With new technologies enriching collaboration, optimizing processes, and simplifying tasks, digitalization is gaining momentum across environmental, health, safety (EHS) and sustainability functions. But deploying new technologies is just the start of the digital journey - these solutions must also be effectively supported and sustained to ensure organizations can achieve the best outcomes now and in the future.

In the rush to accelerate their EHS digitalization goals, companies often overlook or misjudge the ongoing management requirements of their solutions, which impacts the realization of benefits. Establishing the right processes and skills can be time-consuming and costly - particularly for organizations with limited internal resources - which pushes support and sustainment even further down the to do list.

Failing to prioritize support and sustainment from the outset can result in more complexity and less control - especially given the breadth of what is required. The support and sustainment of digital EHS solutions needs to extend well beyond traditional “break fix” IT services and user helpdesks. The digitalization and transformation of EHS doesn’t just involve significant IT change; it also prompts a shift in behaviors, workstyles, and mind-sets, which will impact an organization’s culture. Change management, value creation, and operational analytics need to feature on the support and sustainment landscape to drive a strong return on investment both in the short- and long-term.

ERM has helped hundreds of organizations transform their EHS systems and processes to address changing priorities and risks. While it can be tempting to cut corners, especially with reduced budgets, in our experience companies that have not considered support and sustainment end up having to introduce costly workarounds, implement those workarounds or shadow systems, or not realize the full value of their investment in terms of adoption and capability.

To help build the business case for a smarter support and sustainment program, here are the top five benefits that will help get more from technology investments, now and in the years to come.

1. Helping keep pace with change

Government regulations. Organizational changes. Investor expectations. The EHS landscape is constantly evolving with macro-economic market drivers, such as Low Carbon Energy Transition and Sustainable Finance, forcing organizations to adapt not only their processes but also their systems to capture new datasets.

As a result, EHS systems must evolve at a faster rate than in the past to ensure they continue to deliver value, with digital tools such as mobile apps and data analytics becoming standard features for users. As more technologies join the EHS digital portfolio, for example augmented reality and wearables, the amount of data that needs to be collected and analyzed will also increase resulting in more complexity.

New performance indicators, such as the carbon intensity of products or Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) ratings, need to quickly become part of the EHS data landscape. By ensuring digital processes and systems reflect these and other regulatory and operational changes will help ensure that employees leverage the right workflows and datasets when performing key tasks or generating reports.

To better manage change, organizations need to look at their EHS strategy and digital roadmap for the next five years, with planned - and anticipated adaptations - factored in to the support and sustainment framework underpinning EHS systems.

By monitoring evolving market drivers, the regulatory landscape, and other change triggers, organizations will be able to assess and address any impacts on their digital solutions and processes before the user experience or EHS outcomes are impacted. A proactive approach to change will not only accelerate timelines but also reduce costs.

Companies that are not keeping up with the change find themselves with outdated systems, which do not meet the requirements as they evolve – requiring the company to invest in additional technology, maintaining multiple systems or manually intensive workarounds.

A global pharmaceutical company recently underwent an acquisition of a similarly-sized global company. Integrating EHS systems was a significant priority to allow appropriate reporting and management of EHS activities within a short duration of the acquisition. As a result of having a dedicated support & sustainment team, the company had already established processes, change management artefacts and toolsets to integrate anticipated acquisitions; the existing solution landscape could be quickly assessed against the acquired company’s frameworks and toolsets by the support & sustainment team. This allowed the transition into a single EHS platform for the acquired assets to be executed ahead of schedule, saving time and money.

2. Driving Greater Return on Investment and Financial Benefits

The digitalization of EHS is not a one-off project but a long-term program. With new technologies and opportunities constantly emerging, organizations will be innovating and investing for years to come.

The first wave of initiatives will be critical to demonstrating how digitalization can help to reduce operational costs, avoid future capital expenditure, and deliver a good return on investment.

By establishing a robust support and sustainment framework from the outset, EHS teams will be able to prove the impact of digitalization both in financial and operational terms to stakeholders across the business. This will help people recognize the strategic and competitive value of digitalizing EHS.

The impact of EHS solutions will depend on the extent of their utilization. Issues with data quality and system availability can all lead to poor user adoption and satisfaction, which will have a direct impact on value creation both in the short- and long-term. Sustainment teams are now focusing on extending reports and dashboards to cover data quality indicators and metrics to showcase where improvement opportunities exist.

Adopting a right-shoring approach - where resources in different countries are leveraged to provide the best combination between cost and efficiency - will help to maximize budgets and reduce the cost of providing base support to users. Given the rate of change within EHS and the business landscape as a whole, organizations need to ensure they have sufficient funding to cope with change requests during the financial year.

By taking a tiered and centralized approach to user support, organizations can react faster to issues with current solutions or future deployments. This will help to minimize potential downtime and disruption, resulting in greater productivity, profitability and client satisfaction.

ERM worked with an international oil and gas company to reduce its annual operating costs by outsourcing its support team. The client was exerting effort and expense to train and upskill its own internal support team across five separate applications utilized by its EHS function. ERM provides a single dedicated support and sustainment team, based out of Spain and India, to respond to issues, perform break-fixes, implement existing modules at new sites, and enhance functionality. With skilled resources in multiple countries supporting multiple applications, the client has been able to improve both responsiveness and reduced cost. In the case of one application, the annual operating cost was reduced by 75%.

