"The perfect solution in helping organisations understand what has gone wrong, what could go wrong, and what they need to do to prevent incidents.”

That is how STC INSISO CEO Mark Rushton describes a unique methodology that captures issues spanning Communication, Operating Environment, Management, Equipment, and Training; or COMET as it is better known.

Aberdeen-based STC INSISO provides risk control and assurance software and services for the rail, oil & gas, utilities, construction and marine sectors. It is COMET which is proving particularly useful for the railways, with modules already being used by the likes of Network Rail and major contractors building HS2. Mark added:

“COMET is all about helping organisations control risk, whether that’s through proactive audit and assurance activity, or reactive incident investigation, capturing root causes in both their ‘dormant’ and more regrettably their ‘active’ states”.

COMET's Journey

COMET’S journey began when Senior PLC had a problem with incident investigation and RCA and after evaluating the market found existing solutions were too complex, too safety-focused, incomplete and lacking investigative rigor, and too expensive.

A development team with a combined total of 400 plus years of incident investigation experience worked with Senior PLC to set a target and document what was missing. They defined which application areas were needed, built and tested the RC spectrum which drove the name COMET, established process and methodology, and built a training course Senior was happy with.

Mark said:

“COMET started life in 2012, out of a passion to do things differently. At its heart is an ecosystem of software, training and supporting tools that help organisations to ultimately prevent failure and therefore repeat success.

“It allows them to really understand incidents and near misses; recording, classifying and reporting them, but more importantly it allows organisations to do an in-depth, organic, real live investigation, understanding from that investigation what happened, crucially why it happened and what are we going to do to prevent it from happening again.

“That was its core DNA and in the last few years it has really grown and now for example we’ve entered into this philosophy of root cause learning. We’ve built COMET Assured now, which enables us to do the value that COMET provides, but do it before an incident happens, applying the system’s intelligence to audits and assurance activities.

“We’re moving that dial from reactive prevention to proactive prevention with the overall aim about incident prevention, not incident cure, and eventually we want to be at a point where we’re helping support the industry to stop these bad events from happening in the first place.”

COMET Suite of Software

COMET has come a long way since first being developed more than a decade ago, with its suite now including:

  • COMET Assured: Audit and inspection analysis model that delivers root causes for priority findings.
  • COMET Investigate: World-leading methodology, training package and online solution for incident investigation, root cause analysis and prevention.
  • COMET Expert: A mobile-friendly application that guides the user in gathering relevant data during an ongoing investigation.
  • COMET Essentials: A simplified investigation and RCA process which enables organisations to consistently identify root causes across their full spectrum of incidents.
  • COMET Signals: Using AI to scan both structured and unstructured data to deliver clear, immediate and essential information you can’t see with the human eye.
  • COMET Resilience: Ensuring that human and organisational performance is an integral part of your learning and improvement efforts through a unique learning team toolkit.

COMET in the Rail Industry

“We bring an ability to capture all of this and understand it, and that for an industry the size of UK rail is significant,” said Mark. “We’re very early in the journey in the rail sector, but the interaction and conversations we’re having are extremely positive.

“We want to be different and we want to standout and also at an industry level we are keen to give something back. Because the nature of COMET is that it gathers lots of data from lots of places and it makes intelligence out of that data, it means that at an industry level, we are ideally positioned to potentially collect on behalf of multiple stakeholders.

“If we are able to do that and we are able to look at trends at a very high level, we will be able to give something back. When COMET becomes well enough established and we’ve got the ability to anonymise that data and do something more with it, we would like to do that non-commercially and give it back to the appropriate people to be able to act on to keep people safer and try and prevent failure.”

Perpetual change

Mark has recently marked 20 years at STC INSISO, two years as chief executive officer. He’s been at the helm since the merger between STC Global and Insiso, which was completed in 2021, and more recently for the £2 million investment from Business Growth Fund (BGF) to support a business growth strategy focussing on the company’s ever-evolving suite of software products.

“The business itself has undergone perpetual change over the last few years, but very positive change, grown consistently year on year in terms of turnover, but also in terms of diversification,” he said. “A catalyst for the next phase of growth has been in taking external investment.

“STC Global was founded by my dad, I went away for a few years and did my own thing before I eventually joined him, and I’ve loved it. He was the first person in business I genuinely looked up to so I’m very pleased to be carrying on that journey, one that has seen us work in every corner of the world."

“We’re helping to prevent failure and to save lives which is fantastic. The variety of the work continues to challenge us in a positive way, especially as we diversify further to meet specific industry needs.”

STC INSISO’s products, which span culture, safety and solutions to improve business processes and performance, are widely trusted and used across not just the railways, but also oil, gas, construction, marine and utilities.

Its annual revenue for 2022 was £4 million and that figure is predicted to grow significantly over the next two to four years, with the BGF investment already resulting in the creation of three new product development positions, and further recruitment continuing this year. The investment has also led to the COMET software platform receiving an accelerated development plan and roll-out.

“BGF’s investment proposition was particularly attractive to us for two reasons; firstly because of their strong track record of supporting innovative Scottish businesses, and secondly because of their people who gave us immediate confidence that they were culturally aligned to our team from day one of the journey,” he said.

“Overall, the future looks very bright for STC INSISO, and particularly for COMET where we will look to keep pushing the dialogue of what’s possible in that performance improvement space. Everything we do is around risk control and assurance, whether that is developing management training programmes that are going to make better supervisors, whether it is implementing COMET to go and understand incidents, or whether it is implementing an access solution to make sure the contractors aren’t running about on sites not inducted or qualified.

“All of it comes back to being better at risk control and helping organisations assure their operations, which in turn will help them grow confidently, and if they can grow confidently that makes industries grow and makes everything better. That’s where we fit; our small piece in that jigsaw, in being the company that gives organisations that assurance and security that what they are doing is safe, productive and efficient, whether that is building their software or implementing a new process, or training their people - that is where we fit.”