How to find and buy great EHS software (download in PDF format)
Environmental, health and safety (EHS) management systems are complex creatures. Each organisation is slightly different, with different requirements depending on the industry, location and size. This can make designing software for EHS personnel difficult. One option is to offer customized software packages, but that option is often costly and difficult to maintain over time. After five years of working on software for professionals in North America and around the world, we wanted to share some lessons learned.
Henry Ford once said, “If you need a machine and don’t buy it, then you will ultimately find that you have paid for it and don’t have it.” One hundred years later, this statements holds true and perhaps applies even more so to our modern machines – software.
A short version of this post can be found in a talk on purchasing EHS software packages as that I delivered at the 2012 Auditing Roundtable Conference in Baltimore, USA. Slides can be found here:
The value of great software
Too many companies assume that their staff can continue to manage the multitude of compliance information being thrown to them from the information age, without the aid of software-based legal compliance tools. While these companies wait, their risks pile up. With the right tools, an employee can often accomplish their work more efficiently. From cars replacing horses, to excavators replacing teams of shovelers – machines have the ability to take production to an entirely new level of efficiency. In the 21st century, smart software has become the most effective tool to dramatically improve production and reduce errors. Great software helps an organization avoid mistakes and free resources to further improve production of your core service or product.
Of course, purchasing the wrong software can be equally damaging to your bottom line. Time spent on technical support, training on complex and unfriendly systems can eat away any gains you were hoping to make. That is why it is essential to understand what makes a good piece of software great and what makes some, very, very, bad.
Keys to purchasing the right software
When you purchase a new machine, you ensure the decision makers are both the people who will use the machine and the managers who need the output of the machine to match their business expectations. If we could boil down our tips to just three take-aways, it would be this as follows:
- Test before you buy;
- Ensure the testers are the actual users; and
- Consider modifying your workflow to meet an existing software package.
Testing software is absolutely essential to knowing if it is the right fit. The only way to know if a piece of software is right for your organization is to set-up real users, input real data and take it for a spin. While this exercise can seem time consuming and expensive, the potential cost of jumping onto a bad piece of software is significantly higher. Corporations tend to stick with a piece of software for at least five years. If you quickly calculate the hours potentially saved or lost due to a poor purchasing decision, it is clear that fourty hours of testing and trials will pay huge dividends over time. Put simply, imagine yourself buying your car without test driving it.
Too often, software is purchased by top level managers and the actual users are not consulted. The purchasing parameters for a manager are very different from a user. Beyond the sheer frustration of being forced to use a piece of software you hate, the costs involved in using poor software greatly outweigh the cost benefits that a top level manager might see on paper. Many software packages sold to companies tout a long list of features that managers think they need, but in reality don’t. Far too little attention is spent evaluating the ease of use and friendliness of the tool.
Find the real testers
To ensure your testing is done properly, a key initial step is to identify and describe the way you and your colleagues will use a piece of software to improve their daily work. Once that is clearly defined, ask each of them for their input on the most time consuming portion of their daily work for environment, health and safety compliance.
Many software advertisements, such as this one by Intelex target top level managers who think they need X, Y, Z, without consulting their staff first. You will notice that the ad shows nearly nothing of the software, how it looks, or how it is used – it is all conceptual. In contrast, when you walk into an Apple Store, the first thing you will notice is the ease of access to the products, you can see, touch and play with them. A typical Apple ad, like this one, shows real people using the software in the real world. Any software maker worth their shirt should be comfortable letting you play with the software, if they want you to jump through hoops, do webinars, and provide all of your contact details for a demo account, run away!
For example, on your smartphone, there are hundreds of thousands of potential applications you could download. Yet, I will venture to guess that even if you downloaded many apps when you first bought the device, you only use 3 – 5 of them on a daily basis – Mail, Weather, News and a couple more. Ultimately, you use the apps that reflect your interests and your daily habits. You should pick your environmental, health and safety software the same way, find a software package that fits your current workflow, but that simply makes your workday more efficient.
