Completely Integrated Environmental Management
Environmental information management isn't what it used to be. It's no longer about software programs that manage data and write reports, but whole programs that do everything. As a wider array of companies offer environmental information management systems (EMIS), and as in-house and desktop software solutions have become more common, EMIS options become wide indeed. EH&S managers are looking for, and getting, more than software.
As much as EMIS providers have thought certain software functions could represent 'comprehensive service,' they are realizing that environmental information management doesn't happen in a vacuum, it impacts every department in the enterprise. So, the truth is that there are more and more expectations for EMIS's.
Expectations like automatic database population. Like links to purchasing and inventory systems and to regulatory agencies. Like electronic transfer to customers, vendors and regulators. Like online, real-time access to the information environmental managers need to keep their organizations running smoothly, from materials purchasing, to operations, to transportation and waste disposal. And expectations for services they don't have the desire, means or expertise to administer in-house.
The emergence of the Internet as a source for information has brought an array of its own issues to environmental management. Where once there was not enough information readily available, there is now a vast, shapeless ocean of it. EMIS providers are coming to see this challenge for the opportunity it can be, creating ways to access, filter and use data available online, as well as leveraging the technology as an avenue of communication for their programs, partners and customers.
Globalization of trade and demands of multi-national companies now require EMIS providers to address heretofore unemphasized issues of cross-border environmental regulations and language differences.
Together, these demands are forcing EMIS providers to re-invent themselves. They are reaching into new territory, trying to figure out the right directions to move their departments, and ultimately, the industry. Partnerships are being forged and combinations of service are being developed and tested. Technology is being adopted to push the envelope of information management.
We're seeing a shift in focus away from handling compliance information and towards maximizing the total efficiency of processes that protect employees and worldwide communities and make the best use of company and global resources. EMIS customers aren't looking for software programs anymore, they're paying for wide-ranging solutions to organizational needs that revolve around environmental management.
In an industry revolution parallel to that which in the manufacturing sector spawned just-in-time supply chain engineering and Enterprise Resource Planning, Environmental Management is coming to see itself as part of the greater whole, and striving to find the best way to integrate itself with everything from facility design to Federal policy-making.
Forward-thinking EMIS companies are forming partnerships with materials suppliers, chemical handlers and test labs, waste managers, environmental consultants, regulatory agencies, internet application companies and other software providers. As partnership circles and consortiums grow, EH&S departments will begin to find truly comprehensive services from a 'single-source.' They will research and purchase materials, take delivery, maintain inventory, dispose waste, ship product and accompanying documentation, evaluate processes for efficiency and submit required regulatory information, all with the support of one network of environmental service providers.
The beauty of this is that by developing data links between vendors and customers, manual intervention can all but be eliminated and necessary information can be accurately maintained and transferred among data points along the whole supply chain, to regulators and to the concerned community.
In the partnership scenario outlined in the following sidebar, you'll notice The Manufacturer's plant engineer entering his order in the beginning of this process. The Lab Analyst enters the waste stream profile, but only once. There is virtually no other manual data entry in the entire system, reducing chance for error or omission, automating important processes, and allowing environmental professionals at The Manufacturer to focus on value-adding projects instead of typing skills.
Sections or pieces of this as-yet-imaginary, all-encompassing process can be found in many current programs, and the results are improved accuracy, efficiency and cost-savings. The integration of environmental management into the business process not only saves time and money, but helps both information and output flow more smoothly and makes EH&S a competitive advantage for those exploiting the opportunities.
EMIS providers are further exploring industry-specific service development. There is significant advantage to having expertise and programs that pointedly address the needs of an industry where environmental management is important. Strategic partnerships with customers themselves can give an EMIS provider new insight into processes and ways to meet the needs of other similar companies.
For example, an EMIS provider that works closely with a research and development lab to create the ultimate system to manage lab processes, can leverage a significant advantage when selling it's software or services to other R&D facilities. This doesn't mean an EMIS developer can offer a generic system with a few customizations. A truly dedicated product, one that says 'Yes' to an R&D lab's every request, and then adds a list of benefits they didn't even know they needed, may well do the trick.
Smart EMIS providers are evaluating their own strengths and their customer lists, and developing relationships and creating products they can leverage across an industry.
Working with Regulators
Another direction of partnership-building is between regulatory agencies and companies who must comply, and extending to EMIS developers. By working with regulatory agencies, EMIS providers can help gather and manage data from organizations required to report, streamlining reporting processes for both the agency itself and those it monitors.
EMIS developers need to create data management tools that make communication efficient in both directions, and give local reporting agencies more accurate, up-to-date and useful information. By helping them to handle and distribute information better, and by setting up links or portals for those submitting, EMIS providers coincidentally create a ready-made market for themselves.
In addition, relationships with regulators can give EMIS providers access to those involved with the future direction of environmental regulation. This can ultimately lead to EMIS-provider input to regulations, and allows them to become an important conduit from the industry to the government, and a key source for important current and upcoming information to their customers.
As both the developed and developing worlds are becoming more environmentally aware and placing new and stricter demands on all organizations, the possibilities for expanding environmental services are growing as well. The opportunities are only now beginning to be explored in depth. EMIS providers who want to survive and succeed are looking hard at the direction they are leading their companies and taking steps to develop services and relationships that will meet the growing demands of their customers, and their competitors customers.
Business Processes Built on EH&S
A plant engineer at The Manufacturer logs onto his Environmental Network's web site. He searches one of the preferred Materials Vendors' catalogs for a solvent needed for a new production cycle. Finding it, he enters the pre-approved order online.
The Materials Vendor ships the product, sending advance notice electronically to The Manufacturer's EMIS (which is updated along with the purchasing and receiving system) and notifies it's affiliated Transportation Company, giving it DOT hazard information, the manifest and the MSDS. When the materials are received, inventory records are automatically updated using barcode scanner technology, and hazmat information is available at every PC in the plant via the networked EMIS. As the solvent is moved from inventory to the production line, it is tracked physically and for department costing, again through the EMIS and using the barcode.
When the solvent has been used and enters a regular waste stream, the manager logs onto his Network's site again and notifies the affiliated Waste Disposal company that a pickup of the new waste stream is required. The Waste Disposal company sends out an associated Environmental Analysis Lab chemist to evaluate the new waste stream. He gathers information from sensor equipment and/or conducts tests, then creates and enters a new profile to the EMIS which transfers it to the Waste Disposal company for future pickups from this waste stream. This profile describes handling and disposal requirements based on the components of the stream. These requirements are automatically retrieved from the EMIS' chemical reference database, and will change if regulations do. Transportation documentation is automatically prepared based on the profile. The waste is picked up, again by a preferred Transportation Company, shipped to the Waste Disposal company's incinerator, and confirmation is electronically returned to the Manufacturer's EMIS. Waste management records are updated.
The product created on this new manufacturing line is shipped out to the Manufacturer's customer, and an automatic electronic transfer of the accompanying MSDS, as well as other required documentation, is sent to the buyer and shipper.
At the end of the month, The Manufacturer receives a summary of its activity. An invoice for Environmental Services is sent directly to The Manufacturer's purchasing system.
Throughout the whole process, environmental information is maintained according to Federal, State and Local requirements, which are updated in the EMIS regularly. Required reports can be submitted electronically to the Regulatory Agency in any format they demand.