A LINKEDIN POST FROM A FEW YEARS AGO, David Metcalfe, Verdantix’s president and CEO, asked: “Why Aren’t EHS Professionals Technology Leaders?” It’s 2020, and the question is still relevant.
It is surprising how far the Environmental Health, Safety & Sustainability profession is behind as an industry. And if Metcalfe and Verdantix aren’t accurate in this assessment, then who is? This is especially notable considering the resources at disposal within large organizations. We can attest that this is not for a lack of technology solutions.
Coming out of finance, the two worlds feel almost like opposites. Not just the day to day or trying to compare mutual fund management to high-risk, capital-intensive, labor-intensive industries. There is no relevant comparison there. Except that every company is a technology company now, and finance has acknowledged that, which produced an avalanche of movement. We’ve not seen that kind of moment publicly in EHS&S—but it’s building beneath the waves.
With that, finance employed technology rapidly comparatively over the past 15 years. In finance they deployed and continue to deploy machine learning, robotic process automation and other technologies to squeeze out remaining efficiencies. Most workflows are already digital. They are picking off the remaining human intervention operations and squeezing, and moving toward an optimization trend now.
We could follow this lead in EHS&S across the board. At Sphera, we are doing so by building cloud-first, integration-first and digital-first solutions. As an industry, are we going to manage carbon emissions with nondigital workflows? Really? Measure incidents in spreadsheets … who does this benefit?
The premise that less than half (only 35% in 2017) of EHS&S respondents think software is a critical success factor will always hold us back. In 2011 Marc Andreessen, who co-created the Mosaic browser, said that “software is eating the world.” And it has been ever since. Today, artificial intelligence and machine learning are starting to supersede software. It’s moving at an incredible pace. If EHS&S is behind on digitization today, then can they leap the chasm? Of course they can. They must. If not, many large organizations will suffer greatly. It takes deploying integrated, secure, cloud-ready solutions to win now.
So Metcalfe is proposing modifying career tracks inside of large organizations to add additional focus for EHS&S professionals with technology. I applaud this train of thought.
Here are some other ideas I’ll add:
- Put EHS&S and technology into Digital Transformation initiatives.
- Offer digital workflow training (EHS&S or otherwise) so professionals can see the possibilities.
- Inject team members from other professions into the EHS&S practice as catalysts.
Sphera believes we can change this trend with our integrated SpheraCloud solutions and hybrid take on moving from on-premise to cloud. That, combined with an integrated solution built by professional software teams and world-class subject-matter experts, can “lift all boats” and benefit providers, EHS&S professionals and everyone’s bottom lines.
Stephen Rylander runs technology and software engineering for Sphera. He has a background in distributed systems, software architecture and process. Before Sphera, Rylander ran technology for two business units at a global investment research firm.