Sign up to our newsletter
Keep up to date with all HSE news and thought leadership interviews

Donavan Hornsby | Gensuite | Digitisation and Opportunities in Health and Safety

Donavan Hornsby | Gensuite | VP of Business Development | Digitisation and Opportunities in Health and Safety (Expert Interview #13)


“We need to make sure we are involving the people on the shop floor” – Donavan Hornsby


We are delighted to bring you the latest podcast from the HSE Network in partnership with Gensuite EHS Software Solutions. Here Paul Clark and Donavan Hornsby, VP of Business Development and Innovation at Gensuite.

Gensuite are one of the key solution providers for the HSE Network and we are always delighted to catch up with them on some of the main topics in health and safety.

Key topics include: 

  • The trends that Donavan has identified in the industry
  • How organisations can get those at all levels of business involved with safety tech
  • The key challenges faced in health and safety at the current time

This was an insightful discussion on how technology can be used to further improve EHS.

Read full transcript

– [Paul] Hi, everyone. Welcome back. We’ve got another fantastic video for you today. Today, Paul Clarke interviews Donavan Hornsby. He’s vice president of business development and innovation at Gensuite.

– [Donavan] It’s nice to meet you. I know me and you have never touched base before. So it’s nice to get some face time.

– Yeah, nice to touch base with you too. I think you’ve worked with Peter Walsh and Mukunds over the years. And I know they’ve been very high on the work that you all do. And I certainly appreciate our partnership.

Good. Yeah, I’m excited to touch base today, and yeah, talk to you a little bit about digitalization and I guess future transformation of emerging technologies within EHS. It’s quite an exciting time, you know, in safety, you know, a lot of organizations. It’s exciting, but it’s also a little bit worrying in terms of how safety, how we transform digital processes within safety, moving away from paperless-based systems, and moving towards the technological advances of being able to manage health, safety, and environmental at the touch of a button.

You know, managing the copious amounts of data that’s being created every second within safety, and being able to make sense of that, and transfer that into ways in which we can make the world a safer, healthier, better place. And so, it’s no surprise that, you know, Gensuite are one of the market leaders, if not the market leader, as far as I’m concerned, in the work that you guys do.

And I want to talk to you a little bit today about what Gensuite are doing. But most importantly, get your feedback on how we can transform digital processes within an organization. So just to reiterate, for the viewers, you know, we’re speaking with Donavan Hornsby, the vice president of business development for Gensuite today, and absolutely privileged to have you on board for HSE Network.

So, we’ll get started. And my sort of first question I wanted to ask yourself, Donavan, and keen to get your feedback, I mean, digitalization and the emergence of new technologies is influencing the nature of jobs and tasks, the sectors and industries that people work in, and even their perception of work. Trends indicate that by 2025 ICT enabled technologies will have changed the equipment, tools, and systems used to organize and manage, and provide products, services, and knowledge.

But Gensuite are obviously the market leader here, how do you feel, from your perspective, are Gensuite and moving in the direction to support this transformation and change?

– Yeah, I mean, as you know, well, it’s, we’ve been at this for 20 years now. And, you know, I’ve been with Gensuite now for the majority of that time as well, been in the space for quite a long time and seen a lot of the transformation over the years. You look back to probably around 2012 or so when we first started investing in mobile technologies, for example, that was a huge change in shifts, in how folks were able to use technology to apply things.

And I think we’re starting to see another shift, if you will, with a lot of the emerging technologies now. And that comes with a lot of change, it comes with actually risk as well. And I think we’re going to continue to see that as we… I think that the big difference for me that we’ve seen is, if I looked at the first 10 years of my experience, I would consider the change relatively slow.

And then we had mobile, and then at some point we turned the corner with mobile, and people started using mobile devices for everything they do. And now when you have things like smart glasses, and beacons, and IoT, and all these things, I feel like the pace of change is happening even more quickly than we saw before. So, I think the pace is the biggest difference that we see, but certainly everybody that we work with and have worked with through the HS function and other disciplines that we work with is trying to figure out, what does this mean for me?

You know, how can we solve the same problems we’ve been trying to solve, but just with new technologies?

