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Considerations in Environmental Solution Selection: Picking a Partner, Not Just a Product

Companies across the supply chain and across all industries are moving rapidly to adopt new generation technology solutions that address the most pressing environmental and regulatory compliance challenges. New technologies such as cloud computing and big data facilitate more powerful and quicker implementations of these solutions. The vendors bringing this new generation of environmental data and solutions promise major productivity and quality gains in supporting environmental requirements, regulatory compliance and risk management.

However, evaluating and implementing these solutions can be a complex undertaking. The major mistake which businesses make in evaluating environmental solutions is approaching the task as if it was merely an exercise in software selection, looking at features and functions in a check list comparison method. The most productive way to address the solution selection process is with a holistic approach that goes well beyond just software and also looks at all aspects of the system, including key elements such as data content and outsourced services. In addition, given the mission critical nature of environmental applications, corporate buyers would be well served to look at vendor selection not as picking a product, but rather as picking a partner. In this context, here are key factors for consideration when looking for solutions and associated provider partners.

Environmental Management Demands Specialized Solutions, Not Just Software

Successful solution providers are those who show competence in helping companies manage relevant environmental data, workflow, and business processes with highly specialized solutions. Challenges and solutions are not specifically limited to the software. In fact, many times it may be the actual data, information, and content, and not just the software, that is the most difficult to manage and which often requires highly specialized domain expertise to manage effectively. This will intensify as regulations continue to increase in number and complexity. Software is only one piece of the overall equation, and not necessarily always the most important piece. The best solution providers show not just functions and features, but also deep and specialized knowledge and industry thought leadership. The environmental and compliance solutions that succeed in the marketplace are those that bring not only comprehensive functionality, timely enhancements, scalability, and breadth, but also, and just as importantly, add value on the content and data side. One particularly attractive capability now is in the globalization of compliance and specifically helping global companies manage conformance across multiple geographical jurisdictions.

Successful Solutions Address the Data and Show Domain Expertise

Addressing environmental content and data along with software provides corporate users with advantages, giving the total solution superior breadth, quality, accuracy, and timeliness, especially if the provider partner also shows clear domain expertise and industry thought leadership across regulatory fields and geographies. The service provider’s subject matter experts should be deeply involved in client support. They should also be available and accessible to corporate client staff. Users should be able to deal directly with these subject matter experts if questions about the data arise.

Bringing in relevant content to the solution brings greater value on an ongoing basis. The content should contribute to the core of a corporate environmental and regulatory intelligence management strategy. In highly specialized areas of compliance, such as product safety compliance, this content may include technical data and documents such as lists, rules, phrases, templates, scientific data, etc. Ideally the solution provider should source and develop this content rather than obtaining it from third parties.

Solution Providers Must Tell a Story Showing the Downside and Upside

The chosen solution provider must present a narrative which talks not only about features and advantages, but which also discusses the risks and costs of poor product stewardship and environmental management, which rise as the regulatory environment becomes more difficult and demanding. Solution providers must show how their products are favorably positioned in the context of the main current and future regulatory drivers. If the partner has a special advantage in managing compliance on a global basis to deal with needs that are pervasive and persistent across geographies, that is highly relevant for global corporate users. The exact vast and complex regulatory landscape that is addressed by the solution should match the user’s global operations across jurisdictions and functions.

Relevant Domain Expertise, Constant Monitoring and Sophisticated Services

Environmental management and regulatory compliance has become more complex, yet also more mission-critical than ever before. The regulatory requirements are enormous and include creating and managing complex regulatory documents, tracking regulations, reporting, and managing all of this across functions, markets, and geographies. These complexities drive critical enterprise considerations regarding reporting requirements, how regulations differ across markets, how employees and stakeholder are protected, upstream and downstream supply chain impact, and how all of this is localized across global operations. These complexities and considerations play out in a mission critical environment, as the risks have become higher than ever and now include fines, liabilities, and other forms of potential damage. Successfully managing these challenges requires not just software but domain expertise and constant monitoring.

