By | May 8, 2019

The Inspire user conference officially opened on May 7 in San Antonio with a record attendance of nearly 450 people packing the Independence Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort.

To start the day off, attendees were shown Sphera’s “Environment of Change” video narrated by Ellen Bremseth, Sphera’s marketing communications manager, which talked about how much has “changed” since Sphera emerged in 2016. “Looking back on Sphera’s remarkable first three years,” she said, “one word comes to mind: change. In just three years, Sphera has changed the Environmental Health & Safety space in ways many people never thought imaginable.”

She later added: “From Oil & Gas to chemicals to government to manufacturing and more, Sphera’s robust solutions have made the world a safer place to be. Our legacy is told in the stories we hear about—the incident that was avoided, the near-miss that never was and the way our clients continue to excel and achieve extraordinary things.”

Howdy, Again, Partner

Neal Rosen, the cowboy, the poet, the inspire emcee.

Neal Rosen, the conference emcee and Sphera’s vice president of solution consulting/engineering, welcomed the attendees to San Antonio with a poignant safety message about where the exits were. Rosen then added some levity by joking that the Sphera flashlights that were in attendees’ gift bags come on carabiners for nighttime rock-climbing (though only one person in attendance claimed to have indulged in such an activity).

He then got a little “serious.” After donning some cowboy gear (including chaps) at inspire 2017, Rosen joked about how he got attached to his Western duds following the last conference. He showed some photos of himself shooting hoops, mowing the lawn and cooking up a mean-looking burger with hat and vest in tow.

For this year’s conference, Rosen chose to write a poem, and Joni McHugh, Sphera’s vice president of customer care, walked on stage to deliver him a beret, scarf and sunglasses for the ultimate coffeehouse beat poetry look. Rosen recited his poem over a jazzy score that ended with “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from “Rocky,” swelling from the speakers and pumping up the crowd. “It’s time to share best practices, it’s time to network, and it’s time to push Operational Excellence higher,” he said.

San Antonio is definitely the place to be when it comes to excellence.

The Dawn of IRM 4.0

Paul Marushka shared his vision of the future with inspire attendees.

After Rosen left the stage, Paul Marushka, Sphera’s president and CEO, welcomed the crowd to inspire by explaining that the Alamo City is the fastest-growing place in the country and was recently named the best city for software engineers by SpareFoot.

And technology is definitely the main course at inspire. Marushka cited the recent acquisition of SiteHawk, a Smyrna, Tennessee-based cloud software provider as a testament to Sphera’s continual focus on Innovation, Information and Insights. SiteHawk offers customers a complete approach to chemical management through data, intelligence and reporting to support safety, compliance and risk management.

Marushka also talked at length about Sphera’s strategy for the future, which involves what he called Integrated Risk Management 4.0 (IRM 4.0), which, through a data-driven, predictive risk management and Industrial Internet of Things (IIot) strategy that falls in line with Industry 4.0 technology, can help companies boost their business value while enhancing their Operational Excellence.

Design principles, he said, include:

  • Interconnectivity (people, machines, sensors and devices)
  • Information transparency (data collected through interconnection means)
  • Technical assistance (the ability to shift low-value tasks from people to cybersystems)
  • Decentralized decisions (systems must be able to make autonomous decisions)

As Marushka said, many of the Industry 4.0 technologies, including smart robots and quantum computing, are at the initial innovation trigger phase and will continue to evolve over the next decade. “We are at just the beginning of an evolution,” he said.

Marushka closed his talk with a quote from Albert Einstein: “It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man’s blessings. Concern for the man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors. … Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.”

After all, risk mitigation is essential to keep people safe, and technology and innovation are designed to do just that.

A Premise and a Cloud

Advancements in Environmental Health & Safety solutions can help companies keep their workers safe, their products sustainable and their operations productive. After a short, informative video that announced some of the innovations coming to SpheraCloud—including information about the new user interface—Mike Zamis and Perry Marchant, Sphera’s chief product officer and chief technology officer, respectively, took the stage to give attendees a taste of what’s to come for Sphera’s software capabilities. They shared the company’s product roadmap for all on-premise and cloud-based solutions.

