Forwood Safety: digitally transforming risk management with cloud and AI

Thorsten Scholz, CTO, explains how tech innovation, solid partnerships and a focused approach can transform safety culture in industry

Whilst an element of risk may always be inherent to some specific workplaces or roles, there is no reason why this should remain cause for severe injury or loss of life. Tackling this issue with the steadfast attitude that all work-related deaths can be prevented, Forwood Safety has been on a mission to change the standard of safety within mining and oil and gas through applied technology since 1995. Growing from a small enterprise to a genuine leader, the company continues to focus on solving some of the most significant and enduring challenges facing the modern industrial sector: delivering best-in-class performance that doesn’t compromise safety standards and relegating workplace fatalities to the archives of history.

Taking on the role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in late 2015, Thorsten Scholz came across Forwood Safety whilst working as a consultant within the mining industry. Whilst listening to a presentation on the verification method used by Forwood to improve performance of critical controls, he experienced an epiphany that he could help make an even greater impact on the safety of frontline workers by joining the endeavour, which he did shortly afterwards. “I actually walked up to Steve Wood (CEO of Forwood) after the meeting and said, ‘I need to get involved in this’,” he says. With previous IT roles at large mining operations in Australia and project experience in high risk industries globally, Scholz understands the challenges of risk management and safety well - an understanding which has valuably contributed to his approach at being a CTO.

The drive and determination to excel at pace stems from Forwood Safety’s emphasis on a corporate culture which empowers employees within non-hierarchical structures across the company, always centred on the idea of delivering success to clients. For Scholz, his approach to IT can be summed up in one word: Quality. “We’ve implemented Agile first in the product team and then across the rest of the business. Now, we can really scale and standardise our products, from content development to marketing while never losing focus on the business value of the outcome for our clients” he explains. From a technological standpoint, he credits the advent of cloud-computing as totally revolutionising the ERP computing which prevailed at the beginning of his career. “When I look at the IT sector, I can say with certainty that the cloud’s introduction was a catalyst for digital transformation. We could never deliver large scale enterprise safety and risk management solutions at such great value without the cloud and without a partner like Amazon Web Services (AWS).”

Furthermore, the utility of working with AWS and using its products contributes another factor to Forwood Safety’s agility, namely mitigating the need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ for every tech need that might arise. Using Amazon as a one-stop provider of vital compute solutions, Scholz says that the company can instead focus on their true mission: applying technology in creative ways to save lives. Able to adapt to new threats and working conditions as they arise, Forwood Safety was able to integrate new protocols for COVID-19 risk management in record time. “Within weeks, we had specific COVID-19 content deployed globally. In that time, we developed comprehensive critical control checklists for COVID-19, and deployed these to over 250 sites and in seven languages, including Icelandic, Mongolian, Spanish and French,” he explains. “Without the cloud that would have not been possible.”

Currently offering three primary products - Critical Risk Management (CRM), SafetyApps and Enterprise Risk Assurance (ERA) - agility often combines with innovation at Forwood Safety, with collections of core proprietary technology (drones, satellites, etc) utilised for specialised tasks. “We have a geospatial platform integrated into our products which allow clients to upload custom maps in a self-service manner. If you give the people in control of operations a bird's eye view of critical risks in the workplace this helps to quickly identify areas where workers could get harmed and creates actionable insights to prevent this.” This is again indicative of Forwood Safety’s distinct approach to risk management and safety: collaboration between parties is essential and the company strives to combine its tech platform with methods and relevant content in order to produce a transformative solution for clients. “It's about working together to achieve an outcome; building a good safety culture must be a partnership,” Scholz emphasises.

Working closely with its channel partners and clients, Forwood Safety’s critical risk management platform analyses failures before they can turn into fatalities and provides capabilities to predict hotspots and blackspots. It follows the pattern that establishing a strong tech infrastructure is imperative for implementing sustainable technological change with great value for clients. Amazon, as already mentioned, has been a crucial partner in achieving this, but one other company Scholz identifies for special praise is Base2Services. Founded in 2005, this company has developed a reputation in Australia as being one of the most respected cloud development/operations companies in the market. Having itself partnered with AWS for more than a decade, Base2Services is an expert in operating superlative cloud environments. “Base2Services focuses on DevOps, DevOps automation, cyber risk, cybersecurity and helps us to make sure that all the ‘nuts and bolts’ are in place and any warning signs are monitored, reviewed and addressed straight away. They provide us with 24/7 infrastructure support across the globe in a ‘follow the sun’ model. In terms of scalability, flexibility and value delivered, this has really helped us to focus on what is important to us: helping to save lives.”

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Quotables

When I look at the IT sector, I can say with certainty that the cloud’s introduction was a catalyst for digital transformation. We could never deliver without the cloud and without a partner like Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Thorsten Scholz | CTO, Forwood Safety

Digital automation through artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most exciting trends across several industries right now and Scholz declares that Forwood Safety is firmly at the forefront in its sector. Not satisfied with using a pre-existing solution in this regard, the company instead developed its own by hiring a team of data scientists to analyse the most effective way for AI to enhance safety. The breakthrough came via the revelation that using binary safety-related questions with choices of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ provided very fertile ground for algorithmic optimisation. “90% of the time the answers are very straightforward. If you have a good set of questions, which can be answered consistently and always with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it helps your machine learning (ML) model gather data and form predictions based on patterns.” Considering the topic of AI-based automation more generally, Scholz states there are two aspects of importance to its development with regards to safety: 1) support via improved decision-making capabilities; and 2) working out practical applications which will benefit workers in the field. Both will require thought and attention, as well as close collaboration with partners and clients to pilot new approaches directly in the workplace. “From my perspective, ML and its applications for analysing both still photos and video are going to be critical in the future of safety technology” he adds.

With a five-year strategic roadmap in place and solutions for health-related crises like COVID-19 already natively established in the company’s products and services, Scholz is confident that Forwood Safety will continue to thrive and establish the next generation of safety principles which will endure and become industry standards. “We want to leverage technology, as well as our expertise, to make a big difference in fatality prevention in the years to come,” he concludes. “Forwood Safety has the partnerships and the cultural alignment to execute that vision. Ultimately, we believe all workplace fatalities can be eradicated.”

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