Evaluating EHS and Quality management software vendors: 10 essential questions you need to ask

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Courtesy of Intelex Technologies Inc.

In a flooded market of software vendors, finding the right fit for your needs can be a challenging. If you are seeking a solution to address EHS, quality, or general business performance needs, finding the best product for your business is critical and can lead to significant impacts on your bottom line. As a result, it is imperative to ask the right questions, both about the prospective vendor and the products they offer.

Some questions will be relevant the day you roll out your software, and some will be relevant months or years down the line. But asking the right questions today can save you money, time and headaches in the future.

1. Is the software able to generate automated emails and notifications from all parts of the system – not just core modules?
As your company gets more familiar with your software solution, your desire to automate more processes will increase. You need a scalable solution that allows you to grow your business over time without the risk of having to switch vendors in the future, a costly process.

2. Does it allow you to configure the screen layouts and change or add new fields?
As your company grows, you may decide to alter naming conventions, dropdown options, or add additional fields. If you can’t easily configure system elements yourself, you’ll have to return to the vendor for expensive customizations. You should seek software that allows you to configure layouts and add custom fields as your business needs evolve.

3. Can dashboards and homepages be configured? Can you set up different views of the dashboards and easily email dashboard contents to others?
As you become more comfortable with the software, you’ll identify more operations, trends, activities and KPIs to track. Look for a system that allows you to configure unlimited dashboards that refresh in real-time, providing an at-a-glance view on the status of key processes. You’ll also want the capacity to email dashboards directly to other employees, or to have them automatically emailed on a pre-defined schedule to managers, directors, VPs and other stakeholders.

4. Does the system provide an application to control document revisions?
It sounds staggering, but nearly 40% of all implementations in this software industry suffer cost overruns, don’t meet deadlines, or even fail outright. In addition to getting assurance that your software deployment will be a success, it is vital to have quick and easy access to knowledgeable, friendly staff to answer your questions and address any challenges that might arise. The presence of an online community portal that connect you with others, provides resources like webinars training tools, and features a support forum.

5. How long has the prospective vendor been a player in the market?
While there are a number of credible, established businesses worthy of consideration, the EHS and quality software market is replete with startup and ‘fly-by-night’ companies. In evaluating software vendors, you need to be assured you are working with a company that is legitimate and boasts a strong presence in the market with a history of achievement. Since your chosen vendor will be handling, managing and manipulating your sensitive corporate data, you should be certain it can support a secure, reliable system.

6. Does the company have a large support staff and online community following?
If you are looking for a long-term vendor who will work with you, through all the challenges you may face, you need to know the company features a strong network of support infrastructure. Above and beyond a support line and email address, the hallmark of a business that deeply invests in the continued satisfaction of its clients is a robust online community portal that connects users with live support staff, training resources, technical documentation, and other clients. Such a resource is a testament to the vendor’s emphasis on customer service and support, and also signifies a commitment to transparency.

7. Is the company profitable and growing?
More than being an established player in this software industry, the vendor ought to be able to demonstrate both financial success and sustainability. As a client of a prospective vendor, your success in many ways will be tied to the company you choose. Find a company with a sound business model and a record of success to ensure the long-term viability of a business relationship and optimal ROI.

8. Mobility/Accessibility: Does the application support mobile devices and offer offline support in areas where you will not have cell coverage?
In this era of mobile communications, working solely from a stationary desk, at a computer is an increasingly irrelevant way of doing business. While stationary work will always be a dimension of the workplace, top-performing companies seek solutions that operate seamlessly across multiple platforms. In seeking your solution, find a vendor that provides a web-based solution that can be accessed and used on mobile devices such as smartphones and increasingly popular tablet computers.

9. Is the system able to handle multiple languages?
If you are an international business with sites spread across the globe, or if you have users that speak and read different languages, you would benefit tremendously from a resource that facilitates smooth translation of data and information across multiple languages. If this is a priority for you, look for a web-based system that allows multiple users to simultaneously access and manipulate data from different sites, in different languages, simultaneously.

10. Does the vendor have a narrow or broad focus?
Whether you are looking for a web-based system to manage your EHS, quality, or general business performance initiatives, your goals will evolve as your business grows. Any user who has had to access multiple software tools in disparate, isolated systems knows there is nothing more tedious than unintegrated, ‘siloed’ data. Since your business operates as an organic whole, no department, site or business unit is an island, and business decisions in one area will generate collateral impacts on other areas of business performance. When selecting your vendor, consider your short and long-term future needs, and consider whether a fully integrated management system might best accommodate your business goals. It will save you the time and headaches associated with managing common data across disparate systems as your business grows.

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