In the spotlight with Matthew Elson
22 June 2020
This month we put Matthew Elson in the spotlight to find out about his route into the health and safety sector, career highlights, and what's next for SHE Software.
How did you get into the health and safety industry?
It was kind of by accident. I have been an executive and a consultant for most of my career. Back in 2011, I was interim CEO of a private equity backed business which we sold. The partners in the fund knew I had entrepreneurial ambitions and so showed me SHE Software. At the time, the business was small and troubled - a turnaround candidate - and I was in the right place to acquire it. I did not have any specific health and safety, or even software, background at the time!
Since then of course I have learnt an enormous amount and it is great to run a business where the desire to help our customers create safer workplaces is so deeply engrained in our culture.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love building our team. We are a very fast growing business, which can be challenging because there are so many different dimensions to get right and working in sync. Above all, it is down to finding and nurturing the very best people - people with a passion for the customer, who thrive in our highly collaborative environment, who are open and transparent, and who like to get things done! Building the right culture internally aligns us behind our customer mission.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the health and safety industry in UK?
I am sure that all readers will be familiar with the “safety differently” perspective. Our traditional safety systems - assess the risks, communicate the measures, learn from the incidents - have served us well but may not offer the further improvements we would like to see. Modern operations are often more complex, varied and dispersed than when the HSWA was introduced in 1974. The challenge is to find a new and different approach, not to replace what we currently do, but to add to it. Health and safety needs to become integral to operations, not an additional activity. We need to embed safety thinking and treat people as part of the solution, not the problem.
How do you think these challenges can be overcome?
It is a challenge because the safety community needs to see its role in new light. Yes, there are the traditional activities: working with managers to assess risks; identifying mitigations; and assisting in incident investigation. However, there is now a new dimension to safety leadership: leading cultural change in the organisation; changing the perspective of leaders; and engaging frontline workers in safety thinking. Engagement is the operative word. It means making safety relevant, practical and a regular part of day to day activity.
What sets SHE Software apart from its competitors?
Selecting a software solution is not a one-off transaction. It is a decision that needs to stand the test of time, certainly for five years and probably longer. As such customers need to choose a solution and provider who provide good long term partnership. It is this thinking that sets SHE Software apart. Every person in the business is safety qualified, so we are familiar with the challenges. We have created Assure, a platform that is highly adaptable and continuously developed to meet evolving customer needs. We formulate joint plans with our customers that detail how they will get most value from Assure. Most importantly, we have focused from day one on creating software that is simple and intuitive; mobile software that engages employees, not a clunky corporate solution.
What are you most memorable successes as SHE Software?
It has to be our journey! We have grown 10-fold from a small UK based business to one of the leading providers in the UK, North America and Australia/New Zealand. Along the way, we have built a highly talented team dedicated to bringing the very best technology and support to our customers.
What's next in the product pipeline for SHE Software?
As consumers, we have developed enhanced expectations about software - influenced by the highly functional, intuitive apps on our phones. At SHE Software, we are therefore building on our existing strengths in ease of use and configurability to bring 'consumerisation' to health and safety software. This means software that is mobile first, which understands me, my needs and my immediate environment. Software that will push relevant content to me based on my context.
What's your vision for the future of SHE Software?
Many organisations are still meeting health and safety needs with pen and paper, excel and rudimentary systems. These are inefficient, make it difficult to demonstrate compliance or focus improvement efforts and certainly are not engaging to users. Our vision is to bring the value of our solution, Assure, to these organisations, saving them time, ensuring compliance, providing great intelligence and, most importantly, engaging frontline workers so as to embed safety thinking in every action. We believe we are at a tipping point where technology will support this exciting safety transformation.
What do you think the medium term future holds for the safety industry globally?
Many trends support a continued strengthening in our focus on safety, and particularly on health. The rise of millennials brings a new set of values and expectations to the workplace. There is increasing awareness that fair and equal societies, while valuing prosperity, also require a wider balance including addressing issues of physical and mental health and environmental impacts. Another important trend is the coming together of safety and operational effectiveness, illustrated most topically by the operational challenge of ensuring safe workplaces as companies return from COVID-related shutdown.
What health and safety issues are you most passionate about?
I am most passionate about the cultural and business change we require to reach a next level of safety performance. This fits my background as a former consultant and more recently business leader. The change required creates a fascinating combination of challenges - cultural change, true leadership and new applications of technology.
Matthew Elson is chief executive officer at SHE Software. After acquiring the company in 2011, and a spell as chairman, he became full-time CEO in 2014. Matthew started his career as an engineer before moving into management consultancy – bringing strong commercial and leadership skills and strategic insight.