and the output would find a home in their EHS compliance application of choice Intelex (ACTS).
Our proof of concept had a real-world use case: an innovative partner with the tools upstream and a willing and engaged customer with a measurable result in mind. We just had to collaborate, execute and achieve the desired results.
Using patent-pending technology to extract the text of a regulation (CFR) or permit, parse and process it, ehsAI can take a document that has 40, 50 or even a couple of hundred pages and process the information in minutes, something it would have taken a compliance professional many hours to complete. The output from ehsAI is structured with tags and links that call out specific requirements and indexed by regulatory citation and permit condition numbers. The results even indicate where a requirement exists but is addressed elsewhere in the output, so full coverage is provided without loss of fidelity for the user.
Accuracy Is Key
After a swift verification of the output, which later can be eliminated as the offering matures and the 90+ percent accuracy improves even further to 100 percent, the output is ready for import to Intelex. The import for the POC was from the unedited output from ehsAI and first-time mapping was painless. This was not a surprise, given that our due diligence had revealed at least two large, well-known consultancies willing to attest to the output accuracy in extensive trials.
What was achieved was a vastly compressed timeline overall from identification of the regulations and permits to final compliance register, requirements, limits and task readiness. The entire work effort amounted to a couple of days versus many weeks. The conservative estimates made by ehsAI for the upstream effort is a saving of 80 percent. The POC results suggest a much higher level of efficiency, perhaps in the range of a 90-95 percent saving. The results being delivered into the Intelex platform was the icing on the cake.
AI doesn’t suffer from fatigue, is always on, and by definition has the ability to learn and improve accuracy, well beyond just EHS data. By pairing this advancement with the digitization of the output and the injection of the compliance requirements in a mature and proven compliance engine, Intelex closes the circle for the customer.
The Customer Knows Best
It was crucial to garner the support of an existing customer for this proof of concept phase and we were delighted to have the innovation-friendly involvement of PDC Energy. The mix of regulations and permits was selected and provided by the customer. The initial feedback from Chris Howard PE, EHS Systems Supervisor, in an initial output review was very positive. In his career to date, Howard explained that he has spent a great deal of time deconstructing regulations and air permits into requirements and associated actions. With this first-hand experience, Howard is well placed to validate the potential of the POC solution and his response was emphatic: “For the [EHS] compliance professional, this solution is synonymous with the smart phone and I don’t say that lightly. It’s that significant.”
The application of AI and the time-savings achieved in our example, the return for automating work that traditionally required highly skilled labour isn’t an attempt at making those workers redundant, Hullum perhaps said it best; “The rapid growth in automation of routine tasks will free up humans to apply their own unique intuition and creativity to infer associations from disassociated objects. That’s where humans are most effective.” The compression of time taken and the automation and digitization of compliance free those resources to spend more time on proactive activities that have the potential to prevent unwanted, unplanned events and drive real performance improvement.
This collaboration is the beginning of something that organically will improve and be refined over time, potentially yielding more efficiencies in other areas of EHSQ. Could this work possibly spell the end of the traditional approach for processing regulations and permits? Pairing upstream innovation and efficiency with a proven system of record for EHSQ seems like an obvious thing to do to Intelex and we’re looking forward to more collaboration with Moore and Gasperecz on our journey to deliver more value for customers.
About the author: Rob Harrison is Director, ISV Partnerships, at Intelex Technologies.