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Making Progress not Excuses! A blog by Alan Smith

Our Chief Operating Officer, Alan Smith, talks about the the 10 year journey of COMET whilst also casting an eye on the future developments.

8 mins

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” Benjamin Franklin

Just over 40 years ago, I completed my final phase of initial training at the Scottish Police College to embark on what transpired to be a wonderful and fulfilling 30-year journey.

My path was to become a career Detective and many times, over the years, I`ve been asked my opinion on what the single most significant progression in the investigation of crime was.

Instinctively and most obviously you reflect on the amazing scientific breakthroughs in the arena of Crime Scene management and trace evidence capture or in the technological and digital advancements that help dismantle Organised Crime Groups, however there is a more subtle and cultural progression I want to consider in this article.

Never more so than now, as a direct result of a series of high-profile enquiries, has the Police Service been under the public cultural and performance spotlight. There is a view that this is an organisation stuck in its ways and in desperate need of reform and progression

I recognise an obvious synergy with industry, which you may well recognise, where in some organisations, the non-recording or downplaying of incidents, if not encouraged, is certainly abided.

So fast forward 30 years to the end of a Police career and my transition from the world of criminal investigation to that of industry incidents and failures.  Surely this would be so much more progressive!

To complement my experience in traditional investigation, I immersed myself in the world of Root Cause Analysis tuition. I gained accreditation in the advanced instruction of 2 dominating but very different proprietary RCA systems however after several years of travelling thousands of miles teaching hundreds of delegates, I had a developing and familiar feeling of frustration and dismay.

My personal realisation that something had to change emerged following yet another training course I conducted for one of the RCA `big boys`. An HSE Director who was on the course in Manchester, and now an acknowledged progressive thought leader in safety, challenged so many aspects of the process and the system I had just taught.

He bemoaned “Its stuck in the past. It feels clunky to use, doesn’t improve my investigation skills and is overly focussed on human error…but most importantly it doesn’t enable me to trend our organisational Root Cause data”

To help you understand, the RCA methodology I taught in Manchester was a well-established proprietary system globally but was truly rooted in the past. Neither the system nor the training had changed in decades. Any efforts to encourage change with the mothership and owners were met with nothing but excuses…

For this reason, my HSE Director delegate dismissed the adoption in his organisation of the system he just been trained on but provided me with an amazing opportunity. He produced an RCA `wish list` and challenged me to build something completely new from the ground up…in effect a bespoke RCA model that ticked all his boxes.

Importantly, he added that any new system had to be progressive and embrace inevitable evolution. Nothing in the world of Safety and Risk Management stands still!

They say that necessity is the mother of invention so along with a group of trusted associates we took to the drawing board and over the next 18 months developed something which I hoped met the demands of the wish list.

Version one of our new built system was well received, and in the 8 years since has grown in popularity and reputation.

Finally in terms of our commitment to system progression and evolution we formed a system user Steering Group which meets on a regular basis. Opinions are sought and discussed as a collective and all change is managed through this forum.

In the world of software there is a tricky balance between system stability and system evolution however what must be avoided is system stagnation. I had misjudged the Steering Group in that I imagined stability would win over evolution however as can be witnessed by the table below that has proven not to be the case!

I wager if you are the end user of an existing proprietary RCA system you will recognise some or all of these issues..

When What was the issue? How was progress made
2012 Inability to trend Root Cause data and understand the `Big Picture` Original system designed with a fixed and coded Root Cause Taxonomy enabling identification of `systemic` root causes
2012 Our system is only relevant for safety type incidents Original system designed to enable RCA across six incident types ; Safety/Equipment/Quality/Business/Environment/Security
2012 These systems are expensive Establishment of an extremely competitive pricing model with flexible range of purchase/SAAS options
2017 Our software is difficult to integrate into the business and doesn’t talk to other systems Secure cloud-based solution including options for API integration with most EHS systems with self-service configuration
2018 Our system is `overly complex` for the analysis of our high frequency smaller incidents Development of a `Lite` version to manage high volume incidents and enable the capture of the full spectrum of root cause
2018 Our investigations place too much of a focus on Human Error and potential for blame Launch of a 12-month partnership project to integrate accredited Human Factor Analysis into the RCA process. A `First` globally.
2019 The quality of our investigation data gathering is poor resulting in uncertain root cause outcomes Development of `Expert Extensions` to help guide the investigator step by step to gather data at incident outset. Provides confidence in RCA output.
2020 Training fade quickly leads to poor investigation practitioner performance Establishment of a unique programme of remote coaching and mentoring in incident `live time`. Provides valuable 1:! engagement at the point of need
2021 The system is only used reactively in the event of an incident and is often under utilised Development of a model to deliver proactive application of the system in the Root Cause Analysis of Audit, Inspection and Assurance findings and NCs
2022 Switching to a new RCA system will result in the loss of significant legacy investigation data Development of AI/Machine Learning capability to enable the conversion of legacy investigation into meaningful actionable intelligence

Already in the `To Do` list or development roadmap for 22/23 we have an exciting array of projects. Typically, to de-risk this activity, we develop and modify in partnership with an existing client, so its win win. The following are a few examples of what’s to come.

Development of a module to enable and support Equipment Failure/Reliability Cause and Effect analysis plus a standalone application to cater for the basic Investigation/RCA of high-volume low consequence investigations.

We are particularly excited to further mature our AI/Machine Learning integration to mine big data.

To find out a little bit more around our highly progressive Investigation and RCA solution or to avail yourself of a demo please contact us here.

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