How to choose your EMS Sustainability Software Carefully

I have made a lot of mistakes over the last 20 years building and implementing Environmental Management System-level Sustainability, Environmental and OHS software solutions.

In spite of these mistakes (maybe even because of them) we have built a successful company with happy customers. A lot our learning involves avoiding four pitfalls in selecting and implementing a EMS  Sustainability software solution. Some of the pitfalls are obvious and others maybe not so much. Here is what I think really works:

KISS but don’t make up!

Keep It Simple Stupid and don’t make up things you think the software should do. It takes courage to build and implement a simple software system. When we first started building software systems in the mid-1990s, we were breaking new ground. At the time we were driven by a concern:

“what if we miss something obvious or don’t meet every single need a user might have?”

In following this thought, we ended up with software that was complex, difficult to use and inevitably, was not being kept up-to-date because users simply didn’t have the time to keep the software fed. When you are evaluating a software tool for your organization start with the basics – make sure you are clear on the top three or four critical business cases the software is being acquired to solve.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

This is an old carpentry tip; know exactly what you want to end up with before you start acquiring any kind of EMS  software. The most important first step is to create a System Design Document.

Key elements of this document should include:

  • A description of the business cases for the software
  • The out-put required – what reports do you need to generate from the software?
  • Tables showing the data fields that need to be in the software to give you the reporting you need
  • What is the application workflow (e.g. once someone completes a questionnaire, does it need to be reviewed by a manager)?
  • What other systems (if any) does the software need to draw data from or export to?

You must clearly document the Scope (what you need to track) and Functionality (what you need the application to do) of the software. A great benefit of creating the System Design Document is that it forces you to work through how you currently do things in your organization. Very often this analysis prompts you to change inefficient practices and processes that ultimately make your organization work more effectively.

Leverage what you have!

Examine your organizational assets. Are there foundational databases (accounting and HR, for example) you can draw from or feed to, that will complement and enhance what you are looking to accomplish? One cardinal rule is to avoid double entry of data or duplication of work effort. Virtually every database nowadays supports import and export of data using common formats and standards.

Connecting to your business’s core accounting system, for example, will allow you to format the data in your EMS Sustainability system in a way that keeps all your reports in sync with the company’s organizational hierarchy (always a key requirement). Also as your company grows and develops, changes in the structure of your organization will be reflected in your accounting system (for example), which will then flow seamlessly into your Sustainability application, keeping your reporting in sync.

Select Your Software Platform Carefully

Once you are clear on what you need, what you have and where you need to get to, it is time to start looking at what each of the different software vendors are offering. Essentially it breaks down to three basic types with various benefits and drawbacks.

In-house Developed EMS Sustainability Software Application

Benefits:

  • Can be highly customized to meet your exact requirements
  • Can be extended from your existing IT infrastructure
  • Do not have to compromise as you start from a blank slate

Drawbacks:

  • Takes a very long time to build (starting from a blank slate)
  • Usually very expensive to build and maintain
  • Support and training is generally challenging

Vendor Developed Software Application that You Customize and Integrate

Benefits:

  • Flexible: can be optimized from an existing vendor software platform to meet your general requirements
  • Can be integrated on to your existing IT infrastructure
  • You can review different vendor offerings and start with the best fit

Drawbacks:

  • Once you customize you move off the main development branch and your implementation can be difficult to upgrade and maintain (gets orphaned)
  • Usually expensive to build and but relatively inexpensive to maintain
  • Reliant on vendor viability for upgrades and support

EMS Sustainability Software as a Service Application

Benefits:

  • Relatively Inexpensive: Cheap and Cheerful
  • Usually the application is well thought out and easy to use
  • Often supports connections to utilities to allow import of utility data

Drawbacks:

  • Cannot be customized
  • Cannot be tightly integrated with your legacy data systems
  • Data exists as an Island

In future articles, I will look in more detail about how to develop a System Design Document and the various types of software platforms on the market. But in the meantime if you have any questions or thoughts – please let us know!

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