Many organizations are tempted to build their own solutions, because they think they have special needs. I would warn all of them that customizing software costs a great deal and this is especially true if you are not already an expert at it. The costs of building a software package and then maintaining it can quickly spiral out of control. That is how many software service companies have produced so many billionaires! Modifying software is very similar to house renovations, you always expect them to be cheaper than you think and they are always harder than expected.
Change your habits
The simplest way to save money on software packages is to be willing to modify your workflow a little bit to fit the workflow of an existing software package. Ideally, you want to find a software package that is already being used by industry leaders (not laggards) and adapt your way of working to it. The iPhone has been particularly successful because it forces an interface and system onto you, you can barely change anything on the iPhone, but that allows Apple to ensure it spends all of its time on making the product world class. If Apple were trying to make everyone happy you would likely end up with a bloated product that makes no one happy.
For example, at Nimonik we get a lot of user requests to change or add certain features. Our typical response is that we will consider it, but in reality we wait for at least 5 – 6 companies to request something before we build it. As someone once said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. All great products choose a portion of the community they want to please and develop a great tool for them. On the client side, the fastest way to improved efficiency and cost savings is to be flexible and slightly change the way you manage environment, health and safety compliance to match a great tool. I promise, this will be far more cost effective than trying to modify or build your own solution.
Picking a piece of software is as hard as buying a house or a car. You want to get it right and the wrong decision can cost a lot of time, money and sweat. Before you jump on board with any new product, be sure to research the products most common users, define the people at your organization who will be impacted and then take it for a spin. If all of that works well and you can clearly see the business case, take the plunge and give it a try for a full year, with an option to change after that.
Hopefully, these points will help guide your next EHS software purchase. Feel free to send him questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathan from Nimonik will be conducting a free seminar on using your iPad to conduct audits, inspections and ensuring conformance in Calgary on December 10th at 8AM. If you are interested in attending this free seminar and learning how to improve audit efficiency, send him an email at email@example.com
Starting this Thursday, you can easily customize your audit and inspection reports on EHS Audit. You can now select the sections and parts of the audit report you would like to keep, charts, scores, tables and more!
Take a look at your audits and generate your own customized reports.
Next up, subscribers will soon be able to add corporate logos to audit reports (January 2013)!
Just last month we announced our plans to improve our compliance tools that help organizations audit on iPads and monitor legislation and standards for important changes. Here is a short update on our progress! Prefer a video update? Take a look at our new video overview here or on Youtube here.
Today, Nimonik is thrilled to announce a new version of EHS Audit Mobile for iPad and iPhone. This new version has a new rebuilt synchronization system for large complex regulatory audits and for teams of inspectors. Each audit question can now contain multiple photos and multiple audio recordings, auditors can annotate each photo, give weights and scores to each question and then send beautiful reports to your colleagues.
The app is free and you can download it here.
On the EHS Audit website, you will soon be able to conduct comparative analysis of your facilities, audits and corrective actions with new reporting tools to be launched in December. Also, with our new weighted audit questions feature and numerical statuses, you can calculate scores and create metrics for your compliance efforts!
Need to conduct international EHS legal compliance audits? Nimonik has you covered in Canada, the United States, the UK and more countries. Contact us about our legal compliance audit protocols, we would be happy to help you stay compliant.
Please give us a call at 1-888-608-7511 to set-up a personal demonstration.
P.S. Want a free iPad mini? Learn more here.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1-888-608-7511
After a few requests from our friends in the automotive industry, we are happy to release some free audit templates to conduct inspections for VDA 6.3, the German Automotive Quality Standard that is used around the world to ensure high quality automotive construction. We hope you find these checklists useful and if you have specific needs for audit templates or checklists we do not currently have, please contact us and we would be thrilled to help! Of course, these items are all available on the iPad and iPhone with EHS Audit Mobile, available free in the App store!
We are happy to introduce a new feature to Audits on EHS Audit and EHS Audit Mobile: Scoring. For each question in your audit or inspection, you can now assign a weight and obtain a score. The weight can be any numerical value and can be set on the website and in your Company Templates, by default the weight is set to 100 for all audit questions.