– Sure. I mean, Gensuite, of course leaders in the field, VHS safety technology. How are Gensuite positioning themselves as thought leaders for innovation at a time of expediential technological growth in digitalization for EHS?

– Yeah, that’s an interesting question. You know, as I mentioned, we’ve been at this for over 20 years now. And it’s kind of interesting to be recognized as thought leaders in the space because I think when we set out to do this, and as we continue to do this our intent is not to necessarily earn some type of label or recognition as a thought leader.

You know, all we’ve really been doing this whole time is just trying to think really deeply about how to engage the folks on the shop floor and in the field, and how to make EHS part of what they do every day. Unfortunately, too many people in safety think about technology as an afterthought, as, you know, essentially an add-on to what they’re trying to do instead of just building it right into the work that we do every day.

I think the other challenge that we see too often is that people think of innovation as this big, shiny thing that’s, you know, suddenly happens. And we think about it a little bit differently. Sure, we have big significant changes, but a lot of the innovation that we see and that we experience, that we are a part of is more of this, you know, kind of chain of simple changes and improvements that happen over time, it’s more of kind of an iterative process.

So, you know, it’s really, if I take an example of an operator that’s on the shop floor, you know, he’s out there, and he’s walking around with a device like this. And he’s saying, you know, how can I take this tablet that I’m using right now for my safety inspection and make it better? How can I save myself some time?

How can I engage the maintenance guy and save him a whole bunch of time? So what if I’m, you know, while I’m taking this…you know, doing this inspection, what if I could take a picture? What if I was able to annotate that picture, draw a little arrow on there, provide some notes so that when that maintenance guy gets that automatic notification from the system, he knows exactly where he needs to spend his time?

And so it’s really about just small iterative changes that over time if you take that and replicate that change over hundreds of sites or thousands of people, suddenly that small little innovation is hugely impactful. And that’s really what we’re talking about here. You know, I think, you know, every once in a while you have a new technology, like with smart glasses, that opens the door to a whole new set of things that you can do.

But, you know, I think the problem with things like smart glasses, a lot of times people start with the technology, and try to figure out what they can apply it to rather than thinking about the problems they already have, and thinking about how that new technology can approach that problem in new and creative ways. So that’s kind of how we think about it. And, you know, if we happen to get positioned as a thought leader, you know, it’s great, but it’s ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do.

– Yeah, I mean, it’s an elaborate transformation and change, but you simplified it so well. But obviously, I know we could probably go on forever on that question. But some of the HSE leaders, I mean, they’ve raised a lot of psychosocial and organizational factors to grow.

You know, psychosocial and organizational factors are likely to become more important as digitalized working drives, changes such as increased working, increase workers’ monitoring, and assumption of 24/7 availability, more frequent job changes, and the management of work and workers by algorithms as well.

So all this can raise level of worker stress, increased ergonomic risks caused by human machine interfaces, and the growth in online mobile working, and heightened cybersecurity risks are also identified as likely outcomes of augmented digitalization in the workplace. How can Gensuite, and how will Gensuite support these factors with their solutions?

– Well, that was a lot. [inaudible]

– Yeah. Just chuck it in there.

– Assuming I can remember all that. But, yeah, let me let me give it a shot. You know, it’s a very important concern. It’s, you know, sometimes I think this is the piece that we, a lot of folks that are in technology forget about. In some ways it’s ironic because, you know, I think I touched on this at the very beginning. But, you know, in a lot of ways, the technologies we’re trying to introduce, we’re trying to use those technologies to address and mitigate risks.

But the problem is that we’re also introducing new risks in the workplace. And so if you just take smart glasses, I brought that up before, you know, there’s this distraction element or aspect with some of these technologies, including smart glasses. And if it’s not approached the right way, you know, it can carry with it some risks. So, you know, you’re taking focus off the job or the task at hand potentially by using these other technologies.

You know, I think you touched on this it… Your workers using new technologies, it introduces a new level of anxiety. You know, when you’re working with pieces of technology that maybe you aren’t familiar with, and, you know, some people believe this, because of this, some of these technologies aren’t ready for wide adoption. And in some cases, they’re not natural, they’re a bit clumsy, if you will.

