Ryan Pavey on the specification steps we took to complete our latest office ergonomics assessment software.
I returned to Cardinus in 2013 following a 6 year sabbatical with a certain Irish competitor. I quickly realized I’d come back at probably one of the most important moments in the organization’s 22 year history. Cardinus were about to take on the complete redevelopment of their best-selling office ergonomics compliance software.
First time round, between 2002 and when I left in 2007, the reputation of the software, named Workstation Safety Plus, and my career grew side by side. I was the young telesales exec that grew to be the company’s best sales person. Over the same period Workstation Safety Plus went from being used by a few early adopters to the system of choice for the majority of the UK’s large businesses. You could say we helped each other out.
This isn’t the first time the software had been redeveloped but in 2013 instead of a handful of clients and a few thousand users there were 2000 organizations using our software and 2 million employees trained and assessed by Cardinus. We all felt the pressure of getting this right as much as the excitement of creating something for the modern office and modern office worker.
Building something better
Specification was already well underway as I slipped back into the routines of being a Cardinus employee. There had been some other pretty big changes in the 6 years I was away too. Firstly Cardinus was no longer a solely owned business and had been bought by THB. Also the American market that I had been involved in during the early days (if you ever get the chance ask Jon Abbot or myself about our fateful trip to LA and New York in 2003) was now well established and needed to be taken into consideration for this project. We also had two new areas within the business, successful in their own right and dealing with fleet and property risk management. A lot was the same but a lot had changed.
One of the most exciting elements of the redevelopment of Workstation Safety Plus was that its successor was going to be written in partnership with the UK’s lead ergonomists its Government’s health and safety agency the Health & Safety Laboratory in Buxton. This was a wonderful coup for us as well as clear indication of the businesses strong and respected position in the market. We were enthused and ready to start to work.
The requirements of all good office ergonomics assessment software
When I sold the software first time round I used to spend a lot of time talking to companies about their priorities when looking at Workstation Safety Plus against competitor solutions. The look and feel of e-learning is very subjective and what some people love others despise. My advice then was that requirements were pretty much translated the same way across the market so if the course looked professional and was no longer than a maximum of say 35 minutes then move on because there were more important things to consider.
To hammer this home I would point out that employees see the online assessment perhaps once a year at best but members of the safety team could be using the management system every day. This could be to run reports, roll-out training, view data generated by completed risk assessments and also to evaluate who needs seeing most urgently to follow up on the risk. The management system needed to have the functionality that made these tasks possible and be as easy to use as possible because software can uncover a lot of risk in a short space of time. Linked to that was the idea that the solution should have functionality that enabled the employee to resolve as much of their own risk as possible. That way they get immediate answers to their concerns and the safety team gets the majority of risk dealt with at source without there being a major drain on their resources.
Of course I was selling Workstation Safety Plus’s strong points but the great thing about this product was that the sales pitch was entirely correct and therefore extremely sound advice. It remained good advice as we specified the new product in 2013 and still is today as I write this article. However, in the last 5-10 years the office environment, the equipment we use and indeed the way we work has changed. Hot desking, tablets, flexible working, home working, the sheer amount of time we spend in front of screens, smartphones, sit-stand desks; I could go on and on. To illustrate the changes since then; can you remember what your phone looked like in 2002 and what you could do with it?
Meeting the needs of the future
We knew the new software had to cover a number of different scenarios for employees and still stay under that magic 35 minute mark. Even that amount of time is precious these days. We also needed to ensure that if a user wasn’t a homeworker, a sit stand desk user, a laptop user or anything else, that they didn’t see content that was irrelevant to them. Course content and how it is delivered had now become highly important. We knew that the first thing our e-learning needed to do was ask the employee what kind of office ergonomics user they are and then dynamically change the course content and indeed the risk assessment questionnaire to suit their individual needs.
As I mentioned before the management system for office ergonomics software is hugely important and we were lucky that the team that specified and built the original version of PACE, Workstation Safety Plus’s management solution, did such a good job that it went 10 years with barely any changes or functionality updates while remaining the world’s leading solution for office ergonomics. This is an incredible feat for any software solution and we certainly felt that pressure.
Knowing that the right way of managing office ergonomics risk was already engrained in our DNA we didn’t want to change too much. After all we had a couple of thousand customers pretty happy with how we did things currently. What we did here was listen to the frustrations our clients had with the existing solution and talked internally about the things we wanted to “fix” in the new platform that bugged us about Workstation Safety Plus. Then we went to work (well the development team stepped in and did that part, thank goodness).
There were some fundamentals that were obvious. We improved the reporting functionality making it easier to use and giving companies more scope to generate management reports with the precise information needed. The automated email functionality was also overhauled to enable emails to go to users and administrators, chasing any outstanding activity required to achieve compliance. Finally we completely reviewed the risk assessment management element. Everything now sits under a single record for each employee that updates every time an individual completes a new assessment. That new assessment replaces the older one if it’s taken on the same location, or adds a secondary assessment if it’s for a second workstation. Great for those people who have two places of work that they regularly use such as the office and home. To make risk resolution faster and easier to manage we separated outstanding issues from the rest of the assessment into an easy-to-use workspace and enabled unresolvable risk to be removed out of scope of your compliance reports. After all we all have those sports injuries that won’t go away simply by making a change to our office ergonomic set-up.
In truth I could go on like a proud father about all the great changes we made for the new solution. I could tell you how we have phase 2, 3, 4 of releases planned with new functionality we’re excited about. That we even have a phase X for the really cool stuff we haven’t quite figured out how to code yet. Essentially though after a great deal of work, a few setbacks and inevitable delays along the way, we are very proud of the software we’ve produced. For a long time we called this innovation Next Generation or simply Next Gen when that became too much of a mouthful to keep repeating, but to those outside the company, it is known as Healthy Working, the office ergonomics training and risk assessment solution for the modern office and the modern way of work.
Ryan Pavey is the Associate Director of Marketing and Partnerships. Ryan has helped some of the world’s largest organisations implement health and safety e-learning solutions. With his assistance these organisations have improved the health, well-being and productivity of their employees by improving the way they interact with their computers.