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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Five global predictions for 2015

Today was all about tomorrow. Let me explain… this morning, I attended a Webinar on 2015 trends in the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) market; this afternoon I completed a survey on the top global trends for 2015. Here’s my take on five global trends for 2015. The common thread is information technology (IT) and the environment.


It’s all about the Cloud

Businesses continue to move to the Cloud in droves, with a large percentage already there. A big benefit of the Cloud is the shift away from internal management of IT infrastructure, placing part of the risk onto Cloud providers. Another benefit is the ability to shift from older, “on premises” enterprise software license models that require constant upgrades to newer, Software as a Service (SaaS) apps where all user organizations are on the same version of the software. And a third benefit is anytime, anywhere access to information that allow more informed decision-making.

It’s not just mobile technology, but mobile technology enabled by the Cloud, that will allow businesses to break from old paradigms and utilize Internet-enabled solutions. My article on the Cloud will publish on 01 February 2015.

Information security remains a top concern

Information security will remain a top concern among organizations into 2015 and beyond. ApplePay went live this quarter, and it was supposed to be an alternate cashless payment method, but not a Point of Service (POS) app. With the release of the iPhone 6 and the latest iOS, Apple has teamed with Bank of America (and others?) and ApplePay is a POS app! Many remain concerned about Near Field Communications, where a cyber hacker can steal sensitive financial information.

Magnetic stripes on credit and debit cards are so 20th Century. A few years ago, many merchants tried laser bar code readers for payment cards (e.g., payments at gas pumps), but removed the readers… were the readers that hard to use, or were they too costly to maintain? After recent security breaches some U.S. banks are revamping credit card security measures–adding security “chips” that other countries have used for decades. It’s about time… but users still must “swipe” their cards through a reader.

Global energy and natural resource challenges

The U.S. is enjoying the “energy boom,” at the highest domestic production rates in decades, and needs to ensure that there is not a rapid “bust.” Despite the drop in oil prices (barrels of West Texas Intermediate Crude), North American Shale Oil plays will continue into 2015.

Cheap natural gas prices will allow the chemicals industry to continue with large projects, the scale of which we have not seen in the U.S. since the late 1970s and early 1980s. While the demand for new natural gas and liquids pipelines remains high, these projects will slow a bit. Why not deposit some of the cheap oil and gas to increase the National Petroleum Reserve?

Changing demographics and consumer spending

Many emerging countries will continue to see the largest increase in spending power in the under-35 population. The consumer population in the U.S. will continue to increase dramatically in two segments—over-60 and under 35 years old—thus creating the challenge of serving both markets.

Considering how much consumer technologies spill over into business, the challenge is applying these technologies to address the needs of divergent populations. In 2015, software applications will be all about the user experience, and the real challenge will be the balance between the user experience and addressing enterprise needs such as information security and scalability.

Cashless payments

Consumers will continue to increase their comfort level with online, cashless payments. Mobile cashless payments will take a while to gain market share amid concerns of cybersecurity and as consumers upgrade their mobile technology. Regardless of the method, companies in the payment business must move to multi-factor authentication and anonymous, one-time authorization codes that are more difficult to steal, or, if stolen, are useless.

While consumers–especially the 35-and-under demographic–have handily adopted paperless check deposits, this will not quickly spill over into the business world. Businesses will continue to remain entrenched in hard-copy checks, P-cards (Purchase Cards) and ACH (automated clearinghouse) payments in 2015. So, keep the car gassed up (or charged) for those trips to the post office and bank.

With the new year coming upon us quickly, there is plenty to think about with respect to information technology and the environment. Your thoughts?

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Energy sector looks to integrated EHS IT solutions to manage risk in a complex operational and regulatory enironment

We are in the midst of a 21st Century energy boom. It has created thousands of jobs and reduced the U.S. dependence on imported crude oil. New technologies like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) create new opportunities as well as risks. In light of recent offshore and onshore incidents in the energy and chemical industries, regulatory agencies are in the midst of making new policies and rules. How do organizations keep up with this complex, dynamic business environment?

