EHS MIS Selection: People, Process…and then Technology

Joanne Schroeder

So you know you need an EHS MIS, but the question you’re probably asking yourself is, “Where do I start”?

Whether you need a system to collect and report sustainability metrics, capture incidents, or facilitate compliance, the process of identifying the right tools is complex yet similar in nature.  What we’ve noticed time and time again is that many EHS professionals often begin the process by focusing on the technology. This means perusing vendor websites, attending webinars etc. and, before long, find themselves receiving calls from software sales representatives. The momentum this process creates continues to sales demonstrations and ultimately a vendor selection.

Unfortunately, this scenario often occurs without EHS professionals ever  having documented exactly how their team operates and what they want this software to do.

What I’d like to emphasize in this conversation is that many of our top recommendations on where to start, ultimately relate back to the “people, process, technology” triangle.  The people, process, technology triangle underscores the importance of looking beyond technology as the sole (or even primary) factor in facilitating change.  Software is an enabling tool.  Sometimes we select software to embrace embedded best practices.  But often we don’t.  Sometimes we select software based on a prioritized “best-fit” with defined requirements. But sometimes we don’t.  Clearly developing a prioritized list of defined requirements with stated and measurable objectives are critical first steps to selecting the “best” technology for your company.  However, beyond technology, the people and process considerations are of equal importance.

Unless your company culture is “command and control” (which is usually not the case in today’s world) it is essential that company staff are emotionally bought in and invested in the technology solution. Opposed staff can quickly derail even the best of technology solutions.  Including a wide array of staff in specifying requirements, listening to and documenting wants and needs, polling and gathering general input, is absolutely critical to a successful rollout.

From a process standpoint, technology can enable EHS workflow if, and only if, these work flows have been established, understood and at least minimallydocumented.  If not, you will find yourself with no other choices than to embrace the workflow enabled by the software.  While this solution may work some of the time, it won’t work if you have not consciously made this choice and are just being dragged along.

For those of you who have been through the EHS MIS selection process, what is your advice for how to begin this internal dialogue? How much time did you set aside for the planning process?

 

About Joanne Schroeder

Joanne Schroeder is a founding partner of E2 ManageTech, where she is responsible for project management, system solution design, systems implementation, quality control and business development. She will be sharing her advice on the “Top 10 Things to Consider when Selecting an EHS MIS” during NAEM’s webinar on the topic April 18. E2Manage Tech is a member of NAEM’s Affiliates Council.

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3 Comments
  1. Rick Lebherz

    April 2, 2012

    Joanne,

    Thanks for sharing. I agree with much of what you have to say, and in selling these EHS and Sustainability software solutions, I agree that many times companies do not have a thorough understanding of their requirements and the operations workflow requirements that support the various programs. This can be a time consuming process, but really understanding this area is a key to successfully implementing a system.

    While I agree that sometime people don’t do enough preparation and internal analysis, one area that may have been to overlooked is to understand the underlying flexibility in a system and its ability to map to your processes or create custom processes and workflows. That is to say a system can still be selected if you don’t understanding exactly 100% of every area you need but you have enough understanding and confidence that the system you have selected is flexible enough to handle a wide range of needs and requirements. Is this ideal? No, you’d like to know that 100% of everything we need is handled in this way by XYZ. The reality of some situations is that isnt possible for a wide range of reasons.

    I also think that feedback from your team members or “people; is important. Clearly you want to find a system that is easy to use and will help make their lives easier. However, I think this can be a double edged sword. Many times I have seen these conversations sidetrack an entire evaluation because there are too many cooks in the kitchen and no one can agree on what the main area of focus should be. I think these conversations are very important, and I think they should be had prior to the begin of software evaluations. But at the end of the day, while these will be the users of a system, the responsibility and decision lies with the people at the top. If you try to do too much because you have tried to listen to everyone about everything, and your focus has been lost, and the system fails, that burden comes back to the person that made the decisions whether it was all based on his/her own thoughts or the greater team on the whole.

    One suggestion is to stay focused in evaluations. Depending on who you are as a company, and realistically where you are in the EMIS, this can mean different things.

    If you are using paper binders and whiteboard making your jump into a electronic system, maybe select a few specific areas to manage and test out before jumping head first in a system. You should have an idea of all the areas you will need to deal with down the line, and you should make sure your potential vendor will be able to handle those, but you don’t need to roll everything out at once. this can be time and money consuming process, that might be the greatest thing in the world, but if you are crawling, and now sprinting there will be an adjustment period. Test out the ‘people’ and ‘process’ aspects on a smaller scale, and you can scale out later on once that adjustment has been realized.

    If you are already on an EMIS program, but looking to improve on it or add specific areas, the start focused in one area approach might not work as well for you. But you have an advantage because you have already been through this adjustment (and it might actually be the reason you are looking at other options now). For these people, really try to get a more detailed breakdown of the process requirements, challenges you and others have had with the current system, reporting requirements (reports you want but can’t find, who needs what data, how is rolled up, what voluntary information can we manage), Field access to data, document management, integration abilities, how fast can it be rolled out…etc.

    I would also throw in a plug for cloud computing (aka SaaS or Web-based) applications. These can speed up implementation times, reduce total cost of ownership, help allow for more predictable budget allotments, can scale and grow as needed, and traditionally have different modules to meet a range requirements that you can bite into all at once or add on over time. you can also traditionally trial or pilot these applications for a period of time to help mitigate some of the risk and ‘know’ what it will be like for you.

    As you can see there is a lot to this, and while I can keep going; I will stop and agree with Joanne basically saying be prepared and do your homework. Understand not just the checkboxes of requirements you have to manage or your specific need and reports but the people above and below you as well. Figure out who else in the company uses this information. Look into where the information and data you use come from. And at the end of the day, it is not a quick and easy process to evaluate, but the work you put in will be worth the results you get out.

  2. Michael Haro

    April 13, 2012

    Joanne,

    Enjoyed your article. Software and procedures don’t make EHS systems work, training and self-discipline do.

    • Rick Lebherz

      April 13, 2012

      Michael,

      While training is essential and self disicpline is great,EHS systems help remove the individual human error variables and allow the process to be automated with reminders, escalations, notifications, and the like to allow companies to know what is going on and ensure that everything is being handled as required and within the required time frames. Having the self discipline to handle that all via without a tool is fine, but why not have a program to help ensure and verify that as well and actually make the end users lives easier and not having to rely on their internal knowledge as much?

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