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The EHS Leader's Guide to Digital Transformation

Today, many organizations are exploring or deploying cutting-edge digital technologies in EHS. 

From smart PPE that can warn the wearer of potential hazards to drones that can be used to inspect gas pipelines in remote locations, these technological advances are helping to make work safer and more efficient. 

And it’s not CIOs who are leading the charge: More than 40% of EHS executives view themselves as the leading business function in developing a digital transformation strategy for EHS. 

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The good news is, you don’t have to go it alone. This article will answer some of the most common questions about digital transformation, from what it is to why it’s important. We’ll also share resources including lessons learned from successful digital transformations in EHS. 

What is digital transformation?

Digital transformation refers to the process of integrating digital technology into your business. However, it’s more than just taking pencil-and-paper tasks and transferring them to a computer. The purpose of digital transformation is to leverage technology to improve your processes, operations, and business model.

In the case of EHS, digital transformation includes technologies like EHS software, AI, IoT, smart sensors, wearables, automation and robotics — to name a few. Digital tools like these replace manual processes, making them more efficient and consistent. 

Some real-world examples of digital transformation in EHS include:

  • A frontline worker uses a safety app on his cell phone to report a near miss from the factory floor, and management is informed of the incident
  • An EHS executive reviews injury and accident data from across the organization in interactive dashboards to make decisions about future training needs and allocate resources effectively
  • A facility manager completes an inspection on a mobile app, which automatically triggers corrective actions and assigns them to the appropriate staff members
  • Environmental professionals at multiple different sites collaborate based on shared real-time data stored in a centralized software system

Why is digital transformation important?

As we mentioned above, digital transformation is all about improving your business’ performance. The benefits of digital transformation in EHS include better resource management, increased efficiency and productivity, cost savings, improved worker safety, and greater resiliency.

Say you’re a manufacturer and you’re required to regularly test wastewater effluents. Instead of manually collecting samples, you might decide to invest in sensors designed to continuously monitor the wastewater process. This data can then be pulled into an EHS software system, where it is processed and displayed in dashboards for easy analysis, eliminating the potential for sampling and data entry errors. 

Armed with this information, decision-makers can see which steps to take to reduce costs and waste to a minimum. The EHS software system can also automatically trigger corrective and preventive actions based on real-time data and alert need-to-know staff if a limit is exceeded, minimizing the potential for costly penalties. This is just one example of how digital transformation can enhance operational efficiency and improve your processes.

Done right, digital transformation can have a huge impact on your business’ bottom line. According to research from consultancy BCG, digital leaders achieved 1.8x higher earnings growth than digital laggards — and more than double the growth in total enterprise value. 

Tips for successful digital transformation

Today, most EHS executives understand the value of technology, and more than half (52%) have implemented a digital transformation strategy within their firms — with varying degrees of success. So why are some companies successful, while others struggle to get off the ground? Reasons and opinions for this abound, but we’ve identified four pillars of digital transformation success through our work with global enterprises and SMEs.

1. Technology selection

The right technology can make or break your digital transformation efforts. A successful digital transformation starts with choosing a system that fits your budget, needs, and preferences. 

It’s not just the technology itself you’ll need to think about, but also the people who will be using it. Will you eventually roll it out to people beyond the EHS department, such as site supervisors and frontline employees? Whichever system you choose should be simple enough that users can pick it up quickly without too much time and effort.

The technology vendor you go with can also make a big difference in the success or failure of your digital transformation. Someone with experience in the industry, as well as a strong implementation and support program, can help make the process much easier. 

2. Change management 

Digital transformation is hard work, and it doesn’t happen overnight.  Oftentimes it requires letting go of the “old way” of doing things and trying something new. These changes then have to be sustained in order for your digital transformation efforts to be successful over the long term. The companies that succeed with digital transformation are those that plan for and manage change effectively. 

At the end of the day, digital transformation isn’t just about technology — it’s also about people and culture. As such, managers and frontline supervisors play a crucial role in managing change. Some employees will welcome the opportunity for greater efficiencies, while others may be more skeptical. Resistance to change is a natural and normal reaction. However, there are concrete steps you can take to overcome this. 

3. Implementation

Implementation is the process of putting a plan or change into effect. When we’re talking about digital transformation, implementation usually refers to setting up and integrating a new technology into your company’s systems and workflows.

The implementation process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months or more, depending on the size of the system, the number of users, and how much customization is involved. The more customization that is needed, the more time-consuming and expensive the project will be. This is why we strongly recommend choosing a flexible system that can easily be configured to your requirements without the need for extensive customization. 

4. User adoption & training

Finally, when implementing any new technology, you’ll need to ensure that users have what they need to be successful. If you’ve followed our advice on choosing a system that is easy to use, then you’re already well ahead of the game. The easier the system is to use, the easier it will be to roll it out to your employees. 

Different types of users also have different needs when it comes to training. Someone who uses the system every day will need much more in-depth knowledge than someone who uses it only occasionally. Training can be delivered through multiple channels: self-help guides, videos, group Zoom meetings, and one-on-one sessions. Tailoring your training to meet individual needs will help your team get the most out of the experience. 

You’ll also want to consider what type of support will be available to users once the implementation and training period is over. Will they have access to a dedicated support representative to guide the way? While it’s not offered by all vendors, it will make things much easier for your employees. 

Transform your EHS program with digital tools

Technology is transforming EHS programs, making companies safer and more productive — and EHS professionals are leading the charge. By selecting the right tools, planning ahead, and managing change effectively, you can set yourself up for digital transformation success.

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