Customer Spotlight - Interview with Nikolay Popov from SGS

Nikolay Popov is Global Head of Safety Operations and Performance Management at SGS. SGS is the world's leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. 

SGS and Brightmile have been working together on global driver safety since early 2018.

Nikolay sat down with IOSH magazine journalist Steve Smethurst for an insightful Q&A on his approach to global Transportation Safety and the Brightmile project. 

Nikolay Popov

How did you first encounter Brightmile?

My role includes transportation safety and in-vehicle monitoring systems (IVMS) are an important tool for us. 

Our Procurement team introduced me to Brightmile in 2018 as an alternative to traditional IVMS. Although I immediately saw its potential, I needed convincing as it went against my previous experience, which was that even with all its limitations, a hardware box in the vehicle was the best approach. 

The good thing was that Brightmile was prepared to listen to what we wanted from an enterprise health, safety and environment perspective. They weren't just looking to sell me a product, they wanted to build a good application. That made me believe in the team, that they were serious. I was also reassured that Brightmile was sponsored by AXA insurance. 

At first, I was cautious because at this stage it was still a start-up, but it was a promising innovation. With various IVMS systems used in SGS I always leverage three success factors: the Tool must be informative and complaint, the Provider is reliable and client-oriented, and proactive use of the IVMS data should improve road safety. So, I decided to see if we could go deeper on driver safety with Brightmile and my boss supported the idea of taking on the project.

What is the deployment process?

Before full deployment, we helped Brightmile test the app in development stage in the UK, Mexico and Canada. This was in the early days of Brightmile so it took around a year to set up and get the final product up and running. In parallel, we had to complete workstreams around data privacy, IT security, fleet management, and procurement. 

Brightmile is now recognized as one of our company's standard tools, which gives it additional validation within SGS. It means any SGS affiliate can use it without additional verification. 

We now have 21 affiliates using the Brightmile application globally across Africa, Europe, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia Pacific, North America, and Latin America. We hope to add many more affiliates in the coming months and continue our global deployment. 

What are the benefits of Brightmile for you as a global health, safety and environment leader?

Firstly, Brightmile incentivizes and creates a positive culture around driving. It's really important versus a ‘Big Brother’ approach, creating positivity through rewards and resulting in positive attitudes. Regardless of the data, this approach makes people think and do a little bit better next time.

Brightmile also gives SGS benchmarkable data across countries, lines of business, and teams, allowing us to create a healthy sense of competition that makes people improve. Even if local managers feel comfortable in their own country, they might see that driving is much safer in another country. They might look outside their own current risk level and realise it is still three times higher than others. 

Deploying without any hardware installation allows us to standardize our approach and implement a truly global driver safety programme. The platform allows us to benchmark all drivers no matter where they're driving, whether it’s Canada, Malaysia, Peru or Guam – all are under the same set of measurables. In 2020, the Brightmile application identified our top drivers worldwide. As a global head in charge of Transportation Safety strategy, I also get perspective, context, and oversight at a group level.

We run a collaborative programme, and regularly meet with Brightmile management to review performance and see if there are any technical, organizational or educational improvements required. Regardless of the size of the fleet, we are constantly monitoring the effectiveness of the programme. 

So far, we have not received any negative feedback on the software from any country we have been working with, but there are always incremental areas for improvement. Brightmile listens to us – and I guess its other clients too  – and implements and improves the system according to our suggestions. It’s a process of continuous improvement, which is a big reason why I like our partnership

Last, and of course not least, we can measure improvements in employee safety. In our UK pilot we measured a 25% reduction in collision frequency so that was early validation of the impact.

Brightmile’s “Five Pillars” (Risk, Speeding, Distraction, Fatigue, Eco – this last pillar focuses on ecological driving) show a reduction of unsafe behaviours, so we know that this plays an important factor in transportation safety. It's important for us, because in SGS, we also have our 'Rules for Life'. Three out of those rules for life are directly supported by Brightmile – distraction while using mobile phone, speeding and fatigue. For SGS, these are non-negotiable, mandatory rules, where if you violate them and display reckless behaviour, you can face the consequences.

What are the main challenges that you have faced, and how have you overcome them?

In the current climate, data privacy is of paramount importance. In Europe, it’s the GDPR but other jurisdictions also have increasingly tight regimes. Of course, with any IVMS processing a driver’s geolocation is a sensitive topic, and a smartphone tool is no exception.

Fortunately, a data privacy officer (DPO) was involved from the development stage and went through all the documentation and the product demonstration to ensure that the application complied with data privacy law.

The DPO recognised that Brightmile has the privacy feature built into its design, something that has now been validated by us for our purposes. Brightmile has been signed off as compliant with GDPR and we have several countries in the European Union evaluating it prior to deployment. 

In terms of driver acceptance, people normally feel better when they learn about Brightmile's incentive programme, that they can be rewarded for safer driving. Certain affiliates also choose to kick off the programme in “anonymous mode”, such that SGS managers do not receive personally identifiable data, or only to a certain subset of drivers.

Some people also still feel that a mobile phone app cannot be completely accurate.  However, following extensive pilots and deployments, we are happy with the quality of the data. In any event, for transportation safety, it's not a significant factor. What is important is a large piece of data over a longer period to see the trends of the driving skills, rather than focusing on each individual violation

Another challenge has been linked to traffic regulations and common driving practices. In some regions, speed limits have a non-punishable buffer, for example a 90km/h speed limit and a buffer up to 110km/h that isn’t punishable by a fine. In reality, it tends to mean everybody drives at 109mph which is against the speed limits and therefore a violation of the SGS Rules for Life. Brightmile isn’t initially set up to understand what is punishable and what isn’t, so we are working together to reach an understanding with local teams to refine acceptable speeding thresholds.

Finally, not every employee in every country currently has an SGS issued smartphone. Our solution was to say to the affiliate: if you don't want to manage transportation safety with help of Brightmile, then buy a normal ‘black box’ IVMS for every vehicle. Managers quickly realized that implementing a black box isn’t cheaper – they require installation and can break – so we have seen them buying cost effective Android devices for Brightmile as well as other business applications that are becoming the norm.

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