Creeping Featurism in Environmental Health and Safety Software

Environmental Health and Safety Software in the Biotech IndustryBioPharma EH&S Podcast Episode No. 12: Creeping Featurism in EH&S Software.

Discusses the problem with bloating environmental, health and safety software systems, and questions to ask yourself prior to making a significant investment in such a system.

These are show notes and not an exact transcript of the podcast.  To listen to the podcast click on the player below.

Hello everybody and welcome back to another Episode of the BioPharma EH&S Podcast, my name is Dean Calhoun of Affygility Solutions and this is the podcast dedicated to discussing critical environmental, health and safety issues facing the biopharma industry, helping you take your environmental, health and safety programs to the next level.

Well, it’s Saturday, March 5th, 2011 and we have so much to talk about today, so I’m going to get right into it.

As always, right at the beginning of each podcast I’d like to tell you what we’re going to discuss.   That way you can decide right from the start if there is anything that interests you, otherwise just tune in to the next episode.  In today’s podcast, we’re going to talk about the following topics.

First off, I’ll briefly cover what we talked about last time in episode number 11

Then I will cover our main topic for today, which is “Creeping Featurism in Environmental, Health and Safety software”, which I’m quite certain sure will stir up some controversy.  And finally, I’ll then discuss some of the upcoming events and happenings of importance to environmental, health and safety professionals in the BioPharma Industry.

So, let’s go ahead get started.  Last time in Episode 11 we discussed the topic of “The Evolution of EHS Compliance and Operational Risk Management Software.”  Unfortunately I don’t have time to cover all the details today, but basically we covered the history of compliance software systems and tools, and where the future of EHS software is heading.  If any of that sounds like something that might interest you, I would suggest you go back to episode number 11 and listen to the whole thing.

So without further delay, let’s now get into our main topic for today which is

“Creeping Featurism in Environmental, Health and Safety software”

As many of you know, this past week I was in San Antonio, Texas at the National Association for Environmental Management’s Management Information Systems conference.  At this conference, there were numerous presentations by companies that have recently gone or going through the process of implementing an environmental, health and safety management information system.  In general, the presentations were good and the organizers did a great job of keeping everything on track, but as with most conferences, the best part of the conference was the excellent conversations in the hallway with your peers and colleagues, and the opportunity to meet new people.  However, as I thought about the presentations more, in some respects, I would like to see a presentation style similar to the DEMO conference.  Most of you listening to this podcast probably have never heard of DEMO, but DEMO is conference that is held twice per year, where technology developers are selected to showcase their latest technologies in front of venture capitalist, the technology media, and other technology interest groups.  DEMO is a pay to present type of conference and their presentation requirements are fairly unique – there is no Powerpoint allowed, and you have to use a “live” system not an install that on a local machine, and you get a very short amount of time to show what your system does – I believe it’s six minutes.  This style of presentation places a lot of pressure on the solution providers to make sure that their systems are clean, fast, and easy to explain.  “Bloatware” will not survive this kind of presentation style.  I will put a link to the DEMO conference website in the show notes.

However, backed to the conference in San Antonio, based on the presentations of the environmental, health and safety software that I saw, I have the following observations.

  • First off, everybody seems to want a “comprehensive” systems that will do everything.  They want it to handle everything from accident reporting to industrial hygiene, from carbon footprint reporting to sustainability reporting.  But despite what the solution providers will tell you, this dream system doesn’t really exist, at least not in an off the shelf version.  Solution providers tend to be reacting to perceived customer needs and keep adding module after module.  While this may provide the impression of comprehensiveness, I might mention that with all this increased “comprehensiveness” comes a significant increase in “complexity” of user interfaces.  Based on the seven or eight systems that I saw during my two days in San Antonio, most of the user interfaces were very, very cluttered.
  • The second observation or take home point was, and as I believed as one of the speakers stated, make sure that your people understand that an environmental, health and safety management system, or EMS, is not about the software or your management information system.  In other words – an EMS is not equal to MIS.  The software is just a tool to support your EMS.
  • The third observation was, understand that “configuration” does not equal “customization”.  Much of the costs of implementing an environmental, health and safety software solution arise when the company insists that the system have certain features that are unique to their company.  If you want to keep costs down and ensure rapid implementation – get a system that is easily configurable and works “off the shelf”.   As soon as you start demanding customization, expect the costs to go up significantly and the time for implementation to get much longer.
  • And finally, the fourth observation was that these comprehensive systems are pricey.  If I recall correctly, at the closing presentation, based on a survey of its members, the typically budget for an EH&S-MIS system was somewhere between 100 thousand to 500 thousand per year.

So there you have my four observations 1) Everybody wants a comprehensive system that is off the shelf, 2) EMS is not equal to MIS, 3) configuration does not equal customization, and 4) comprehensive systems are pricey.

So if you’re considering selecting and implementing an EHS-MIS, I’d like to propose that you ask yourself several questions.

The first question you need to ask yourself is “Where’s the value?” When scoping out a system keep a laser like focus on the value rather than the features or comprehensiveness.  Make sure that you are creating something that serves a real business outcome and not creating “bloatware.” From my perspective, companies are attempting to track too many things that really don’t advance the value of the company.  And when I talk about “value” I don’t necessarily just mean economic value.  In one presentation, I believe the presenter indicated that when they scoped out the user requirements they initially came up with 24 health and safety tracking requirements, and 34 sustainability requirements.  Ask everyone “where are the value added measurements?”  Which of these measurements are critical for reducing operational risk, improving the profitability of the company, or reducing significant amounts of pollution or wastes?

