By: Bob Pickert
COVID-19 has accelerated trends already in motion. One of those trends is moving environmental, health, and safety (EH&S) programs and related data to the cloud so it can be shared with a larger team and is accessible whenever and wherever needed. For some EH&S managers, the imperative to move EH&S programs to the cloud has arrived.
EH&S Managers must design and implement EH&S management systems – those processes and tools to establish and achieve the organization’s EH&S objectives – so they bring value to the organization. Leveraging digital management systems allows the sharing of information across the organization to reduce costs and risks, improve safety and productivity, and manage compliance. The COVID-19 experience highlights the importance of technology to share and access information, communicate, and streamline and improve EH&S processes. This moment presents opportunities to leverage technology to streamline EH&S processes and enhance your digital management systems for:
- Document and records management
- Permit and regulatory compliance / task management
- Compliance calendar
- Incident management
- Inspection and audit management
- Training and learning management
- Safety tools such as job hazard analyses, lockout / tagout energy control procedures, and safety observations
- Environmental monitoring and remediation data
- EH&S performance metrics, data analytics, and dashboarding
- Work flows to orchestrate, coordinate, and integrate these tools across the organization
There are a number of ways to move EH&S programs to the cloud, from highly-configurable platforms like Microsoft Office 365 and Google’s G Suite to niche software for specific applications like CR360, Brady, and HuComply; and more powerful and integrated enterprise solutions like Gensuite, Enablon, ProcessMAP, and Intelex. Regardless of which path you ultimately take, organizations should follow a disciplined process perhaps best summarized as “measure twice, cut once”.
Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint, and PowerApps provide a surprising capacity to serve as a central platform for an EH&S intranet site. SharePoint was released in 2002 as a document management system, but has evolved over the years to serve as a platform for connecting corporate offices to multiple facilities, field operations, and remote data collection points. SharePoint sites provide a single infrastructure for collaborative intranet and extranet sites that is highly configurable to the specific needs of an organization. The simplicity of these tools is based on the use of Excel, Word, and PDF forms to collect operational data and store it in relational SharePoint lists that allow the collection, control, analysis, and reporting of business data to be shared among team members. Mobile apps can be built seamlessly on PowerApps or on third-party form builder apps (e.g., Nintex Forms, K2) and mobile app form builders (e.g., FastField, Field iD, and Formotus) to allow data collection in the field and remote locations. SharePoint can interface with many other programs to allow importing and exporting of data, and reports enhanced by data analytics.
Intranet sites and applications using Office 365 and SharePoint do not require any computer coding, but do require some training and experience in using SharePoint, especially for more advanced functionality such as creating and integrating workflows. Organizations often need help developing EH&S SharePoint sites, especially those requiring greater functionality and integration. Internal resources can be supplemented with the use of experienced consultants, specialty firms, or some combination thereof. Many specialty firms that offer SharePoint site development do not provide ongoing site administrative support. The Microsoft Office suite of tools provides graphical user menus that have become intuitive for many, but the tools are constantly evolving and require administration. Many organizations find some combination of in-house resources and consulting services for hosting, routine administration, maintaining, and updating EH&S intranet sites provide the resources needed for successful projects. A SharePoint-based EH&S intranet site can be attractive for organizations that are already on Office 365, since it requires little in additional licensing fees and other costs. Still, Microsoft Office 365 and SharePoint have their detractors, and many organizations prefer custom software applications or require more powerful and integrated tools.
More powerful enterprise-wide solutions are available from a variety of vendors. These programs offer great functionality with integrated workflows. That functionality comes at a cost in the form of initial and ongoing annual licensing fees based on the number of functional modules selected, and the number of facilities and users that connect to the system. Many organizations start with a few foundational modules like permit and compliance task management, compliance calendars, compliance verification and audits, and incident reporting and management that they can build on over time. A lot of thought has gone into the development of these systems, and most offer a high degree of workflow and integration with shared data between modules. They have been tested by users over time; however, it is often the case that the organization and their EH&S budget conforms to the software rather than the other way around.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
The variety of choices for taking EH&S programs to the cloud can be overwhelming, and finding the time to evaluate and implement digital management system improvements can be challenging. It is critical that organizations get buy-in from internal stakeholders, such as Human Resources, Information Technology, Production and Operations, Legal, and executive management. Not involving critical stakeholders or taking the wrong path can be counterproductive and costly. Having an experienced navigator to help define data management needs, map processes and improvements, assess options, select and design solutions, and host, deploy, implement, and maintain your digital management systems can make all the difference.
Need help? Reach out to one of the compliance specialists at EHS Support through Bob Pickert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 321-543-4414.