This year displayed some notable movements across the environment, health and safety (EHS) landscape. For one, vendors in the EHS software space began to align offerings to map to new realizations, such as the fact that EHS and risk management are increasingly intertwined, just as market-leading manufacturers are realizing they need solutions that tie risk into EHS performance and product stewardship at large.
Mobility gained traction in the EHS realm, moving from a nice-to-have to a must-have feature among EHS software solutions. And vendors have responded accordingly, with most leading software providers either having the beginnings of a mobile solution rolled out, or an offering in development.
But that represents just a few of the trends that evolved in 2014 and will continue to gain traction in 2015. With that—and as we approach the New Year—let’s look at some of the key trends we expect will either manifest newly, or continue to evolve in 2015.
1. EHS and Risk will become Increasingly Synonymous
Okay, that header is a bit of an overstatement, but not by much. Risk Management will always be a critical corporate purview that is managed by the enterprise across all performance frameworks and disciplines. Risk won’t become “synonymous” per se with EHS management, but it will increasingly underlie the narrative fueling EHS motives as businesses are increasingly realizing some of the biggest risks we face as manufacturers are directly related to business continuity and quality, yes, but also EHS performance.
The 2013 Savar building collapse near Dhaka, Bangladesh and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill are two extreme cases that serve as flag bearers for an array of other negative events associated with EHS failures that result from poor risk management. In both of these cases, repeat early warnings, violations, and other concerns ought to have raised eyebrows and led to negative events being averted before the fact. But no proactive controls were implemented in either case.
EHS software vendors are also tuning into the relationship between risk and EHS. I can’t tell you how many user conferences I’ve been at or vendor briefings I’ve participated in within the past year where EHS software vendors have talked about their new or forthcoming approach to integrating business risk into EHS activities and capabilities.
I think the reasons behind this are clear, but there’s been a number of distinct approaches. In one scenario, traditional ERP vendors that have long had some risk-oriented capabilities are trying to drill down and extend risk functionalities into a new, existing, or under-improvement EHS software offering. In other cases, pure-play EHS vendors are trying to build out risk capabilities of their own. And in other situations, ERP and EHS vendors are establishing partnerships with firms that have risk management as their core competence.
Risk stands to play an increasingly important role in how we approach EHS management, and an EHS approach that doesn’t incorporate risk will increasingly become a lagging approach, doomed to fail.
2. Product Stewardship will Re-enter the EHS Conversation
As a term, “Product Stewardship” became a little blasé at some point. Once upon a time, from a consumer standpoint, it was associated with returning bottles to a store in the name of collecting deposits paid at point of sale. This assessment really downplayed the potential role of product stewardship as an end-to-end, closed-loop means of viewing everything from product design to quality management to internal/supplier EHS management to sustainability performance, and beyond.
I have had recent conversations with manufacturers that have talked about the need to improve quality management both within the four walls of their organization and across suppliers. In the same breath they’ve mentioned the need to maintain a positive brand impression with consumers, and to ensure they have exemplary EHS and sustainability performance across the value chain.
Well, it is no secret that all these aspects are intertwined, and manufacturers that once said quality and EHS performance have a tangential relationship are now realizing the two are deeply connected, especially when it comes to end-to-end product stewardship. An automotive example of this is Subaru, which touts sustainable manufacturing plants, processes and products in order to create differentiated market appeal for their vehicles. In 2015, look for more companies across many different manufacturing segments to follow this example.
Beyond this, we have seen a number of compliance items—look at conflict minerals, rules on tropical hardwood, and sustainable cotton guidelines, for example—that have context-specific requirements, of course, but are also driven by the need to be responsible for the products we produce. Product Stewardship, broadly, encompasses the form of all of these individual compliance requirements, and, approached correctly, can realize both the spirit of individual Acts and the business value that resides behind isolated compliance requirements.
In short, instead of talking about compliance requirements on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis, the conversation will (or ought to) turn towards the premise of product stewardship and designing for sustainability, right from the inception of a product’s lifecycle.
3. Mobility will become the Norm, and Offline is the New Online
In recent years conversation has been all about the cloud-and-mobile game. Manufacturers want to leverage the power of mobile devices on the field and at the plant floor, and vendors have sought to provide solutions—often on an app-by-app basis—that have the capability to achieve more real-time visibility of on-the-floor plant audits, inspections, incident records, etc.
Having assessed a lot of vendors in the space, I truly believe 2014 presented a tactical, priority-based approach to mobility, where EHS software vendors followed through on the realization they needed to have mobile solutions, but executed these solutions on an app-by-app or module-by-module basis. For example, in the interest of playing a part in the mobile game, a vendor might have invested a lot of time and resources in a mobile incident management application, intending to eventually roll out other applications (audit, investigations, CAPAs, etc.), and then figure out how all of the apps (native or not, across different mobile devices and operating systems—a tricky landscape we’ll reserve for another post) would speak to and interact with one another.
In some ways, it seems like it has been a scramble, and it will be interesting to see how vendors align and integrate mobile solutions in 2015 into one seamless whole that provides a fairly consistent user experience across mobile and traditional desktop devices, and how efficiently and accurately the fundamental data we are looking for is rolled up from multiple critical databases.
Beyond mobile, let’s talk offline. When industry first became enamoured of the possibilities provided by mobile solutions, it was certainly a romantic notion to believe some sort of uninterruptable connectivity would extend to the darkest corners of the globe. Now brutal realities are setting in. Be it a remote Congolese mine, an offshore oil rig, or a cruise ship, sometimes we just don’t have consistent connectivity, and we need solutions that adapt to that. As a result, entering 2015, it is as if EHS software vendors and manufacturers—the same that aspired to the most complete mobile and cloud solutions—are collectively realizing, ‘hey, we can’t all be connected all of the time.’ The “all” in this case is inclusive of the enterprise itself, as well as the supply base.
So, in 2014 we saw the release of a lot of new offline solutions provided by EHS vendors. Sometimes these ‘offline’ solutions involve creating, uploading, and reconciling disparate spreadsheets. In other cases, we see well-synchronized solutions that are capable of effectively reconciling offline and live data, across many different plants, sites and, ships, as it were, around the globe.
An Evolving EHS Landscape
Just as vendors are moving towards embedding risk frameworks in EHS management and improving value-chain EHS capabilities, I have seen vendors work mobile and offline capabilities into the conversation. It’s in its relative infancy right now, but will persist through 2015.
As part of the new EHS technology landscape, we also see the potential in 2015 for the use of wearable technologies to be utilized to help track human locations and physical conditions, and to become a part of the explosion of internet of things (IoT) sensing that ties into EHS software applications.
What are your thoughts on the role of EHS in 2015 and beyond? Are there any areas of opportunity or advancement you see growing in the space? Please comment below.
Categories: Environment, Health and Safety (EHS)