Looking for EHS Software? Take a Balanced Approach

by | Mar 9, 2018

As companies strive to improve business performance, maintain regulatory compliance, reduce risks and deliver external transparency, managing data for environmental health and safety (EHS) is key. And at the heart of data management is selecting the right EHS Management Information System (EMIS) software. But before you purchase a new cloud-based EHS solution or one that brings mobile connectivity, consider the following guidance to ensure your entire ecosystem will benefit from the new software implementation.


Assess your readiness for new EHS software

What does it take for an organization to be ready for a new EHS software system? EHS program managers often express to me how excited they are to implement a new EMIS but are dismayed to find out later the rest of their organization does not understand or value this change. That’s why it’s important that your team members and executives share the same commitment to change and play a part in the selection process. This ensures the implementation will be dramatically more successful and less costly.

Here are six questions to answer in determining if your organization is ready for a new EMIS.
1. Is management committed to changing the way they manage their data?
2. Is the organization aligned on environmental health and safety goals?
3. Is there a level of process maturity and documentation?
4. Can your organization formulate several reasons for needing a new EMIS?
5. Does the IT Department support the transition?
6. Is there organizational change management (OCM) in place?

If you answered “no” to one or more of these questions, it may be in your best interest to seek more alignment within your organization prior to moving forward with a new EMIS implementation. One of the most successful ways to develop this alignment is to create a strategic plan for the project.


Approach EMIS selection with a clear strategic plan

When you first start thinking about adopting a new EHS information management system, it may seem as though your organization’s needs are clear. However, once you start delving into the project in detail, you’ll realize there are many stakeholders who need to be involved with this decision — including upper managemen and facility workers — all of whom have differing views. To address these issues, we strongly recommend you begin the process by developing a strategic plan.

In fact, a recent survey of leading EMIS companies find they recommend a strategic plan based on the following components:

• Identify and prioritize varying stakeholder business needs.
With a strategic planning process, all key stakeholders are solicited for input and all conclusions are vetted through key stakeholders prior to finalizing the plan. Once established, many of the future project hurdles are quickly bypassed due to upfront stakeholder buy-in.

• Assess current system capabilities and identify gaps.
Conducting a needs assessment will help organize your plan on core needs as agreed upon by the organization. If the project focus drifts later from these core needs, the plan can be used to reinvigorate the focus. Additionally, the plan provides project managers and executives with a forecast of resources needed to execute an EMIS implementation. Expectations regarding resources and timelines can then be set to execute the desired solutions.

• Develop a plan, including phasing schedule and estimated costs.
While you are mapping out your timeline, make sure you leave plenty of time for the implementation training and communication process. Since many software projects succeed or fail based on the quality of the implementation, set your timelines and budgets based on your current culture.


Obtain clarity on priorities and requirements

Many organizations seeking a new EMIS often start the process by perusing vendor websites, attending webinars and talking with sales representatives. In many cases, the process continues, prematurely, with demonstrations and ultimately a software vendor selection. Unfortunately, the reality is some EHS professionals do not document exactly what they want the software to do. This step, critical to long-term success, is called “functional requirements definition.”

Some examples of requirements may be:
• The system must produce Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 300 logs.
• The system must provide escalating email notifications for overdue tasks.
• The system must provide for waste container tracking and aggregation prior to offsite shipment.

Software demonstrations that aren’t conducted with functional requirements in mind tend to focus primarily on the strengths of one specific software package and can make it difficult to do an apples-to-apples evaluation of various solutions. Taking the time to specify functional requirements is a useful exercise that will help to minimize the chance of buying something that cannot solve your organization’s long-term information management needs.


Think through implementation challenges

After you determine the most appropriate software solution for EHS management, your organization still needs to invest substantial efforts to make the solution a reality. At this point, new software owners must determine who should bring the project to fruition; the correct answer lies in the mix of available resources, budget and schedule constraints.

Here are potential options for implementation and the opportunities and challenges of each:
• Do it yourself
While software implementation can be presented as turnkey, there are significant advantages to having the detailed knowledge that comes from experienced professionals. Internal implementation often suffers in terms of schedule and quality.

• Let the software vendor implement it
Relying solely on the software vendor for implementation can cost more but come with complete customer service and installation support. However, vendor specialists typically stem from the development arm of the software company and may not be skilled on the project management techniques needed for full system-wide integration.

• Hire an implementation specialist to bridge the gap between EHS and the IT department
Third-party implementation consultants are not typically connected financially to software vendors; thus, they can remain impartial to the software tool set and focus on how best to integrate the software into the company’s system and processes. They are usually business partners who have been trained by the software companies, routinely attend their user group meetings, and contribute to the software enhancement process. Unlike software company services groups, these consultants specialize in delivering services, managing projects and providing appropriately sized project teams. Additionally, project team members are generally experienced and conversant in the functional areas being automated (e.g., they have generated the air quality report they are now automating for you).


Ideal implementation: Use a mix of internal and external resources

The optimal solution for many organizations is usually somewhere in the middle, with the exact mix of internal and external resources determined by the same three factors: resources, budget and schedule. The optimal team is a balance of internal staff, software vendor services and an implementation consultant. Ideally this team is co-led by an in-house project manager and an implementation consultant. The internal team consists of individuals who are available to provide the overall implementation team with process knowledge, data sources, peer reviews and system testing as the project progresses. Software vendor representatives provide product expertise for tasks like installation; specialized problem solving, such as altering software to meet a workflow requirement; peer review on configuration decisions, and training. The implementation consultant’s team does the balance of the work. This blended team provides the needed resources, expertise, local knowledge and project controls needed to successfully implement the software solution to obtain anticipated and eagerly awaited business benefits.

A properly and carefully implemented EHS management information system can shed light on business challenges, deliver measurable return on investments and ultimately improve the bottom line through enhanced environmental performance, greater energy efficiency and regulatory oversight. Creating a strategic plan, gaining buy-in across the enterprise and adopting a mixture of in-house, software experts and implementation consultants to lead the execution will provide the best course for long-term success in EHS management.

By Joanne Schroeder, Vice President, Arcadis

Pictured: A 170 meter deep undersea trunk sewer tunnel system for collecting and transferring the primary treated sewage away from the urban areas, designed by Arcadis.

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