Sustainability 2.0 - November 2015

Four signs your EHS&S Information System is failing you

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We recently conducted a Survey of Environmental, Health, Safety and Sustainability (EHS&S) Information Technology (IT) Enablement among 43 Canadian companies across all industry sectors to better understand how IT is being used to support the EHS&S processes. We found that over half of the surveyed companies have challenges supporting their EHS&S business processes with information technology.

Survey of Environmental, Health, Safety and Sustainability (EHS&S) Information Technology (IT) Enablement

How can you tell if your information system is adequate to support your Environmental, Health, Safety and Sustainability journey?

Here are four signs your EHS&S information system is failing you. 

1) Too much time is needed from a few people to feed the information system

If only a limited number of people are involved in collecting, entering, consolidating and transforming data, the information system is probably not aligned with the business processes. Another typical telltale sign is information being taken out of a digital system and transformed by a person and re-entered in the same or another digital system.

That situation shows a functionality gap in the information system which can usually be filled by proper software or automated integration between systems. Filling the gap usually leads to a lower risk of manipulation error, thereby increasing the quality of the information, and to faster data entry, thereby increasing the value of the information. Additionally, the wider the user base, the more resilient the information system will be in the event of adversity.

Perfect examples of time consuming tasks that can be done by software are: incident rates and reporting, greenhouse gas reporting, utility & meter data collection, and filling audits and inspection questionnaires. IT efficiency – like any efficiency – is about minimizing the input and maximizing the output.

2) Reports generated by the system are not useful

One of the main characteristics of a useful information system is the way to classify information so it can be sorted and grouped into meaningful reports. Without such a categorization system, the information is only anecdotal and does not provide strategic value. It can still support operational management, but strategic alignment is necessary to drive strategic decision-making, implement sustainable performance improvement changes and obtain budgets to achieve those changes.

For example, consider safety incidents. Without proper categorization, corrective and preventive actions can still be carried out to improve safety at the operational level. However, proper categorization of safety incidents allows a better understanding of the job hazards and drives investments to address the most significant root causes first, like purchasing personal protective equipment or enforcing safety training.

Proper categorization is a delicate balance between too much information, resulting in a longer form to complete, driving the user adoption down; and too little, resulting in a less valuable analytical capability.

A frequent categorization mistake is to collect the data at a higher level than the required level of reporting. For instance, if a mine declares emissions of 10,000 tons of CO2 equivalent, it is usually not possible to report on the greenhouse gas emissions for all diesel trucks in all mines. A proper categorization would allow for the data to be collected at the equipment level. Relating categories to each other – the diesel truck is part of a defined mine and also associated with an equipment type and a fuel type – allows for aggregation in the most suitable dimension for a given analysis.

3) Data cannot be traced to its origin

Trying to drill-down a reported metric or performance indicator to its data source is the best way to gain – or lose – confidence in an information system. To be able to interpret a report, one needs to understand what is actually reported. The best way to achieve this is to produce a similar report manually, based on the same data source.

Sometimes, this process even reveals that the source is incomplete, or that some data has been dropped, added or duplicated in the process. Even if there is no garbage going in, there can be garbage created by a faulty process. If the source data is not accessible, typically because it’s locked from exporting by the software vendor or because it’s in a non-practical paper-based or file-based format, there is a high risk that the report is compromised.

Some examples of this symptom are incident rates (Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR); Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred (DART) …), greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water usage as well as corrective action status. Without data integrity through the dataflow, reports cannot deliver the right value.

4) The information system is not reviewed periodically

The fourth and last sign of a system failure is the lack of a review process applied to the information system. In this fast-paced world, regulations are revised constantly, software evolves and stakeholder expectations shift. Management systems and business processes are updated to comply with or take competitive advantage of those changes. The information system must adapt to continuously support the organization.

The first level of the review process is ongoing monitoring, achieved by proactively tracking the regulations and requirements, keeping an eye for software updates and engaging stakeholders, including software users. The second level of the review process is the assessment, achieved by analyzing the information provided by the monitoring activity and driving changes to be applied to the information system. The highest level of the review process is continuous improvement, achieved by proactively changing the information system ahead of upcoming changes; sometimes driving change in the management system.

If your EHS&S Information System seems to be failing you – don’t despair: in our next Sustainability 2.0 newsletter, scheduled for the end of 2015, we will explore what makes a good EHS&S information system. Stay tuned.