But, you know, outside of the introduction of risks, you know, you also have concerns for privacy, and the other kind of human impacts. And, yeah, although I lead strategy for the organization and business development, some other areas, you know, I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about innovation. I’m a bit of a hybrid, if you will, where, you know, there’s times when I want to turn my device off, and, you know, I don’t have location services enabled on my phone for a good reason, I don’t still feel comfortable with it.

So when we’re talking about privacy and this kind of worker-machine interface, you know, it’s, I think there’s hesitation in all these things. But, you know, if I think about things like IoT, so, you know, the ability to take sensors and put sensors on a forklift that’s moving around plants, and put sensors on my hard hat as a worker within that plant.

Wow, wouldn’t that be amazing if I could have that sensor on that forklift and that sensor on my hard hat let me know whether or not I was about to get struck by a piece of, you know, fast moving heavy equipments? So although Butch, who happens to be a really good, excellent forklift driver, is cruising around the warehouse, I not paying attention suddenly can step into the way of that forklift, suddenly now these triggers are alerted by these IoT enabled devices, and we’ve just averted a disaster.

You know, I’m now able to go home without having to worry about months of rehab or even worse. And I know I would appreciate that, and I know Butch would as well. So I think as you think about these technologies, the impact in terms of safety is tremendous. I think we just need to make sure that as we’re doing this, that we’re involving the people on the shop floor that actually are going to be using these devices, because ultimately, too many organizations say, “Oh, yeah, of course we do that, you know, we make sure we put this stuff in their hands,” but the reality is many of them don’t.

And unless you do, there’s no way that you can really gauge what the impact is going to be on these workers. Because ultimately, you need to make sure that it’s fit for purpose, and that folks are going to be fully bought into what you’re trying to do. And folks will be, if they see that it’s going to help their job, it’s going to, you know, take them home safely at night, I think folks will buy into this naturally.

– Yeah, I mean, what would you want more? You know, at the end of the day, I think it’s incredible some of the things that Gensuite are doing to innovate in this current climate. You know, and the rate of major incidents and fatalities isn’t dropping, and we have to turn to technology. You know, we really do. And I just think you guys are doing some amazing things. But, you know, oh, and I wanted to ask, do you know a guy called Butch?

Or was that just a name?

– The thing is, I do know a guy named Butch, and I call him Butch the bobcat, because he’s done a little bit of bobcat work for me at my place so… – Oh, yeah.

– There is a Butch. I think he knows how to drive forklifts, but he certainly knows how to drive a bobcat really well.

– Yeah, I bet. We certainly don’t get any Butches in the UK, I tell you, that’s a new one. What do you find are the biggest opportunities and challenges currently surrounding health and safety sector as a whole?

– You know, if you’d asked me this question 12 months ago, I probably would have said something about safety culture, and, you know, the fact that safety performance among organization ultimately starts with culture. You know, it’s a, you know, the best tools and technologies, whether you’re using Gensuite or any of these other technologies, are only effective if the safety culture of that organization allows for it.

You know, culture is ultimately the limiting factor. But it’s not 12 months ago, and I think I’d be remiss not to talk a little bit about the current situation we’re in with COVID. And about, back in March, we made a pretty dramatic shift to help our customers respond to the pandemic everything from taking our incident management module and extending it to allow for tracking of exposures, and contact tracing, and symptoms, and these types of things, and now we’re working with them a lot more on what people refer to as return to work or reintegration of operations there.

And so folks are using things like our PP manager tool that helps track inventories, and masks, and other supplies. We’re working with them on employee and visitor screening, so that as folks do come back to the site, we can help enable simple and quick surveys to help them gauge risk of exposure and symptoms and all these things that might impact that person as well as everybody else within the site.

And I think the other thing you have is the need for remote work technologies. Auditing teams, it’s funny because for the past several decades now, auditing teams have independence on going to a site, walking around, making observations now, suddenly, you can’t travel.

So what do you do? I mean, that audit function has to continue on, all these compliance functions have to continue on. So suddenly, things like smart glasses, you know, kind of remote worker technology… We have a utility called Gensuite Uconnect that’s become a big priority for our users now. And so now I can sit remotely, you as my operator, or maybe Butch as my operator at the site, is able to be my eyes and ears as, you know, here you are walking around the site, and we’re able to stay connected through live video, live streaming, you know, live audio and chat while we’re also both working with the Gensuite mobile app.

