There’s little doubt that the pandemic has accelerated the approach to technology across all businesses, industries, and job functions, but a one-and-done digital transformation isn’t the best strategy for many organizations.
As we move into the spring, there is optimism in the air. The pandemic, while not over, is waning, and with vaccines there is promise of better days ahead.
There’s little doubt that the pandemic has accelerated the approach to technology across all businesses, industries, and job functions. Those changes are no less prominent in the EHS space. As we move through 2021, forward-thinking organizations are looking to retool for greater agility and resiliency, and technology promises to play an outsized role in managing the change.
To that end, let’s take a look at some of the top 5 technologies that will begin to shape the EHS technology landscape throughout 2021 and beyond.
Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing
Artificial intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) are the new hot technologies in enterprise IT and continue to become more important in solving some of the most complex challenges faced by EHS managers. There are a lot of different workflows that can be automated with AI, with some of the earliest wins centered around speeding up regulatory compliance and applicability tasks.
Our recent acquisition of ehsAI is already helping customers reduce their compliance burden almost tenfold, by using AI to automatically deconstruct regulations, permits, plans, and standards. ehsAI uses deep learning techniques in areas of computer vision and NLP to automate the time-consuming, error-prone manual process of reading regulatory documents to copy-and-paste compliance requirements. We will continue to see AI and NLP technologies automate some of the more complex and resource-intensive workflows in EHS – particularly when linked with connected worker technologies.
Connected Worker and Connected Safety
The term “connected safety” is used to describe a lot of solutions lately – but what exactly is it? One of our partners, ERM, has described it very elegantly as, “A human-centered, digitally enabled approach to improve safety performance.” What does this mean? Technologies and solutions are designed from a perspective of human needs and experiences rather than from a perspective of compliance.
Digital solutions will enable better safety outcomes for workers, teams, and entire organizations by data enabling workers, assets, and processes. Broadly speaking, connected safety falls at a high-level into one of the following three categories:
Connected Worker – Technologies that enable front line workers in industries with real-time data to be more productive, efficient, and reduce risk in their work.
Connected Asset – Technologies that provide real-time data on physical assets through the integration of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) enabling organizations to streamline management, accessibility, and visibility of equipment, workers, and data.
Connected Process – Technologies that help connect processes to real time operational data for incremental adjustment and advanced insights for continuous improvement.
As organizations increasingly digitize and data-enable the worker, the asset, and the process, a new enterprise computing platform begins to emerge.
Low-Code and No-Code Development Platforms
The traditional app development approach in many organizations is still focused on developing from the bottom up, even as many have migrated to the cloud. It can be a time-consuming process – figuring out the infrastructure, the security model, and the architecture – and then adding more time looking at governance.
While these are all vitally important, in a traditional development model, these are heavy lifts. By the time you get all of that done, you have a bit of time left to devote to developing the application, testing, and deployment. Building a new app or even updating an existing app takes a long time, uses a lot of resources, and chances are that application might be obsolete before you know it.
Low- and no-code development platforms help solve these challenges by enabling non-developers to build applications on an EHS platform, using a build-once/deploy-anywhere (BODA) model. The idea is that the application is built once in the development environment to be agnostic for immediate use across both desktop and mobile computing environments.
These platforms also enable applications to be developed more rapidly, as they eliminate complexity and employ user-friendly (e.g., drag and drop) interfaces for building. Intelex Application Builder is an example of a low-code development platform that can help EHS teams build additional agility and resiliency into their management programs through the rapid creation of new applications or to customize and extend existing applications to suit unique business requirements.
Intrinsically Safe Mobility
Mobile devices are an integral part of our personal and professional lives, and continue to be an essential part of the frontline toolkit. Beyond notifications, frontline workers are using mobile technologies to streamline tasks and work safer. Location-based services, mapping, QR code scanning, and photo annotation on mobile devices have now become the norm. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of mobile across operations, as a dynamic working environment has elevated the need to orchestrate teams, communicate, and escalate issues.
And the need for mobile computing continues to expand beyond the front office. Intrinsically safe devices are bringing the power of mobile computing to hazardous environments, which have traditionally been off limits to mobile devices due to their risk of explosion. Many industries including oil and gas and chemical production prohibit the use of mobile devices in hazardous areas. We recently announced a partnership with Zebra Technologies to bring EHS management capability to the highest-risk work environments, enabling safety programs on mission-critical HAZLOC devices to be extended to Non-Incendive (NI) Zone 2 environments.
The Power of the Cloud
The pandemic has really highlighted the need for cloud computing – to maintain business continuity, remain agile, and enable people to conduct work wherever they may be. EHS practitioners have been relying heavily on cloud solutions for the last 12 months to stay in contact with their teams, perform remote inspections, interface with regulators and perform remote audits, and keep teams trained on the latest operating and safety protocols.
The utility of the cloud has arguably had its moment in the spotlight as the tech “backbone” of the pandemic, and now many organizations are looking to cloud platforms for business-essential workflows like EHS management.
Where Do We Go from Here?
The lessons learned from the pandemic will have long-term impacts for the management of health and safety in our organizations. We will begin to hear less about wholesale digital transformation and more about the incremental adoption of the technologies discussed above to drive better safety and risk outcomes within our organizations.
Technology is a great enabler, but it’s only one piece of a larger management framework. The technology has to provide real lasting value to not only the worker enabled by it but by the extended teams across your critical operations who rely on it for insight and to drive continuous safety improvements and better safety outcomes. Before implementing any new technology, it pays to think big, but start small and incremental, showing value early and often as a part of a long-term strategy.