Lexicon Systems, LLC Blog

lex'•i•con: the vocabulary of a branch of knowledge. Thoughts on environment, health & safety (EHS), sustainability and information technology to support them.


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Good RFPs lead to better proposals

white arrows painted on ashpalt

Get all suppliers headed in the same direction.

Is a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Quote (RFQ) in your future? To make sure that your RFP does not become a “Request for Problems,” consider the following advice:

  1. Engage the right team. Include a cross-section of stakeholders to develop the RFP and to evaluate proposals. 
  2. Send the RFP only to 2-3 qualified parties. By the time you reach the RFP stage, you should have a good idea of which suppliers can best meet your needs. Do not waste the supplier’s or your time just to get pricing information.
  3. State the evaluation criteria up front. Share the “high level” criteria such as fit with business needs, ease of use, supplier qualifications, etc. Spare the details.
  4. Provide project background information. This sets the stage and gives the supplier a reference point.
  5. Provide a proposal outline or response template. This  permits you to compare proposals on a level playing field. A clear outline will elicit better responses and a template should make responses easier to evaluate.  Limit the response length in certain areas as you see fit.
  6. Make it easy for the supplier to respond. Be specific with your request for information.  Avoid asking for superfluous information, and instruct the supplier to be brief.
  7. Provide a single point of contact. Typically, Supply Chain or Procurement is the contact. The single contact will ask the end-user of the product/service for help in answering questions in their domain. This levels the playing field and keeps politics out of the equation as much as possible.
  8. Request customer references–and check them! Assume that suppliers give only positive references. If you have contacts within other organization, then call them as well. Ask the same questions of each reference, including questions like, “Would you choose this supplier if you had to do it again?”
  9. Impose a “quiet period” from the RFP issue date through supplier selection.
  10. Provide feedback to ALL suppliers. After selecting a supplier, remember to give feedback to those who did not win the bid. Surprising, many organizations forget this common courtesy.

See the IT Insight archives for further reading on this and other topics related to software evaluation, selection and life cycle management

© 2013 Lexicon Systems, LLC.

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Trends shaping EHS & sustainability software

Several trends are influencing the  environment, health and safety (EHS) and sustainability software market. This article touches on just a few.

Software as a Service (SaaS). Ten to 15 years ago, most software was installed “on premises” on a company’s own servers, with more software installed on each user’s desktop or laptop computer. Today, Software as a Service (SaaS) delivers software differently. The software vendor installs the software on its servers and each user accesses the it through secure Internet connections, with little or no other software on their desktop or laptop computer.

More and more organizations, including Fortune 50-sized companies, are embracing SaaS, where they would not consider it five to ten years ago. Some issues that changed acceptance:

  • information technology (IT) is not the core business of most organizations; adopting SaaS is a way to leverage limited IT resources.
  • SaaS allows transferring some of the risk of software development, deployment, maintenance, upgrades and support to the vendors.
  • they trust the SaaS providers to manage and deliver data securely, protecting sensitive information and trade secrets.
  • they seek alternative cost structures with “pay-as-you-go” subscriptions rather than large up front capital expense associated with “on premises” installation.
  • they can avoid hardware costs associated with traditional, “on premises” installation.

Global standardization

Standardization. Organizations place great value on streamlining and standardizing business processes across the organization. While most companies believe that they–or their data–are unique, the truth is, they are not that different from others. Companies can can benefit from the best practices of others within their company, as well as others within and outside of their industry.

Let me clarify… while regulatory standards and specific data points vary widely from company to company, the business processes are similar. For example, regulatory intelligence requires applicability analysis and regulatory change management processes regardless of the industry sector or regulatory topic.

Globalization. Organizations need to manage data and deliver information in context as close to real-time as possible to make sound business decisions. An enterprise-wide EHS and sustainability software solution that delivers rolled-up information from disparate operations can enhance compliance and sustainability.ghs-pictogram-harmful-human-healthThe leading EHS and sustainability software solutions provide multilingual capabilities without the need for translation services. This is important not only for companies with facilities spread across several continents, but also for companies that have customers spread across several continents. Think of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) and the updated OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) that require multiple language versions of a (material) safety data sheet (M)SDS.

Improved user interfaces. Users will not readily adopt software that is difficult to use. The leading EHS and sustainability software applications push beyond the competition for a reason–they are much easier for end-users to adopt. Both the “data in” and “data out” interfaces are more intuitive and visually appealing. Improvements include:

  • Kinder, simpler data entry forms.
  • More intuitive tabular data displays that allow “live” data sorting, filtering and “drill-down.”
  • Configurable dashboards with assorted graphic, charts and tables.
  • The ability to apply multiple dashboards tailored to different user needs.
  • Ready access to online help.

