How EHS Managers Can Survive Digital Transformation: Q&A with David Metcalfe, CEO, Verdantix

October 24, 2017

In this in-depth interview series, speakers from Enablon’s offer fresh insights about environmental, health and safety (EHS) management, risk and resilience. David Metcalfe is CEO and founding director at Verdantix, an independent research and consulting firm with expertise in environment, health, safety and quality, as well as energy, real estate, facilities and maintenance. Here are some of the insights he shared during a plenary session at SPF Americas 2017:

In your presentation, you quoted the famous line from the Monty Python skit, “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition.” Staying on that theme, the Spanish Inquisition’s two chief weapons were surprise and fear. Based on your research, how do the elements of surprise and fear affect EHS managers’ abilities to adapt to a rapidly changing technology environment?

We have often found that, when EHS decision-makers speak to Verdantix analysts off the record, they confess to being surprised at how much value software has brought to their EHS management systems, and at the reporting and performance improvements. One VP of Safety at a multi-billion-dollar construction firm told me that he wished he’d seen the light about the potential of information technology ten years earlier.

In terms of fear, the EHS profession has not pro-actively embraced technologies, which shows the underlying concern about the costs, complexity and risks of IT projects. We’re seeing this fear roll back with a younger generation of pro-technology EHS directors rising through the ranks. In our recent survey of 383 EHS decision-makers, 20% said they were using mobile apps for audits and incident management across a wide range of locations.

Your impromptu survey on attendees’ level of “digital obedience” revealed some room for improvement concerning EHS managers’ adoption of emerging technologies even for their personal use. Does this concern you?

A major theme in the evolution of IT over the last decade or more has been the consumerization of corporate IT. Whether it is smartphone apps, consumer websites and games systems educating all of us about the potential of computing power with fantastic user interfaces, or if it is employees bringing their own devices to work and using them for work purposes, it’s no longer possible for businesses to expect employees to be satisfied with clunky, outdated legacy apps running on Lotus Notes.

The lesson from the survey of EHS professionals about their use of digital technologies is twofold. Firstly, EHS professionals lag far behind the millennial demographic – rapidly becoming the bulk of their workforce – who are digital natives. Secondly, they also need to align EHS systems with the expectations that they have, and more importantly, that younger employees have in terms of usability, availability, latency and functionality. Who waits more than 3 seconds for a website to load?

The Kodak case study was illustrative of your warning that digital complacency can lead to a company’s downfall. What are some of the unique challenges that different industries are facing in terms of digital transformation?

The key point about Kodak was that they invented the digital camera and then failed to invest in it: a double dose of complacency. The equivalent for EHS leaders is that they invest in an EHS software platform because they know that, in the future, all EHS systems and processes will leverage technology platforms – but then they don’t make enough of an effort to deploy all the modules and use mobile apps. As a result, the project stalls and thousands of employees who could have benefited from the technology don’t get access to it.

In our survey we asked what the barriers were to following a digital transformation strategy. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said that insufficient EHS operational budget was an important or very important barrier. But 71% said that a lack of expertise in the EHS team about how to get value from digital technologies was an important or very important barrier. That’s more worrying than a lack of budget.

You shared some key steps that EHS managers can take to help their companies along their digital transformation journey. What are some of the untapped opportunities that EHS managers tend to miss in this journey?

The main thing EHS managers get wrong is they leap into an EHS software vendor selection process without establishing a vision and strategy for where they want to go in the next five years. So instead of thinking carefully about how new combinations of people, process, technology and data can enhance EHS performance, they focus on buying software to fix some urgent problem like the impending retirement of the last employee who knows how to keep the 20-year-old incident management system running.

In addition to envisioning the future, we also recommend that EHS managers create a technology roadmap, which plots current installed technologies on a maturity curve and then compares the current IT landscape with the new wave of digital technologies that are available. I’ve generally found this is not part of the standard EHS professional’s toolkit, but it should be.

Enablon was named a EHS Software Leader in the Verdantix Green Quadrant EHS Software 2017 report. Can you give us your impressions in a few words?

The quality of the Enablon product is the result of more than 15 years of customer-centric innovation on a single, integrated platform. This product strategy, paired with a relentless focus on user interface design, has been crucial to the popularity of the Enablon platform with customers. EHS managers should use Enablon’s software for whatever usage scenarios have the most impact on improving their performance.

If you would like to learn more about the latest EHS trends and an analysis of the EHS software market, click on the image below to download the Verdantix Green Quadrant EHS Software 2017 report:

Verdantix Green Quadrant EHS Software 2017