Regulatory monitoring should be a key value added service within a broader set of capabilities including regulatory data aggregation and impact analysis. These services are especially important in specialized areas of risk management and compliance, such as Workplace Safety and Product Stewardship. Global environmental compliance requires effective change management and comprehensive analysis in the context of constant and rapid global regulatory change. These functions are an essential component of a successful environmental regulatory strategy.

Applications play a supporting role but the data and expertise are also especially critical. Addressing the complete solution in this manner expands the value proposition for the corporate user. The solutions should show a strong business case by bringing additional savings in addressing what is currently internal corporate spend allocated to solving risk management and compliance problems.

Best Practices, Business Rules, Platforms, and Defined Solutions

Successful solution providers must therefore not simply provide software, but rather must provide comprehensive solutions that help companies manage environmental data, business processes, and workflows. Successful solutions are more than just functional software. They also encompass relevant data and content, expertise, best practices, and business rules. The platform or business delivery vehicles for the solution must fit the customer requirements, and may include, in addition to SaaS or cloud based software, additional elements such as call center support and other outsourced services. The solution vendor’s core offerings should be bundled into coherent defined solutions that address various vertical and geographical market segments differently.

Full Solution and Provider Value Proposition

The successful solution provider must also present a number of unique and compelling value propositions for why customers should choose them as a partner, not just their software. These value propositions need to go way beyond traditional software centric approaches that focus on features and functions. Examples could include breadth of regulatory coverage across functions, industries, and geographies; staff expertise and experience; support; knowledgebase, including data content; and quality and accuracy of data and processes.

Global Presence and Local Domain Expertise

Given the sensitive and mission critical nature of environmental compliance, the solution provider must prove itself to be a global organization with local presence in the main geographical markets where its customers reside. Corporate environmental and risk professionals need access to domain experts that understand their local environment. The solution provider’s domain experts should be accessible and available in their role as trusted specialists. Customers need to see the domain expertise effectively deployed and reflected in the vendor’s knowledgebase, products, customer relationships, and ongoing support.

Proven Expertise and Earned, Credible, Objective Recognition

Solution providers must be credibly recognized as industry experts by objective sources. This recognition is typically earned by activities such as fulfilling speaking engagements at conferences, authoring published technical articles for the specialized trade press, and of course from industry analyst coverage.

Thought Leadership and Vision

Credible solution providers must prove themselves as industry leaders and pioneers by providing systems that are comprehensive, broad, and global; integrated with relevant workflows and business processes; and deeply embedded into the enterprise. The successful service providers are those who become a trusted resource for environmental information, data, guidance and who are on the leading edge of regulatory developments, constantly showing rapid response to new regulatory requirements as they emerge, especially in the context of issues that capture c-suite executive mind share and attention. Finally, these providers must show a vision, which should include key themes such as how the applications tie together into a full solution, the role of content, partnerships, integration into business processes and workflows, and globalization.

Optimized Service Structure and Deployed Field Presence

The solution partner should have an optimized account management and service and support infrastructure in place to manage close and ongoing relationships with corporate users. Close relationships based on trust between providers and users are critical in the world of environmental regulatory compliance. The solution provider’s service and support teams must be highly trained, experienced, and specialized in this world. Providers should have a direct field presence to manage relationships in defined geographic territories, including solution engineers for technical support and account managers to support the relationships.

In order to be positioned for providing the highest degree of value to corporate users, the ideal environmental solution partner must show optimized processes and structure, global operations with an emphasis on the most relevant areas of expertise, bring an offering which consists of not only software but also relevant data and services for a full solution, show a commitment to relevant partnerships, and respond rapidly to changing regulations in a manner that shows proven thought leadership.

Jeffrey Starr specializes in the strategy, positioning, and marketing of environmental data, systems, and services, and serves as vice president for 3E Company. 3E Company provides environmental compliance data solutions throughout the supply chain and across the product lifecycle. 3E Company, a Verisk Analytics company, has been recognized by analysts for its leadership in safety data sheet (SDS) and regulatory data management, and has won multiple awards from the trade press, including awards for best in SDS services and environmental software.

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