Ease of configuration. Many EHS software providers stress ease of configuration. The software architecture allows a trained user to add new users, update reports and forms, create reports and dashboards without writing software code. Why is this important?

  • the customer does not need to call the vendor or a consultant each time they need a small change.
  • it allows a custom look without actually customizing the underlying software code, allowing for standard upgrades.
  • companies can tailor help files to use their own terminology and to meet end-user needs.

Cloud, mobile, social and big data. These technologies–more than buzzwords–greatly influence software development. This is a good thing:

  • ID-10083418public and private clouds allow data access 24/7 from different devices, many of them mobile.
  • mobility allows data management at the point of generation; it  it allows automated data gathering that in the past used clipboard- and operations log-based methods.
  • in areas with limited or no Internet access,mobility allows offline data gathering with later sync to the database.
  • social tools allow data sharing and collaboration through automated workflows, messaging, shared work spaces and document repositories.
  • big data technologies allow quick data mining of very large data sets (1 TB and more) to spot trends.

Business and technical trends continue to shape the EHS and sustainability software market. Be up-to-date on these trends to have more informed discussions among your organization, software vendors and consultants.


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The year of the tablet

Samsung Galaxy Note

Samsung Galaxy Note

It’s clear that 2012 was The Year of the Tablet with Android and iOS tablets creating market excitement for much of the year and Windows 8/RT creating excitement late in the year. Tablets extend BYOD (bring your own device) beyond smartphones in the business enterprise.

I have seen senior executives and mid-level managers tote tablets to meetings in lieu of notebook computers. In 2013, look for more pervasive tablet use as organizations begin to develop proprietary applications for 24/7, global connectivity. In 2013-2014, expect to find new business applications in the “app stores,” allowing tablets increase productivity and proving their value to businesses.

With the winter holidays a faint memory and 2012 coming to an end,

we wish you a happy, healthy and successful new year!


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Increasing the probability of software implementation success

Last week I attended a Webinar that focused on the leading environment, health & safety (EHS) software companies. During the Q&A period, an attendee commented that, while the software may lead the market, the firms that implement the software may not be up to snuff. This results in problematic implementations and unhappy clients.

At a business lunch the next day, a colleague asked why some EHS consulting firms are less successful than others when it comes to implementation. I replied that implementation success is not about the software alone. No matter how feature-packed, intuitive and functional the software package, it takes more than software-savvy subject matter experts and EHS-savvy software engineers for a truly successful implementation. The implementation team requires proven methodology, good project management and social skills, and the ability to foster user acceptance.

  • proven methodology is important throughout the entire software life cycle–from concept through business needs analysis and software evaluation and selection to  design, system configuration, rollout and support. Proven methodology helps to reduce the margin of error and ultimately saves the  client time.
  • project management skills are important in planning, budgeting and tracking, and critical in managing “scope creep.” Project management skills are critical in areas such as IT risk management and identifying and recommending solutions to issues as they arise.
  • social skills are important since enterprise-scale IT projects involve different stakeholders with competing agendas. Members of the implementation team must be able to communicate with people at many levels and in various functions within the client organization. Some of the members must excel in facilitation skills, particularly when the group must reach a fact-based consensus. They must be able to work without showing bias towards certain stakeholders or software packages.
  • user acceptance often will “make or break” an implementation. Fostering user acceptance requires organizational change management expertise, something often overlooked during large IT projects. Organizational change management activities should occur throughout the software life cycle, and include much more than training. Read more about organizational change management here.

If you contemplate starting an IT initiative in the EHS arena, or to manage other subject matter, make sure that you have a professional leading the effort. Hands-on experience in the above areas can increase the probability of success in software implementations. Of course, these are a select few of all of the skills required. Read more about IT program management here.


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Information overload is a way of life… do social technologies increase productivity?

Most knowledge workers spend way too much time on email. I know I do. Now, with social networking tools, I find myself reading blog posts at least one hour a day to keep up with IT and business issues. With me, it’s not so much an obsession as the need to have information as near “real time” as possible. Business was not like this fifteen years ago when the fastest technologies were the fax machine and overnight mail. Email and text messaging have put us into information overdrive.

In a June 2012 report on social networking tools and productivity, The McKinsey Global Institute found that knowledge workers spend 28 hours a week on emails, searching for information and collaborating internally. Many businesses are just starting to leverage social technologies for internal and external collaboration and to market and sell products and services. McKinsey also found that unlocking social technologies has the potential to improve knowledge worker productivity by 20-25 percent.