“Risk is an integral component of a safety culture. It must be the lens through which we view the interaction between technology and the human element.”
–Brian Salerno, BSEE Director

Most organizations use spreadsheets, email and documents to manage environment, health & safety (EH&S or EHS) data. Even those that use more robust information technology (IT) platforms admit that they do not use IT to its fullest.

To better collect, manage, and use EHS information, many energy companies are migrating to integrated EH&S software applications for the first time. Others are taking a hard look at replacing legacy systems with more robust IT platforms.

The latest IT Insight column, 21st Century Energy Boom and Greater Risk Awareness Drive EH&S Software Initiatives, describes the pressure that the energy industry faces in managing mountains of EHS data while also minimizing the risks associated with everyday business. The column describes lessons learned in the Gulf of Mexico and a new risk management approach that is taking hold. Read the full article here.


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Learn from the experts and share best practices at September Sustainable Performance Forum

I am pleased to announce my upcoming presentation, “Business Requirements and Software Selection Best Practices” at the Sustainable Performance Forum, 25-26 September in Chicago, IL. The #Enablon #SPF Americas 2014 program features thought leaders on environment, health & safety (EHS) and sustainability, information technology (IT), and Risk. 

Former NASA astronaut, navy fighter pilot and test pilot and Boeing Chief Technical Pilot John O. Creighton will deliver the keynote talk on risk.

The Keynote panel features senior executives from industry, leading EHS subject matter experts and industry analysts. Author and writer Anna M. Clark will moderate the panel. Enablon CEO Dan Vogel, CTO Marc Vogel, Vice President Pascal Gaude and Enablon North America CEO Philippe Tesler will present their vision and company roadmap.

The Enablon team will lead program tracks on six different Enablon software solutions. Each track will include a session on issues & trends and a case study, in addition to presentations on the solution set and product road map.

Customers will have the opportunity to collaborate with subject matter experts and Enablon on future product enhancements. 

The program features two new tracks this year, beyond solution tracks and software training:

  • Technology Enablers–cross-platform, innovative information technologies
  • Implementation Strategies–best practices for business requirements and software selection; implementation, and more.

SPF also offers networking opportunities like industry roundtables and a gala dinner, and Lunchtime Expert series talks. Learn more here.

Fresh off two software selection projects, I am reminded that software should benefit its users, not the IT group. A well-designed software application–or commercial software implementation–starts with documenting clear, solid business requirements.

Solid requirements (prioritized business needs) are critical to success. Good business requirements, coupled with objective evaluation criteria, can help a company to identify a short list of vendors and select a solution that best meets their needs, fits the company’s IT maturity and culture, and that users will adopt.

what happens in vagueness stays in vagueness

Business requirements must be clear, not ambiguous, to both users and IT.

Consider the following tips when developing business requirements. When eliciting requirements, the business analyst should:

  • be clear, not ambiguous.
  • document business needs in terms familiar to the users–not IT terms.
  • help stakeholders reach a consensus on needs (“what” the software does).
  • help the stakeholders to develop standardized business process work flows that are simple enough to use day in and day out. The software implementation will reflect these work flows, which “behind the scenes” are well thought out and can handle exceptions with built in “business rules.”

When eliciting requirements, the business analyst should not:

  • document “molecular” requirements; each should be “atomic” and describe a specific need.
  • discuss the software features or look and feel (“how” the software does it) This will happen after software selection, during design.
  • allow certain stakeholder’s opinions to override what is best for the group as a whole.
  • help stakeholders to develop different work flows for different locations. Use “business rules” to address differences and to allow consistent, enterprise-wide data roll-up and reporting.

Read more about an approach to well-designed software.

Click here for a wealth of articles on software business requirements, evaluation and selection, and managing the IT systems life cycle.

 


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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.