Does Industry Expertise Matter When Choosing an EHS Software Vendor?

Industry expertise — or lack thereof — should be a deciding factor when choosing an EHS software vendor.

That’s especially true for software buyers in complex, highly-regulated industries such as oil and gas, utilities, and manufacturing.

Think of it this way: If you needed a knee replacement, would you choose a doctor who’d never done the procedure before? Probably not. You’d look for a surgeon who had performed the surgery many times before and had a proven track record of success.

Similarly, choosing a vendor who’s familiar with your industry is a smart move for a number of reasons. Let’s take a closer look at some of those reasons, as well as how to assess a vendor’s industry experience.

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Why industry expertise matters

To help you find the best solution, a vendor needs to be able to understand your specific challenges. The problems facing a mid-size chemical manufacturer will look a lot different than those of a national retail chain, for example.

There’s simply no substitute for experience. Just think about the years you’ve spent learning the ins and outs of your field, earning certifications, and honing your skills. Likewise, vendors who have spent years in the field will have built up subject-matter expertise that is invaluable to you. However, the trend toward EHS software companies being acquired by private equity firms has made this kind of experience a rare quality in today’s market.

That’s not to say that a vendor can’t learn about your industry. But it does mean it will take a lot longer for them to get up to speed. If you want to ramp up your efforts quickly, it makes sense to look for a vendor who already knows your industry and can hit the ground running.

Think of the terminology alone. The environmental, health, and safety field has a language all its own, made entirely of abbreviations like JSA, MSDS, PPE, and GHG. Then there’s industry-specific jargon and regulations. Do you deal with API RP 1173? What about ISO 14001? Things will go much faster if your vendor has worked with other companies who are subject to the same rules.

Your vendor will also need to be able to understand the needs of specific users. That means knowing how a lineman will use a mobile app to perform inspections. Or how an environmental consultant will use the software to generate greenhouse gas reports.

Industry experience also means that your vendor will be able to anticipate roadblocks in the implementation process. Based on their work with other clients in your industry, they’ll be able to predict where things might go wrong during the rollout or what types of training might work best for certain groups of users. The end result is a much smoother and more productive onboarding experience for everyone involved.

Now that you know why industry expertise matters, let’s look at a few of the ways to assess a vendor’s industry experience.

How to assess a vendor's industry experience

1. Look at the vendor’s website.

During your initial search, the vendor’s website can give you some helpful clues about their past experience. The About Us page is a good place to start. Look for both EHS domain expertise, as well as experience in your specific industry. Oftentimes, the vendor’s team will have a strong background in the software business but not in safety or environmental management.

Then, take a look at their blog. Do they seem knowledgeable in the field of EHS? Do they frequently share updates? And, do they publish content on issues that matter to your organization? These are all good indicators that they are active and up-to-date with what’s happening in the industry.

2. Check out their current customers.

Next, take a look at their customers. Pay attention to the types of companies they’ve worked with in the past and whether they seem to focus on a specific market segment. An overly-broad customer portfolio doesn’t tell you much about their understanding of your industry in particular.

On the flip side, if you’re seeing a lot of companies that are similar to yours in size or speciality, you know that the vendor will be able to bring this experience to the table.

One of the worst mistakes we’ve seen is selecting a vendor based on how many Fortune 500 companies they’ve worked with. That doesn’t make them qualified to help your company specifically, so don’t be fooled.

3. Pay attention to their industry involvement.

No matter how much experience a vendor has, there’s always more to learn. The field of EHS is constantly evolving, so naturally it’s important for vendors to stay active in the industry.

There are a number of ways to stay up-to-date on the latest news, trends, and best practices, including:

If a vendor takes the time to do these things, it shows that they’re interested in learning and growing. That’s a good sign they’ll be able to apply their knowledge and skills to your project.

4. Interview the vendor.

Finally, talk to the vendor’s team. Ask specific questions about the challenges you’re facing and what you’re hoping to accomplish. For example, managing incidents like leaks, outages, and quality issues is a common problem for utility companies. If the person you’re talking to is able to give specific examples and ask intelligent follow-up questions, it’s a good sign that they’re familiar with your industry. If, however, you’re met with vague or generic answers, chances are they don’t have a lot of experience in your specific field.

That’s not to say they might not be a good fit; many vendors are willing to invest the time to learn. But it is information you should know before you sign a contract so you can plan accordingly.

Final thoughts

Make no mistake: there are other skills that matter, such as communication, project management, and technical expertise. But industry experience makes a huge difference. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

At Perillon, we grew out of an environmental consulting firm — and we bring this technical knowledge and experience to every project. Our management and product teams have backgrounds in manufacturing, telecomm, aerospace, healthcare, and enterprise software and have been with our company for years. We specialize in working with customers in highly-regulated industries, such as utilities, refineries, pipelines, and manufacturers. To learn how we can help you, schedule a demo or contact our team.

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