Thoughts and musings from the 2015 NAEM EHS and Sustainability Software Conference

Just finished up a nice couple of days last week in Tampa, Florida at the National Association for Environmental Management (NAEM) EHS and Sustainability Software conference. The event was held at the Westin Hotel, Harbour Island which was a fantastic location, and considering the horrific weather that my colleagues have been experiencing in the northeast, I’m sure the warmer weather was a welcomed sight. This has been at least my fourth such event, and as always, the NAEM staff had a well-run event with no hiccups. The general format of the conference over the course of two-days was an opening talk/keynote each morning, then a series of “demos” throughout the day. There was a pre-conference workshop the day before the main EHS software conference, but I was unable to attend.

The demos were performed by actual customers of the systems and repeated at least once during the day. So, if you planned it right, you could catch a glimpse of the EHS software systems you wanted to see.

Overall Thoughts and Musings

Based on the sessions that I attended, here’s my thoughts and musings:

  • During the official welcome and introductions, NAEM Program Director, Mike Mahanna encourage attendees to use Twitter during the event. However, post-conference analysis of the Twitter #NAEMSoftware stream revealed 18 tweets using this hashtag, with myself (@affygility) being half of them. This clearly needs to change and every vendor should have been using Twitter to drive traffic to their booth. Take a suggestion from the tech conferences, assign #hashtags to each session and have it on the opening slide for the session. It’s a way for the presenters to collect feedback on the specific session.
  • If you’re going to call them “demos” then do real demos. Many of the sessions were the presenters talking about their company and the process that they went through to get their EHS software up and running. Then once it came down to the actual software demo, in many cases, they were screenshots embedded within PowerPoint slides. Unfortunately, when demos are run this way, it’s difficult to tell how efficiently the user-interface (UI) works and the speed of the system (a well-designed system should work in the worst of bandwidth conditions). In addition, in some cases, it’s apparent that it’s a staged presentation and they are showing the “best” looking UIs. If possible they should follow the format of the “Demo organization.” Live software with real internet connectivity and no PowerPoint, just demo. Forget the introductory slides with telling everyone how many facilities, employees, etc. that you have in your organization. You can verbally tell us that information, but we don’t need 10 minutes of it.
  • This is largely a competitive intelligence event. The majority of the attendees are EHS software providers and consultants checking out their competitors applications. No pretense on my part, that’s exactly why I attended the EHS software event. Yes, there are some actual potential customers, but they are few and far between and are typically ones that are unhappy with their current system.
  • The twisty folder interface seems to be persistent. Maybe this is a leftover from the days of Lotus Notes or the familiarity with Microsoft Outlook folders, but this UI is getting stale. In addition, with the importance of mobile usage growing and growing, this is not going to work in the long-term. Let’s get rid of that UI and think of something different.
  • There’s a real dichotomy out there in that EHS leadership keeps demanding an one-stop shop “enterprise” system where all EHS data is gathered, with totally customizable reporting, that mimics their current form system. And, by the way, it has to be intuitive, easy to use, and mobile.  Sorry people, that’s an impossible set of requirements, and you’re smoking weed if you think it’s going to happen.
  • There continues to be a discussions on mobile, but in the sessions that I attendee it’s quite clear that few vendors understand the unique UI/UX requirements of mobile. Take a look at well designed consumer apps like Foursquare, Instagram, EpicMix, and SnapChat. BTW – you can follow me on SnapChat @affygility
  • Based on the sessions I saw, and the event I attended two years ago, there is really nothing disruptive coming down the pipe. More of the same, same old stuff, with no integration with the Internet of Things technologies, no talk of gamification to drive user engagement, and still a heavy reliance on time-consuming, manual data entry. EHS software vendors need to start thinking differently about the future.

Overall thoughts – well organized event, great location, but the EHS software industry is struggling to find something new to talk about. Tweet me your thoughts @affygility or visit our site at


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"

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