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Bowtie Risk Experts Should Push For Better Barrier Risk Management Software

Since the 1990s the bowtie risk assessment methodology has been adopted by an ever-growing band of safety, engineering and risk management professionals. The bowtie methodology provides a visual representation of the potential causes of an “event” and the resulting consequences of the “event” in a hazardous scenario such as digging a trench to lay power cables. Risk owners can then determine what controls they should apply to eliminate or mitigate potential causes of an “event” such as a trench collapse. They can also use the methodology to think through the controls which could reduce the impact of the consequences of the “event” if it did happen. For example, wearing PPE or putting in place an emergency response plan.

The popularity of the bowtie methodology is amply demonstrated by the more than 15,000 users of the BowTieXP desktop software from Netherlands-headquartered firm CGE Risk Management – the biggest pureplay vendor of bowtie risk management software. This broad adoption has been driven by a network of more than 200 channel partners such as Bergwerff, DNV GL, ERM, Lloyd’s Register, Promisafe and tecsa. From its inception in the oil and gas sector (early research was funded by Shell), risk owners in many other industries have now adopted the bowtie methodology as the expert-designed visualization of risks, controls and consequences is easy to understand and communicate. The main limitation is that these visual models are not linked to real-time information – they are static. Risk owners need to verify that controls are in place using other information tools or manual processes. They can then update the status of controls in the model but this is not done automatically.

A related but separate technology development is barrier risk management software which has been developed over more than 15 years by vendors like eVision (now part of Wolters Kluwer) Petrotechnics (a Sphera company) and RiskPoynt. Barrier risk management software applications take the logic of bowtie risk models to provide a visualization of the status of risk controls based on real-time information, for instance, from vibration sensors attached to a pump or a digital permit to work system. Barrier risk management software operationalizes bowtie risk models because it provides real-time data about the effectiveness of controls. However, due to the cost and complexity of gathering real-time data, barrier risk models rarely reflect a comprehensive bowtie model. Risk owners, therefore use both static bowtie models and dynamic barrier management software to get a full view of risks. Without a doubt, the big prize for industrial risk management is to leverage bowtie risk model expertise to enhance barrier risk management software. Recent M&A in the operational risk management software suggests a new generation of barrier management software will be launched in 2020.

To learn more about technology choices, risk owners at industrial sites should subscribe to the Verdantix Operational Excellence research programme.

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