With many technology options available on the market today for managing Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) information, the process of selecting the right tool has become overwhelmingly complex and risky. This article describes a proven approach for achieving a successful outcome while also simplifying the process. The principles underlying this approach are based on decades of experience assisting organizations with this daunting task. Most of the technology options available are third-party software solutions, custom applications, or Microsoft-based solutions. Sometimes the right solution is a combination of more than one technology when no single application is able to meet EHS needs. In certain situations, when none of the proposed solutions can replace existing processes with a better EHS business process, the solution may be to “do nothing” and instead just improve on the current technologies. Whether the project is managed by internal staff, an outside consultant, or more commonly, a combination of the two, these concepts will assist you in identifying and implementing a solution that achieves stated objectives, is deployed on time and within budget, and increases the odds of success.
EHS Technology Triggers
There are many and varied reasons why organizations begin to consider upgrading their EHS technology. Common reasons for initiating an evaluation include the following:
- A plant expansion is planned to meet increased production demand, potentially triggering new permitting and regulatory requirements
- New applicable regulations have been promulgated, increasing the monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting burden
- Rightsizing has reduced the size of EHS staff, yet the burden of work has not decreased
- Corporate-wide initiatives have curtailed support from the information technology (IT) department for managing EHS data
- The execution of EHS business processes at different company facilities with the same processes is not standardized
- Current methodologies rely on the use of archaic spreadsheets that are understood by only a few staff members who have been working at the plant for many years
- Loss of key staff members has created a knowledge gap with respect to EHS data management methodologies
- Manual information acquisition and transfer from an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), operations, or production systems
- New corporate-wide initiatives require additional data roll-ups
If any of these scenarios exist at your facility, then your organization may be a candidate for an EHS Technology Solution.
So how do you go about the selection process in a structured way? The answer lies in following the steps explained below.
Step 1 - Assemble a Project Team
One of the most important elements of being able to clearly define the needs of the organization and drive the project from start to finish is to assemble a good project team that is comprised of staff with the ability to understand and navigate within the organization. This team's mission is to ensure successful completion of the project.
Step 2 - Assess Needs
It should not come as a surprise that identifying your needs is certainly the most important step. This typically involves a kick-off meeting with the project team to initiate the project; define the scope of work, objectives, and assumptions; assign roles and responsibilities; identify deliverables; and develop the initial project schedule. This is followed by a business requirements workshop with the key organizational stakeholders. The workshop should consist of in-depth discussions of current and desired business processes and how those processes can be enabled by the application of enhanced technology. The needs assessment process should not be limited to a few EHS professionals but instead should be comprehensive such that data management needs are addressed for each of the EHS business processes. Because these may span multiple departments and regions, department heads such as the EHS Director or Vice President must ensure participation of the key stakeholders. The project team should conduct a discovery process with each of the key stakeholders with a goal of documenting and prioritizing opportunities for improvement.
Depending on the industry, the EHS processes of interest may include those listed below.
- Assets tracking
- Permits and task requirements management
- Creation of deviation reports
- Corrective actions
- State Air Emissions Reporting (EI)
- Toxic Release Inventories (TRI)
- Wastewater sampling
- Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMR)
- Subpart C, Y, and W GHG reporting
- Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) management
- Refrigerant management
- Maintenance, startup, and shutdown (MSS) emissions quantification
- Highly Reactive Volatile Organic Compounds (HRVOC) calculations
- Rolling-average permit limit management
- Hazardous waste manifest management and container tracking
- Sustainability and KPI reporting and dashboards
- Incidents tracking
- Inspections tracking and management
- Quality processes and improvement
- Learning management
At the conclusion of the workshop, the project team should analyze and prioritize the business requirements and synthesize the information to help develop an overall vision for desired EHS processes and technology. This report must be reviewed with the stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page. The Needs Assessment Report serves as the foundational document for not only the subsequent planning tasks, but also the entire implementation project. It should be considered evolutionary and updated after each significant project phase. An external implementation partner can help in facilitating such discussions, and prioritizing (sometimes conflicting) needs and drafting the implementation plan.
Step 3 - Screen and Narrow Your Options
Commercial software solution, Microsoft solution, custom solution or some combination? Reviewing the complexity and magnitude of EHS business processes discovered in the needs assessment, understanding the true capabilities of each technology option, and being realistic about budget constraints can help answer this question for you. If the number of capabilities needed does not span multiple media such as Air, Water, Waste and disciplines such as Environmental, Safety and Quality, then Microsoft could fit the bill for what you are trying to achieve. For example, if the department struggles only with compliance tracking, then MS SharePoint can be an extremely cost-effective solution. If emission calculations for a chemical batch process or tanks are needed, then Microsoft Excel's macro, pivot table, and business intelligence (BI) functionalities can be effective. If, however, you have multiple needs for multiple locations, then robust, commercial solutions should be considered. In some cases, commercial software solutions can be as cost-effective as Microsoft when trying to address needs such as audit management or compliance calendars, or both. In some cases, a hybrid or integrated solution that connects legacy systems to new EHS data management software is appropriate.
The technology screening and shortlisting process is comprehensive and involves creating a list of potential EHS software vendors or technology options. Critical requirements are matched against the functionalities available in the various products. Higher weighting should be given to the “must haves” and lower weighting to “nice to have” functionalities to effectively compare potential solutions. The list should identify the pros and cons of each technology option relative to the key business requirements. This should then be narrowed down to the top two to three technology options.
Step 4 - Evaluate and Select Best Option
Once the list of available options has been narrowed to two or three, the project team evaluates the functionalities of those solutions and invites the software vendors to demonstrate the product to the key stakeholders. The stakeholders should use a standardized and relevant scorecard to evaluate the software during demo sessions. At the end of each demonstration, the team should facilitate an open dialog so that ideas and perspectives can be shared. As needed, the team should ask technology vendors for clarification and a better understanding of any of the key criteria listed below.
- Key functionalities needed
- Overall user experience
- Reporting capabilities and performance
- Total cost of ownership
- Delivery Model: SaaS/hosted or on-premise
- Compliance with data security guidelines from the IT department
- Number of internal and external users
- Mobile access
- Hidden costs for technology or future services
- Number of current clients, industries represented
- Years in business, historical growth and profitability
- References from current users
Step 5 - Develop Implementation Plan and Secure Project Approval
Once the final software tool(s) has been selected, an Implementation Plan is typically created for rolling out the new EHS technology solution. Although the complexity of an Implementation Plan will vary widely based on how well the EHS solution and the requirements align, in general the plan contains the scope, schedule, resources, and budget needed to implement the selected technology; it also incorporates the requirements and other key information. During this time, the contracting documents are finalized with the vendor. In some cases, a business case for investing in a technology solution will also need to be prepared. In the end, the implementation plan, technology contracts, a business case, and the supporting documentation from the selection process should be presented to help secure approval and funding for the project.
The implementation of a technology solution for EHS data can result in a small, yet impactful step change or a quantum leap from previous practices. In either case, the deployment of technology requires a significant investment in both financial and human resources. System selection is probably the most important step for getting an IT implementation off the ground. Proper planning ensures a successful implementation and can save thousands of dollars associated with unnecessary functionality, duplication of work efforts, or worse, buying another system down the line to fill unmet needs. T3 specializes in selecting and implementing EHS technology solutions, aids its clients in navigating the complex technology evaluation process and avoiding landmines by identifying true EHS needs, and then selecting and implementing the right solution.