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Effective environmental, health, and safety (EH&S) management in the last few years has evolved into an urgent, critical business issue. As a result, EH&S departments are asked to manage to higher standards, often with fewer. Current internal processes and tools are often cumbersome and error-prone, and software built with old technology has proven to be expensive to implement, specialized for narrow purposes, and hard to use. Combined, these factors create risk for organizations.

Today’s environmental management information systems (EMIS) solution strategy should be focused on usability and user adoption, versus a laundry list of nice-to-have features. Usability drives adoption and increases EMIS system value, while lowering risk.

Modern EMIS systems leverage key technologies to increase usability, including:

Example of EMIS DashboardDynamic dashboards for immediate visualization of graphical data.
Effective EMIS dashboards should be designed for the masses. Everyday heavy and casual users, line workers, and management staff, should quickly assess critical real-time information with a few mouse-clicks. Unlike static dashboards, associative logic and in-memory analysis technologies allow users to click on a graphical panel and view related data instantly. Users can easily configure new dashboard graphics, export to Microsoft Excel®, and immediately see the “cause and effect” of a certain data set compared to older technologies that require users to manually sift through static reports of outdated data.

Advanced mobility for managing field data.
Users can create custom inspection templates in minutes with simple drag and drop technology, eliminating the cost of expensive professional services fees. With the use of a smartphone or tablet device, field users can instantly view their assignments and complete their inspections. Systems which leverage “occasionally-connected” technology allow users to collect critical data even if they are outside of a hot zone. Field users can then synchronize with the central server through WiFi or mobile phone access when back in range.

Advanced document management for better file organization, document search and retrieval.
EH&S compliance is document-intensive; therefore, EMIS platforms should embed a document management platform, such as Microsoft SharePoint®. All file types can be stored – permits, CAD drawings, photos, etc. Structured meta-data options allow users to organize how files are stored for fast search and retrieval. SharePoint 2010 also enables file searches across multiple client SharePoint databases. A powerful workflow engine allows users to route a report or document to key need-to-know individuals. Clients can then track in real-time who is reviewing a document, the status, and who has signed off.

Highly intuitive user interface for efficient system navigation.
An effective EMIS user interface should provide clean and simple screens, including a “bread crumb” trail. This tracks the users location as they navigate through the software and allows them to easily skip back to previous screens with one click. Convenient links provide short cuts for users to quickly navigate between system modules. Dynamic screens include fields that adapt as users enter information allowing users to only see fields that are relevant.

Secure integration for safe, simple, and streamlined data management.
In the emerging world of cloud-based EMIS solutions, the typical weak link is EMIS integration with various applications that provide data. The most secure and efficient web services integration platform should be installed behind the client’s firewall, creating a much more secure data environment. Integration behind the firewall creates a “pull” approach, which enables high volume data to be extracted and transformed from many heterogeneous client systems, such as StackVision or PI. A secure data aggregator can eliminate the need for a separate data aggregation system. Cloud-based data integration systems are typically implemented outside of the client’s firewall, which is less secure. This “push” approach involves more setup, is more complex for maintaining data integrity, and creates security risk as data from many sources is “pushed” through the firewall.

Standards-based foundation enables faster, lower cost configurations.
Effective EMIS solutions should leverage commonly used applications to increase stability and self-sufficiency. For example, EMIS solutions which are built on Microsoft .NET, SharePoint, SQL-based reporting services, Web Services, and standard mobile operating systems, are easier and faster to implement and easier to maintain by internal support resources. Standards-based EMIS reduces system cost and risk, while enhancing system growth and usability.