Ask yourself “What is the end user really willing to do?” When scoping out user requirements for an environmental, health and safety management information system be very careful when listening to the end user.  In other words, don’t listen to what they tell you – watch what they do.  Instead of asking what they want, ask what they are they willing to spend their valuable time and money on.  The end user always, always wants ultimate flexibility. They want corporate colors and font, the ability to move the field input box from the left to the right, the ability to sort environmental, health and safety data by every possible way, draw every possible graph, and add custom fields at their leisure.  Please understand, that while all of this is very doable, it does come at a cost.  So, instead of asking about what features or requirements they want, ask them if they are willing to stay at work till 7:00 each Friday night of every week entering this data.  I’m quite certain that you will get your answer very soon.  Reducing complexity will improve data integrity.

Ask yourself “How can we reduce complexity?” Instead of always thinking about what features we should add, think about what we should remove instead of what we should add.  Don’t get sold on all those pretty graphs that only impress yourself and your team.  Instead think about flexibility.  If you want those pretty graphs does the system have the flexibility to dump the data to Excel and then you can spend your personal time at night creating the graph in the official corporate colors and fonts.

What single requirement do we need to do very well? Look at what the biggest EH&S challenge facing your company is, and fix that problem in a meaningful way.  Don’t worry about tracking the difference between potable and non-potable water usage when you’re having 60 occupational fatalities per year.  Fix the bigger issues first.

Ask, How long is the implementation? At the conference, one company indicated that they were 2 ½ years into implementation. What? To me that equals lots of time in meetings and paying a team of consultants many, many billable hours.  Consultants love this kind of stuff, because it means job security to them.

Ask, Who is on the selection and implementation team? EHS, IT, and Purchasing on the decision team – that’s a bad combination. What about operations? What about finance?

Ask, What defines success? When embarking on any software project understand that there’s risk involved – risks of cost and schedule overruns, and risk of creating a system that never get adopted by the end users.  According to the Standish group, in the United States, only 16.2% of software projects are completed on time and on budget.  In larger organizations, only 9% of software projects meet those goals.  According to the Standish group, the average cost over run is 189% of the original cost, and the average time overrun is 222% of the original time estimate.  According to their report, the 3 major factors that determined the “success” of the project was user involvement, executive management support, and clear statement of requirements.

What will our future workforce be like? Understand the future of your workforce and current trends, not the old.  The future of environmental, health and safety professionals that will be entering the workforce in the next 10 years are very different than the “decision makers” of today.  They are smart, comfortable with technology, used to rapid change, demand instant feedback, and are very mobile.  They have practically grown up with a smartphone such as a Blackberry, iPhone or Android in their hands, and are deeply involved in Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and LinkedIn.  Their needs, their demands will be very different from ours.  Figuring out ways to increase user engagement with this generation of environmental, health and safety professionals will be challenging for even the best of us.

In closing this part of the podcast, I’d like to say that EH&S software, can be beneficial to any company, but be you need to be very clear about your expectations.  In addition, always, always look to simplify processes, rather than making more comprehensive.  Otherwise, your risk of failure rises significantly.  Sometimes a simple and affordable environmental, health and safety software solution that works off the shelf is best.

O.k.  The does it for the discussion on “Creeping Featurism in Environmental, Health and Safety software. If you have any comments or feedback – I loved to hear it.  You can call our listener voicemail feedback line at 206-337-4769 and leave an audio comment.  You can also stalk us on twitter at, or follow us on Facebook by just searching for Affygility Solutions and giving us a “Like. You can also email us your comments at podcast at

Alright, let’s now talk about some upcoming events.The first event is the Society of Toxicology meeting on March 6th through 10th in Washington, DC.  Dr. Joe Nieusma, Senior Toxicologist with Affygility Solutions will be attending this event, so if you would like to meet with Joe let me know.

Next, on March 11th through 15th, I will be attending South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas.  I’ve been looking at the schedule of sessions and events that will be happening at South by Southwest and it is amazing.  This event has nothing to do with environmental, health and safety, but more to do with interactive technologies.

Then I should also mention, that coming up in April, we have several new webinars starting and you should look at our schedule at  These webinars have been very well attended and we have received a lot of positive feedback on them.  In addition to our very popular webinar on Advanced Topics in Potent Compound Safety, we also have a webinar on Dermal Exposure to Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients, Global Harmonization System, Hazardous Wastes for Hospitals, Clinics, and Medical Laboratories.  Again, if any of that interests you, I would suggest that you go to and look at our full schedule.

Finally, as I previously mentioned, I’m starting to prepare for a podcast on the Young Guns of Environmental, Health and Safety, and I need several volunteer guests.  If you’re between the age of 25 to 34, and work in the environmental, health and safety field please send me an email if you’re interested in participating.  My email address is

O.k.  That does it for this week’s show.  Remember to submit your questions to our voicemail feedback line at 206-337-4769 and stalk us on twitter at, on Facebook by searching for Affygility Solutions and giving us a “Like”, and finally on LinkedIn by searching for Affygility Solutions.

That does it for this week’s show.  We look forward to having you listen in next time.

Have a great rest of the day.


About Dean Calhoun

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Dean is the President and CEO of Affygility Solutions. Affygility Solutions provides environmental, health and safety software, potent compound safety, industrial hygiene, containment validation services to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industry. "Dean's Google+ Profile"

Affygility Solutions - provider of potent compound safety, webinars, and compliance management software