In Part Two of our Q&A series with Ergodyne CEO Tom Votel, we pick up the conversation around wearables, changes happening in the safety industry, and the role that connected technology will play in the next evolution of worker-powered safety. (Missed Part 1? Click here. )
Ted Smith: There are a number of wearable devices that show they don’t last in terms of modifying behavior. People just stop using them after a period of time. From a connected safety perspective do you see that as a danger or an opportunity?
Tom Votel: I see it as a challenge first and foremost because you’re changing a behavior. I think workers have to be a part of the decision because you want them to sort of own this, as opposed to the traditional top-down kind of perspective. Millennials in particular want to be part of this conversation. They don’t want to be talked down to, and top-down management is tricky for them. I’m painting with a really broad, stereotypical brush, but they are basically saying “I’m here so let’s have a conversation like adults”. I think it’s a positive challenge for older generations to realize that this is actually a good thing.
More to the point, I think gadgets are here today, gone tomorrow. If we get engagement and people communicating with each other and if we do it right, we can get beyond the initial dismissal of, “Oh, you mean I have to worry about one more thing.” I do think those are natural challenges to any change in technology or behavior but I think it’s surmountable.
TS: Looking ahead, what do you think the top three opportunities for safety are over the next couple of years in advancing reduction of injury and engagement?
TV: One is to harness a new generation of safety leadership that are true digital natives. I think leveraging that as a positive is a really, really smart thing to do. Next, we need to create a safety culture that is prepared for key, critical technologies that can provide a platform for real time, bilateral engagement.
And third, we have to move from being reactive to being proactive. In other words, we need to be preemptive. I think that’s one of the most critical shifts we’ve been talking about here.
TS: From your perspective, what are common obstacles that, in your view, may keep companies from succeeding in digital transformation whether it be in safety or not?
TV: I think that from the employer perspective there is an increasing desire to use big data to advance productivity, safety and other things that are important to business. On the worker side, there is a natural “big brother” concern about this big data perspective. I think it’s critical that employers and others in the community explain to workers how their data is going to be protected, encrypted, and safe so they have confidence. They need to know they aren’t exposing themselves to some evil, nefarious, cyber-something.
I think there’s work to do but I don’t think it’s hard. It’s anticipating that concern and then communicating to them. And of course keeping any security issues from happening at all!
Today there are cameras everywhere. Employers know when the workers are coming in, when they’re leaving, what they’re doing online and what they’re doing on their cellphones. I think it’s really critical that as we make this transformation we ensure things are properly done and that there’s transparency. Workers need to engage with these new systems with the confidence that they really are helping everyone, and they aren’t just being watched.
TS: It’s interesting because when we start working with these safety folks, our impression is that we’re gathering all this great information and “hey, isn’t this great, what do you want to do with it?” And the reality is that data in safety has pretty much been the same thing over and over again. What we’re seeing is that with this influx of data and big data, part of the challenge is determining what information is valuable and what’s not valuable. Digital transformation is great, but what do you do with all that data?
TV: I would see that as our challenge. Our job is to present a digital dashboard for safety leaders to help them improve. That’s a product answer. I mean seriously, I really think that’s our job to do that.
TS: To your point, we’re starting to realize that we need to take this data and present it in a customized way that’s helpful for each safety manager. We also need to look at the predictive capabilities within the data set.
TV: Right, accumulating data is the easy part. It’s actually interpreting the data and then figuring out what to do that’s harder, and the most important thing. I see this as a data chain, and a decision change, and a process that we’re enabling. Also, having really engaged employers and employees helps us adjust the dashboard, and adjust the data into a way that they want to see it. The fact that data is presented in a way that’s helpful and impactful to them is really critical.
TS: That transparency aspect of safety is typically hidden on spreadsheets, but you can create a culture around data by exposing it to workers. Making them aware that the information they’re looking at is actually their own data is a powerful way to engage.
TS: Let’s move on to the talk about the technology supporting connected safety. Bigger organizations are hyping single brand, closed platforms. What’s wrong with this picture?
TV: I think that’s a natural thing for big companies to do. In the safety space there are a lot of large companies that sell multiple different products so I think it’s really natural to see them thinking, “Let’s put together a platform that revolves around our stuff and sells our stuff.” I get that and I think that’s going to happen and it might be successful to some degree.
However, I think closed systems are, by definition, closed and so the tricky part of that is they are self-limiting. An open platform recognizes the reality of the work setting. Employers use lots of different tools, lots of different safety equipment, lots of different brands, lots of different manufacturers. They have preferences and they don’t all line up into a nice, neat little package under one corporate banner. Having a platform that is open and allows for virtually any product to be connected is smarter. I think it’s a better way to go. In other words, staying product agnostic is the smarter choice.
Also, from a development perspective it allows for developers to build on that platform. You know, Apple is an example of a closed platform that didn’t work for a long time. It worked initially but then it didn’t work for a long time and Apple has figured out a way around that. The vast majority of what people use is open platform technologies. The development community likes that because they can then actually engage with that and make it better. I think there’s an advantage to that because you can improve with an open platform more rapidly than you can with a closed platform. I think that’s a better, more scalable way to go.
TS: And the Corvex platform, why do you think it’s a strong connected safety contender?
TV: Well, we’ve talked about a whole bunch of the reasons and I would say that point about open platform is one of them. I also think it’s simple.
You guys are also avoiding the desire to get into the whole AR realm. I get what that is and I get how that can be good in training, but that’s really not what we’re talking about here. I think it has relevance in more of a laboratory or clinical or a research setting. We’re talking about real people, real time, and I’m not sure AR gets us there and there are a lot of people very focused on that.
The other thing I’d say is when a person goes down, that’s of course really important. But there are systems where that’s the only focus. I think there’s more to it than that.
The advantage of the Corvex platform is it addresses the really basic things that employers have to be concerned about, are concerned about and need to be concerned about and want to try to resolve. It’s able to analyze the key safety issues that are challenging employers on a regular basis.
Corvex creates an ecosystem of safety that has become much more robust. All kinds of exciting things can be enabled on top of the platform. I think that’s why Corvex is the leading contender from a connected safety perspective.
Thank you to Ergodyne and Tom Votel for sharing his time and energy to discuss these important factors in the changing world of workplace safety. To learn more about Ergodyne, visit Ergodyne.com.