3 EHS Data Management Questions You Need to Answer

January 17, 2017
By Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

An EHS management system is only as good as the EHS data that it includes. There are many challenges associated with managing EHS data, and according to the National Association for Environmental Management (NAEM), “no two companies solve the same problem the same way.”

While there are different approaches to EHS data management, the experiences of some organizations can provide valuable information, including key questions that should be asked to determine the best EHS data management approach.

NAEM’s report “Approaches to EHS&S Data Management” includes case studies and interviews with organizations from various industries on EHS data management challenges that they faced, and how they addressed them. Based on the experiences of these organizations, here are three key questions that you need to answer to decide which approach you should adopt.

1) What Level of Centralization Do You Want?

There are benefits to having standardized data, processes and workflows across an enterprise. But standardization and centralization are two different things. Companies are unique, and there will be some for which a fully centralized EHS data management approach may not be ideal. Some decentralization may be preferable if the organization is composed of very diverse business units as a result of different product offerings, or due to mergers and acquisitions. This can also translate into unique regulatory reporting needs. Some sites or business lines may have to comply with specific regulations that affect nobody else in the organization. Therefore they may be better handled at the local level with data and compliance status being rolled up to the corporate level. Ultimately the debate is not about centralization vs. decentralization, but about how much of each is ideal.

2) To Be or Not to Be in the Cloud?

Software applications can be accessed through the Cloud, rather than being owned and installed on premise or hosted by a vendor. Cloud-based computing has a number of advantages, including easier upgrades, professionally-managed data centers that are more reliable and better maintained, and less costs for internal IT departments. But before choosing the Cloud for EHS data management, cyber security risks, data confidentiality and access rights, and customization needs must also be taken into account. Even if, for example, using the Cloud for EHS data management would be ideal for 80% of companies, you should not gamble with the odds that your organization, or parts of it, may be in the 20%. Make sure to study the issue carefully before deciding whether or not to use the Cloud for EHS data management.

3) How Much Imperfection Can You Tolerate?

The NAEM report shows that some EHS data management lessons are universal to all companies, regardless of industry, organizational structure, etc. One of the lessons learned is that EHS data management is a journey of continuous improvement. Companies are not perfect and they constantly change, with new people, new market offerings, new sites, etc. This has an impact on data structure, integration and standardization, despite best efforts to make things as nice and clean as possible. It will be very difficult to have perfect data right away, and that’s fine as long as there is continuous improvement. The key is to determine the level of imperfection that you can tolerate as it will impact the priority of the different EHS areas to include in your data management program, and the timeline of the program’s implementation.

Download the complimentary NAEM report on Approaches to EHS&S Data Management to learn more about the three questions, case studies, perspectives on managing EHS&S data, and lessons learned.

NAEM Approaches to Managing EHS&S Data