So, you know, bottom line, it’s all about engagements. And I think what this current situation has really brought to the forefront is that, you know, suddenly, maybe technologies that were perhaps nothing more than, you know, new, shiny objects now are being considered critical to what folks are trying to do in this new world order that we have.

– Yeah, I think that’s really prominent, and I know for a fact that Gensuite as well have been doing some wonderful, wonderful thing. I’ve got, a lot of your clients are my clients, and, you know, they only ever say what a fantastic job you guys have done to help them navigate through the current climate.

But it’s also put an emphasis on EHS leaders being…their preparedness for catastrophic risk, and that is something that I’ve seen is there’s been quite a few holes in people’s processes, and preparation, and risk management for catastrophic risk management. So, you know, well done to the business for doing what you guys do very, very well.

I’m going to hit on this subject because I think everybody, by the time we get to 2022, is going to be sick of me talking about data, but data has, you know, it’s become a huge, no doubt, huge opportunity, but also probably the biggest headache. You know, it’s becoming a keyword in EHS digital transformation now for quite some time.

Some would say EHS professionals are not any further forward now than they were two years ago when data is a means to being able to drive down incident rates and fatalities, were put forward as a serious and critical method. But EHS leaders are not IT professionals, they’re also not data analysts, how can Gensuite’s solutions really help EHS leaders turn data into actionable insights?

– Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s something that we certainly wrestle with every year it seems. It’s true, and in many ways, that most organizations probably aren’t any further along in being able to drive down serious incidents and fatalities. In fact, what many will tell you, that, you know, although their incident rates have been going down steadily over a number of years, because of the programs they’re implementing, technologies they’re using.

What hasn’t been going down, I think you touched on this earlier was the number of significant incidents and fatalities. And that’s obviously a very real, an important problem that we all have to solve. So, we may be getting better at preventing less serious incidents, but we have a ways to go to prevent those more serious and significant incidents. And, you know, that should be unacceptable for any organization.

So when people talk about, you know, things like analytics and actionable insights, and things they focus a lot on, on what I consider outcomes, you know, these are lagging indicators. And I’m always shocked, and I’m sure you’ve seen this before, at how many large, sophisticated organizations are managing change in their programs based off of lagging indicators.

I really don’t understand it’s… instead of really getting at the root causes of the incidents and taking a look at things like proper training, and safeguards, and controls and addressing employee behavior on the shop floor, and as I mentioned earlier, addressing culture, unless you’re doing those things, I don’t know how you could ever expect to make an impact.

And so, as you might guess, you know, we’re working across all these things. And on the innovation side, doing some pretty neat work with some emerging technologies, which I was talking about earlier, IoT and, you know, what I refer to as interoperability of systems. Also mentioned earlier the, you know, the ability to take the power of sensors, and machines, and wearables to address and control risk.

But we’re also doing some really cool stuff with artificial intelligence, in AI, and applying machine learning techniques to help organizations take a look at their incident data, and then being able to build some of that intelligence into the workflows, so that they’re better able to identify what we refer to as potential incidents and fatalities.

Ones that could have gone very badly but didn’t. And what that’s able to do is give you a little bit more insight into some changes you might be able to make to make an impact.

– Yeah, brilliant. Yeah, it leads me on to a question actually that I was keen to ask Gensuite and yourself was, what are the top emerging tech solutions that Gensuite offers for health and safety, you know, what are the most practical, useful, etc.?

– Sure, yeah. I guess I’ve touched on a number of these already, whether it’s the IoT and sensors, or the analytics and being able to apply AI to these. One other one that I didn’t mention I guess was image recognition. So instead of depending on site personnel to be able to walk around the sites and identify hazardous conditions in the workplace that might impact them or others at their…you know, their colleagues, you can now use AI and image recognition software to scan that same workplace environment or situation to identify hazards.