Then, after a panel discussion session with Steve Bolton, Verdantix’s EHS research director, and Regis Santos, the global health and safety director for Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) on “EHS & Emerging Technology,” which was moderated by Vijay Gudivaka, Arcadis’ global managing director for information-driven performance, Marchant and Sarah Teague, a Sphera solution engineer, came to the stage to show off the new SpheraCloud interface.

It was then time for lunch.

The Ballad of Dr. Robert Ballard

Dr. Robert Ballard drew on his decades of experience to spin a fascinating yarn about his career in nautical exploration.

After some tasty dishes to nibble on, it was time to hear from keynote speaker Dr. Robert Ballard who offered attendees some serious food for thought on the oceanic world, sustainability for the planet and even life beyond our solar system. Ballard entered the stage to a familiar theme: “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie “Titanic.” Of course, Ballard is credited with locating the actual Titanic as part of a mission to investigate two Navy subs back in 1985. “I know that song,” Ballard quipped.

“Listening to Dr. Ballard tell his tales about his career is truly inspiring, and it’s fascinating to learn about how he has been able to mitigate risk for so many years,” said Mark Stach, Sphera’s chief services officer.

Over the next 60 minutes, Ballard took inspire attendees on a riveting ride throughout his career starting from Day One: “I was born in Wichita, Kansas,” he deadpanned, “where all nautical explorers are from.” He even showed a picture of his first experience on a Navy ship back in the 1950s, and, to the delight of the risk-mitigators in the house, pointed out he was wearing flipflops in the photo. You can learn more about Ballard by reading an exclusive interview he did with Spark. Speaking of Spark, the new edition debuted at inspire, and the cover story talks about virtual and augmented reality.

Ballard then answered some audience questions, including how a Dr. Robert Ballard character appeared on the old sitcom “30 Rock,” before leaving the stage and heading off to his next adventure. After his presentation, Carrie Decatur, Sphera’s senior regulatory analyst, led a panel discussion on “Regulatory Impacts: 2020 and Beyond.” She joked that she will always be able to say she got to follow Dr. Ballard on stage, which drew laughs and applause.

Outside of the main ballroom, attendees got to try their luck at winning an autographed copy of Ballard’s book. Attendees also got to see their social posts appear on a massive 16-foot screen and even had an opportunity to have their picture taken with a virtual Titanic via Sphera’s custom AR app.

Regarding his experience at inspire, Verdantix’s Bolton said: “It’s been valuable to hear speakers discuss common themes such as the importance of planning EHS software deployment upfront, the growing connections between EHS and operations, and how EHS professionals are using emerging technologies and leading vs. lagging metrics in their corporate programs.”

Dual Digital Sessions

Later in the afternoon, attendees got to learn about the importance of digital technology via experts from two of Sphera’s recent acquisitions: Petrotechnics and sparesFinder. Iain Mackay, Sphera’s vice president of operations solutions, and Peter Sullivan, a senior manager at Accenture Consulting, discussed digital transformations during an ORM for Operations session, while Sphera’s vice president of MRO, David Stroud, talked Maintenance, Repair & Operations in the pending digital revolution.

Spark II cover story VR
Jenga, enough said.

The first day of inspire is in the books. Well, not quite. We ended the day eating Texas barbeque and playing some giant games at the networking dinner. Giant Jenga is “my jam.” Even though my partner, Ellen Bremseth, and I lost to a couple of our new colleagues from SiteHawk, Josh Edwards and Cole Mandl, in a competitive Jenga game, we all had a great time. Everyone’s a winner when you can have fun and learn something, too, right?

If you weren’t able to attend inspire in San Antonio, there’s still time to register for our event in Barcelona, Spain, from June 3 to 6. Until then …