A lot of environmental professionals end up using spreadsheets because they’re free, widely available, and most people know how to use them. However, spreadsheets have a lot of disadvantages that make them a poor choice for environmental management. Overall, software is a much better choice for managing the types of high-volume, complex data that most regulated companies need to manage.
Spreadsheets put your business at risk
When we were just starting out as a software company back in 2005, spreadsheets were the de facto method for managing environmental data. Environmental professionals would painstakingly set up formulas and functions to perform calculations. As the company grew and new regulations emerged, additional spreadsheets were added.
Eventually, though, this grew into a sprawling mess. Spreadsheets are incredibly error-prone. Tasks like QA/QC and updating formulas ate up big chunks of the EHS team’s time. Compiling data from spreadsheets into a usable format for reporting became a big headache. If someone retired or left the organization, all of their knowledge about this ad hoc system left with them.
In addition, spreadsheets weren’t very secure. Coworkers could easily save over important work, effectively erasing days of painstaking effort. And while Excel does have some ability to track changes, spreadsheets are not considered a fully compliant audit trail.
Environmental management software as a strategic advantage
Today, a lot has changed in terms of technology, and most global enterprises recognize the value of environmental management software. However, less advanced companies still view spreadsheets as an acceptable option for managing their responsibilities.
Paving the way to better environmental performance starts with understanding that every spreadsheet is a liability.
Consider the following scenario. An energy company acquires a small municipal utility. Many of the utility’s employees leave (or are laid off) in the course of the acquisition. Now, the parent company must figure out where important documents and agreements are stored, what reporting requirements they’re subject to, and when permits need to be renewed. Unfortunately, all of this information is spread out across various spreadsheets saved to someone's computer. While people are busy putting the pieces back together, an important deadline gets overlooked and the company gets slapped with a hefty fine.
The executive team decides it’s time for a change, and invests in environmental management software. The difference is night and day. With a modern software system in place, employees across the organization have better access to critical business data. Instead of digging through filing cabinets looking for documents, the environmental team is able to focus on initiatives that improve the business. Executives, too, have greater confidence in regulatory compliance and the company’s ability to survive future mergers and acquisitions.
Altogether, environmental management software is a must-have for any business that wants to grow. It will help you ensure compliance with new and existing regulations. Furthermore, it will streamline data analysis and reporting. And it can help your business improve its overall performance, reducing costs and boosting your bottom line.
At the end of the day it's not an issue of technology; it's about your business' strategy. Only environmental management software can deliver insights at the speed and scale necessary to survive in today’s complex regulatory environment.
Excel devotees might be quick to point out that software is more expensive than spreadsheets and requires specialized training.
Of course, these cons can be easily offset by choosing a low-cost, standardized system. Standardized systems can be up and running in a matter of weeks with minimal impact on your IT resources. And, while it’s true that any new technology comes with a learning curve, modern software systems are remarkably easy to use.
Here are some of the key considerations to keep in mind when choosing environmental management software:
- Who will use this software, and what day-to-day tasks do they need to accomplish? What types of data will you need to manage (air, water, waste, etc.)? What types of reports will you need to create?
- Do you use any other systems such as CEMS or ERP? If so, can the software easily integrate with those systems?
- How long will it take to implement the system? Can the modules be rolled out individually so you can get up and running quickly?
- What is the 3-year cost of ownership?
- Can this system scale to meet your needs one, three, or five years down the road?
In all, environmental management software is a much better bet than spreadsheets. It does take an investment of time and money up front, but the time savings will be well worth it once reporting time comes around.