The scores are then calculated by multiplying the weight with the value of the status. The value of the statuses are as follows:
- Un-Audited (Blue) = 0 %
- Non-Conforming (Red) = 0%
- Warning (Yellow) = 50%
- Conforming (Green) = 100%
- Not Applicable (Gray) = Not counted
The scores are calculated per grouping, per audit and per facility. As we deploy scoring across the site, you will see scores appear in various places and we hope these easy to understand percentages will help your team improve performance across your locations. At Nimonik, we believe one simple score in a percentage form will help you identify problematic audits and facilities and implement plans to improve compliance for safety, quality, health and environmental issues.
Why does Un-Audited = 0?
Our aim with the scores is for our clients to complete their audits. We wanted to encourage users of EHS Audit to remove questions that were not relevant for an audit and mark all questions with an actual status, demonstrating they went through all the items on the list.
We are thrilled to offer a few new checklists and inspection forms for Ontario Environmental and Safety issues. These usable checklists work with EHS Audit Mobile for iPad and iPhone and on the EHS Audit Website. Enjoy!
- Checklist for Farm Storage of Liquid Fertilizers in Ontario
- Doing a Circle Check on your Truck
- MSD Hazards Checklist in Ontario
- Sewage Self Assessment Checklist for Private Commercial and Industrial Systems
- Ontario Business Pandemic Preparedness Checklist
- Screening Criteria Checklist for the Ontario Environmental Screening Process
- Fuel Dispensing Facilities Switching to Ethanol-Blended Gasoline in Ontario
- Ontario Ministry of Environment Waste Management Screening Checklist
- MOE Operation Requirements for Eligible Printing Facilities
Nimonik is growing the EHS Tracker database with more Alberta laws, regulations, rules and compliance templates. Last year, significant changes were announced for Alberta’s regulation of energy developments. The Responsible Energy Development Act (SA2012,cR-17.3) (“the Act”) was introduced by Alison Redford’s government and promptly received royal assent. If all goes to plan, the Act is expected to come into full force by years’ end. The main intent of this Act is to simplify the approval process for oil, natural gas, oil sands and coal projects. It also replaces the Energy Resources Conservation Act. In doing so, it will merge the regulatory functions previously administered by the (now de-funct) Energy Resources Conservation Board and some functions of the Alberta Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and Alberta Energy into one single regulating agency: the Alberta Energy Regulator: (AER).
The objective of the AER is to provide regulatory oversight of Alberta’s energy development projects. Once fully developed, it will be involved in an energy operation’s full cycle of events: from application of authorization to development and eventual decommissioning. You can read more about the application process here. The AER is already responsible for the administration of laws, such as: the Oil Sands Conservation Act (RSA2000,cO-7), the Oil and Gas Conservation Act (RSA2000,cO-6). As well as administering a variety of regulations, including the Pipeline Regulation (Alta.Reg.91/2005) and the Oil Sands Conservation Regulation (Alta.Reg.76/1988). When the remaining parts of the Responsible Energy Development Act come into force, certain elements of the following Acts will also be administered by the AER, the: Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (RSA2000,cE-12), Water Act (RSA2000,cW-3) and the Public Lands Act (RSA2000,cP-40).
So what’s new at EHS Tracker and EHS Audit?
EHS Tracker already hosts and tracks changes to a variety of environment, health & safety legislation to help companies to stay compliant. What’s new is that we are tracking many new Alberta Energy Regulator Directives (“the Directives”). The AER Directives, over 80 and counting, are documents that describe how the AER requirements are to be implemented. They can additionally serve as guidelines for operations. The AER states “all licensees, permittees, and other approval holders under the jurisdiction of the AER are required to obey all directives” ( [accessed October 24, 2013]. You can view the Directives, hosted on EHS Tracker, here.
Having access and tracking changes to Directives are the first step, but operations need to understand how the Directives apply to their operations. Luckily, Nimonik and our partner Conformance Check, can help with that: we host audit templates, specifically for the petroleum sector. These guide users through a variety useful AER Directives, noting all relevant actions to be taken to ensure compliance. To view these templates, go to EHS Audit and search for “Petroleum”.
The AER is in its’ infancy and is yet to be fully developed and operational. At the same time, national and international pressure is mounting for changes to Alberta’s environment, health and safety regulatory landscape. Oil and gas operators are especially advised to stay vigilant of their evolving obligations.