Turn EHS Data into a Competitive Advantage: Q&A with Pat Taylor-Woodyard at CH2M
Q: We kicked off our panel at SPF Americas with a discussion of corporate stress. From the CH2M perspective, what stressors most affect your clients?
Our clients are faced with changing internal structures and business priorities; competing business requirements and financial needs; too much data for data’s sake, and not enough aimed at helping with decision-making; and less access to experienced talent, with retirements and downsizing causing a brain drain. The do-more-for-less syndrome for some industries has shifted to do-a-lot-more-with-a-lot-less. Consequently, your hands are tied behind your back.
Getting leadership to make investment decisions under the realm of risk management is difficult when day-to-day operational investment priorities take precedence. As a result, we often see clients without organized and accessible information for decision-making purposes.
Q: As much as managers know they should focus on the future, the sheer volume of data makes it difficult. What kind of support can companies use with this process?
Clients often have sufficient data but not necessarily the knowledge and experience to make it actionable. Sometimes they make decisions based on irrelevant or inadequate data. One example is when clients identify a checklist item that is missing, but then miss the big-ticket risk items. Or, they focus on high-frequency/low-risk items versus less frequent high-risk items. In such cases, we recommend ranking and categorizing risks to ensure identifying the ones that have the biggest impact on business viability and resilience. With the volume of data at companies today, we are working with them to automate many parts of their processes and leverage analytics using software and instrumentation.
Q: In our panel you used the metaphor: ‘Go where the puck is going, not where it is.’ How can companies manage the pace of change?
Companies can become more strategic by discerning the risk level and creating a framework, governance and operating model aligned to the variability of risk levels and types, thus enabling the organization to execute.
Keeping up with changes proactively is critical, rather than sitting on the sidelines and reacting. In an Information Management setting, this translates to focusing the right level of resources on the right level of risk. When you have finite resources you can make decisions on what level of resources you need based on the risk.
Q: You emphasized root cause analysis and scenario planning for strategic decision-making. Can you elaborate on these methods?
In the H&S world, near misses can lead to significant improvements when you see bad things happen in another industry, and you apply the root cause knowledge back into your own business and adjust proactively. An example of this is the Gulf Oil Spill Root Cause Analysis from BP, which was shared with other Oil and Gas companies and some of them adjusted accordingly. Looking at what happened to others helps guide you.
Doing scenario planning also helps you adapt to change more quickly. For example, when you do emergency response plans, you can see how valuable scenario planning is. When an emergency happens, everyone knows what to do and the plan has already been thought through.
Q: Moving into technology for resilience, how do companies use EHS systems to mitigate risk and increase performance?
Companies are using EHS Systems to mitigate risks by collecting data to better quantify risks and understand the types and levels of risk that exist. By having this data, clients can determine patterns, predict future outcomes, and plan solutions to mitigate risk. Clients are also using EHS Systems to uncover patterns of performance – analytics or evidence-based decision-making—and what’s working well. This provides a guide for decision-makers to tap into the root causes of performance weaknesses and successes. The value consists of looking at the successes to find best practices and then translating those to the weak performance areas.
We have found that clients these days need operational agility. Companies are leaning toward technology, tools and solutions that are readily adaptable to make adjustments as a result of changing business needs, without needing to redesign or re-implement tools for each change.
Q: What types of tools are gaining interest by CH2M’s clients?
One tool that is gaining interest by clients is a scorecard with both leading indicators and progress on action plans, which enables them to track execution and results and to pro-actively identify emerging risks. You can use dashboards as visual tools that help you focus on the highest risks or most important elements. The dashboards can then be adjusted to reflect evolving priorities without having to re-collect the data, since only the mapping, rules and configurations would change.
Q: Are you seeing any flaws in clients’ thinking related to tool selection?
Thinking thoroughly during the “needs assessment” phase early, before selecting a specific tool that the company will use for the next 3+ years, is important. It creates alignment within the company and helps determine the type of technology needed for the business. It is also important to understand the needs of the various internal stakeholders who expect value from the tool, and then work internally to align the needs with the budget constraints to help select the tool that can meet the needs within the budget limitations.
We often coach clients to shift their thinking from their current needs to where the organization may be going in the future. Considering future needs allows the client to think strategically, allowing them to enable the agility needed for future business changes; and it leads to the selection of a tool that brings greater agility and better preparedness to change.
Q: What does it take to turn the information management system into an integrated platform capable of translating compliance activities into better performance?
It’s important to bring in stakeholders into decision-making so that the full picture of the value and impact of the tool is understood. Communication is key. People need to feel that their voices are heard and their input is taken into account before they advocate the use of an EHS System. Listening to stakeholder needs is essential.
Once a tool is selected, communication with stakeholders is required around: 1) why a tool was developed, 2) what problem the organization is trying to solve with the tool, 3) negative impacts that could occur without the tool versus how the tool can improve the organization, and 4) why each employee’s contribution is so valuable and necessary.
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SPF Americas 2016 will take place on October 4-5 in Chicago, and will bring together more than 500 EHS, Sustainability, Risk and IT professionals from the world’s largest corporations. Register today and don’t miss out on 50+ sessions and countless opportunities to network with your peers.