So, you know, it’s essentially pattern recognition. So if, you know, there are tools or equipment that are left out in the areas that pose a risk to workers or moving equipment like that forklift, alerts can be triggered if a worker is not equipped with the proper safety equipment or PPE for a job or a task, alerts can be triggered. So I think one thing to note is that a lot of our technology strategy is built around our Gensuite mobile platform.

We recognized back in 2012 or so when we first developed that app, and as I mentioned, I think we’ve, our users have turned the corner, and there’s been huge adoption of the mobile platform over the past few years, is that if we recognize that the great majority of people are using mobile devices for everything they do, why don’t we take that platform and extend it.

And complement it with other technologies, like the ones I’ve mentioned to greatly reduce that learning curve for those people in that organization, but also the investment made, because now you’re just using technology that people already have. So in addition to that, you can tie in things like Bluetooth beacons. So you have these little Bluetooth devices on a piece of equipment around the sites, and now this mobile device is interacting with that Bluetooth beacon, you’re able to drive insights to that person, help enable action on kind of real-time on the floor.

And it’s just part of this kind of overall interoperability strategy that I’ve been talking about, you know, essentially connecting the safety and compliance management system, which is with this Gensuite, you know, essentially with the operations of the site, so that you have just this fully integrated experience for everybody.

– Brilliant. Well, I’ll end on this, because I’m really keen to hear if you’ve maybe got some, can share some insights on, or any first-hand experience of maybe customers or yourself working from Gensuite software in combination with these technologies that you’ve mentioned.

– Yeah, I mean, I think, I mean, certainly we’ve done a number of these projects. You know, I feel like with a lot of these emerging technologies, I mean, mobile has been around for a long time, so I’ll set that aside. But, you know, all of these other emerging technologies, we kind of think of this thing is kind of an exploratory phase, a pilot phase, and then more of like a deployment phase. And with some of these things like, you know, Bluetooth beacons and things, I feel like now we’re in this stage of, you know, for a lot of folks it’s still a pilot phase.

But we have some folks that are, you know, kind of moving forward with us, you know, companies like Tesla and others that are using Bluetooth beacons now in some specific scenarios to really drive action, and improve productivity and these types of things. So, you know, whether you’re looking at Bluetooth beacons or smart glasses, IoT, it really comes down to making sure that it’s fit for purpose. In all this, you know, all this technology can’t make the impact that it could make unless it’s sitting on top of, you know, a software enabled management system in my view.

So, Gensuite’s all about workflows, and analytics, and trying to help the EHS organizations and quality organizations and other better engaged people out there in the field, and on the shop floor, in what they’re trying to do. And so whether or not you’re talking about smart glasses or whatever, really, the whole point is to try to think of creative ways that we can better engage folks more creatively, provide them a different form factor to help them try to do what they’re trying to do, and eliminate some of those obstacles that maybe were presented in the past.

So I’m hopeful, you know, as we get a little bit more creative and start adapting some of these technologies that, you know, we’re now in a position to take technologies that weren’t available to us a few years ago, and apply them, and really get at that thing I was talking about earlier. You know, we can drive down incident rates and things like that. But ultimately, if we’re not making an impact on significant incidents and fatalities in the workplace, then why are we here?

– And I think this, I think the great thing is that, you know, we have a lot of really passionate, smart people out there, and I feel like we’re at a point now where we actually have the technologies that can make a real impact. And so that’s my hope.

– Wow, that’s brilliant. Yeah, I mean, just to sort of finalize, I think, again, once again, you guys are doing some really incredible things. We’re privileged to be working with you as one of our most recommended software partners, and continue to do the fantastic work that you’re doing because it’s very eye opening, and I’m privileged again to be working with you guys.

Good luck. Been a pleasure today having you onboard and working with you on this fantastic campaign, and look forward to seeing you again soon. Give my best to Butch.

– You know it. Yeah, I will definitely do. His ears are certainly burning right now. But, you know, thanks for your time. I appreciate it. And as I mentioned, I appreciate our partnership. And I think it takes people that are willing to put themselves out there and talk about some really tough subjects, and I think that’s, you know, what we’re trying to do here.

And ultimately, I think, collectively with these technologies we’ll be able to make some movement. So, thanks for the opportunity.

– Thanks, Donavan. Cheers.