“In God we trust; All others must bring data”

By Vickie Mecsey
Manager of Global Environmental Programs, General Motors Co.

A quick poll –

  • How many requests have you received about chemical use in your supply chain over the past year?
  • How many data systems does your company use to track chemical use, from purchasing through disposal?

If you answered “a lot” to either of the above, you’re not alone. Data management is a hot topic for EHS professionals and I bet most have heard the above mantra from W. Edwards Deming.

From my vantage point in the Energy and Environment department at General Motors Co., I’ve certainly seen the good, the bad and the ugly in data management.  We’ve been working on our data management strategy for 12 years now to move toward operating in a proactive  rather than reactive mode, to improve the efficiency of our  risk assessment process and to prepare for compliance each time a new regulation comes out.

Collecting data is very different from managing it and I’ve seen how a thoughtfully implemented and proactively maintained data management strategy can serve a department well when the appropriate level of planning and due diligence is applied.

What did we learn?

  • There are no data fairies: Before embarking on any kind of data management strategy, it’s important not to underestimate the necessary time, manpower and leadership buy-in required to carry it out.
  • Recruit your allies: We began our data management effort around the same time we introduced chemical management service (CMS) programs into our facilities. The service providers were a critical component to the overall success of the strategy. Using a standardized process that defined the format and content, we began receiving automated inputs from CMS providers who were already tracking and consolidating chemical purchasing, use and process related information.

The most important lesson we learned, though, was to find the point of diminishing returns (i.e. When is the next piece of data no longer adding value?) – and that this is different for every business.

Anyone else have a lesson to share?


About Vickie Mecsey

Vickie Mecsey is the Manager of Global Environmental Programs at General Motors Co. She will be speaking about GM’s innovative chemical and resource management programs at the annual Chemical Management Services (CMS) Workshop on Oct. 12, 2010, co-located with NAEM's EHS Management Forum in Indianapolis. For more details or to register, visit:http://chemicalstrategies.org/workevents_conf10.html.

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