The Environment+Energy Leader 100 is an annual list that recognizes the environment and energy “doers” who break trail in creating new solutions, programs, platforms, best practices and products to help their companies – or other companies – achieve greater success in commercial and industrial environment and energy management. E+E 100 Introduces… is an ongoing series that will feature one Honoree from 2022 each week. See the complete list of 2022 Honorees here.
Meet Dan Smedema, co-founder and senior software engineer for Encamp. Dan’s job responsibilities ultimately all come back to the software that Encamp produces, but on any given day that could mean quite a few different things, he says. “Writing code and reviewing the code of others, testing and debugging new features, teaching newer employees the quirks and intricacies of the system, contributing to technical design proposals, analyzing and processing customer data, answering questions from within the engineering team and beyond it… the list goes on,” Dan says.
Tell us more about your job responsibilities.
Dan Smedema: I am a software engineer — a programmer — by training, and I laid a lot of the groundwork for our application. This means I end up doing some of the deepest behind-the-scenes work that only the other software engineers directly feel the impact of, and often write documentation or directly train them in technical tidbits of varying levels of obscurity. But, as a co-founder of the company, I’ve been around long enough to have absorbed a lot of domain knowledge in environmental, health and safety areas as well, and this means I’m a frequent collaborator with other departments, providing input on things like the technical feasibility of a proposal, or whether an existing feature can be modified to fit a new use case vs. creating something entirely new.
Something I don’t do at the moment is manage other people. I’m lucky enough to have marvelous colleagues who are better at that and more eager than I, which frees me up to focus elsewhere. That way I can keep serving my dual role as an information nexus with as broad a reach as possible and an individual contributor focused on deep infrastructure projects.
Tell us about your biggest energy management and/or environmental challenge and how you are addressing it.
DS: We don’t tend to have direct energy or environmental challenges — our goal is to produce good software to put into the hands of those who do. Our customers have fairly diverse needs — warehouse operators, ag retailers storing large amounts of fertilizer, and chemical manufacturers producing many novel product formulations each year all have their own unique challenges, as you can imagine. Our biggest challenge is figuring out which challenges our customers and potential customers have the most common ground on, which would be most impactful if solved, and which actually lend themselves to a software solution.
What we don’t want to do is write some completely custom software that only works for a single company’s use case. I personally think that more and more companies are going to need in-house software engineering capacity in the future to do that kind of work, but that’s not what we’re going for. We want to take advantage of software’s ability to scale such that, for example, once we’ve automated some kind of compliance report for one customer, we can do it again for anybody who (metaphorically) walks in the door. It’s pretty difficult to get that one-size-fits-all approach right on the first try.
What was a successful project or implementation you worked on at your company that you can share? Do you have any tips that would help colleagues at other companies who are contemplating similar projects? Please don’t hesitate to point out people in your organization who helped make it a success and who also deserve recognition.
DS: We automated large parts of the Tier 2 reporting process and built tools to empower our in-house compliance experts to efficiently take care of anything we couldn’t automate. This has allowed us to file several thousand Tier 2 reports on behalf of our customers over the years with a fraction of the personnel that would have been required without the software. We even discovered and corrected a number of data errors along the way. Steve, Ryan, and Kyle on the engineering team were all instrumental in the success of Tier 2 this past reporting year.
I think the main tip is to focus on empowering humans rather than replacing them. We had some false starts on projects in the earlier days of the company where we wanted a process to be completely automated with no human interaction required at all, and it turned out that was basically impossible. Human and computer processes are really complementary, with each making up for some of the weaknesses of the other. Dynamic problem-solving isn’t possible for computers, and humans doing repetitive data processing are prone to error.
What trends do you expect to see in the market in the next few years? What challenges will the industry face and what technologies or organizational changes will overcome them.
DS: What Encamp is betting on, and what I think we should all bet on, is that dedicated software solutions are going to see increased adoption in industry. They will sometimes replace legacy systems of data management, and sometimes complement them, but they are definitely coming. As long-tenured employees retire and new hires come in to replace them, the challenge of knowledge transfer is exacerbated by highly siloed and customized procedures around managing data and reporting it, and software tools can help maintain continuity in a dynamic workforce.
In addition, I don’t think anyone should be surprised to see additional climate regulations come into existence and have an impact. Companies that are already prioritizing improvements to the way they manage their data will have an advantage as others struggle to catch up. The environmental, health and safety sector is in some ways analogous to where healthcare was 10 to 15 years ago. As incentives to adopt electronic medical records (EMRs) dropped off, the healthcare organizations that were dragging their feet on adoption were forced into it and often under-provisioned in terms of resources for it, resulting in less successful implementations that continue to have more problems and dissatisfaction.
Tell us about a favorite hobby, passion or book you’ve read recently that has had an impact on you and your work.
DS: I have been working behind a desk for my entire adult life, with what little exercise I was getting coming in the form of seasonal recreational sports leagues, and since moving to a new city a few years ago, I hadn’t even been doing that. I had a health scare recently — I’m fine! — but I decided it was time to make a change.
I’ve been going to the gym regularly now for a couple of months, and it makes a world of difference. For one thing I just feel physically better day to day, but it also makes me think more sharply, and just generally keeps me in a better mood.
I’m something of a workaholic, and it can be tough to reconcile with the idea of ceasing the work that pays the bills to go pick up and put down heavy things for an hour. But it’s definitely been a huge positive force in my life, both holistically and in terms of work productivity!
Editor’s note: nominations are now open for this year’s E+E 100. Nominate a colleague — or yourself — for the 2022 E+E 100 today.