3. Safeguarding Business Continuity

As more EHS processes and datasets become digitalized, organizations need to safeguard the availability and security of current and future solutions to prevent client services and business processes from being disrupted.

By taking an ‘evergreen’ approach to EHS digital solutions with updates and enhancements being applied on a regular basis, organizations will be able to minimize costs and risks by preventing service outages, security breaches, and degradations in performance.

With a support and sustainment framework in place, organizations will be able to ensure that software upgrades, system patches, and change requests are implemented consistently and promptly. A structured approach will help ensure that enhancement opportunities as well as system upgrades and patches are identified and tested more rapidly and deployments prioritized in line with business and user needs.

Safeguarding continuity and maximizing contingency is essential in a digital age as unexpected downtime can have major ramifications to both operational requirements and user expectations. With support and sustainment, organizations can not only react and adapt more rapidly to unexpected events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, but also control costs more effectively and capture insights more easily.

By tracking, integrating, and analyzing support and sustainment data, organizations can pinpoint and prevent recurring issues and better understand user behaviors. This will help to drive continuous improvement initiatives and strengthen continuity and contingency.

As part of the new initiative to modernize and improve EHS performance, a global chemical company was looking to deploy a new EHS software solution while maintaining the existing solution landscape to avoid any business interruption in the areas of incident reporting, auditing and risk assessments. The deployment of the solution, even fast-tracked, would require some months to be fully deployed and configured and the existing solutions needed to be supported but with cost savings to realize the financial benefits sooner, especially given the turbulent times faced during the pandemic. ERM provided a seamless support team that allowed the client to support the legacy solution landscape at 50% of the normal operating costs and to leverage that same team to provide support on the new EHS platform, minimizing training or upskilling costs as part of the transition to the new solution. This allowed the client to safeguard business continuity, minimize business disruption and reduce operational costs.

4. Enriching the user experience

Users have high digital expectations - and EHS solutions are no exception. To maximize adoption and utilization, organizations need to provide employees with an efficient, intuitive experience - whether they are working in the field, at home, or in an office.

As well as ensuring EHS solutions are simple to use for different personas, organizations need to continuously augment existing capabilities and add new features to meet changing requirements and address employee feedback.

By establishing a constant cycle of enhancement, organizations will be able to ensure that the EHS digital experience matches different users’ expectations. Support and sustainment will bring greater consistency and control to these enhancements, which can end up introducing additional cost and complexity if not managed effectively.

By embedding Agile ways of working and regular improvement cycles into an EHS support and sustainment framework, organizations can ensure their digital systems don’t become outdated from either an operational or technological perspective. Engaging regularly with users before, during, and after system rollouts and enhancements will ensure that feedback is captured and actioned.

A continuous feedback loop will help drive an evergreen approach to EHS support and sustainment, which will unlock great business value and enrich the user experience in the long-term. Adopting design thinking can help to facilitate this user-centric approach and also accelerate the development and deployment cycle for EHS systems.

It’s important to ensure that your support and sustainment strategy includes a robust testing framework to prevent changes from causing any unforeseen issues with system interdependencies, data quality or the user experience.

To generate maximum value from new EHS solutions and capabilities, organizations also need to consider user engagement - especially on digital channels. Mobile app notifications, guided wizards, and online learning modules can all help to accelerate the EHS transformation roadmap.

ERM provides ongoing regulatory updates for a global technology company specifically in the context of their individual operations around the globe. Through user engagement and feedback sessions, we worked with the client to improve the effectiveness of these updates. The information was often overwhelming to review on screen. ERM engaged its user experience specialists within our support team to engage with the client organization to better understand how users were interacting with the solution and incorporated their feedback into a set of iterative releases within the solution to simplify the user interface and provide better insights.

5. Unlocking the business value of data

From safety protocols and emission reductions to regulatory reports and employee behaviors, data from digital EHS solutions is increasingly influencing decisions and triggering actions.

As a result, organizations need to ensure they consider how data will be captured, aggregated, shared, and analyzed by different stakeholders, including non EHS professionals. These considerations will not only influence the design and implementation of new digital solutions but also their support and sustainment.

To maximize the business value of EHS data, organizations need to safeguard quality and integrity throughout the information management lifecycle. Enabling integrations between key systems and datasets will be key for ensuring information accuracy and connectivity as the digitalization of EHS continues to gain pace. In addition, organizations need to analyze the data that has been collected through new visualizations and analytic methods.

Making data capture as intuitive and efficient as possible for employees is essential; even the most sophisticated digital solutions still require user interaction for certain processes, for example to log a safety incident. Encouraging as many people as possible input and maintain EHS data will help to ensure its quality in the short- and long-term.

As unstructured data increasingly becomes part of the EHS landscape, organizations will need to look at methods, such as natural language processing, to help them extract richer insights and greater business value from a broad range of sources.

With a support and sustainment strategy in place focusing on the utilization of existing data, the full potential of real-time dashboards, big data analytics, and system integrations can be realized. Combining these capabilities with business intelligence tools will empower teams and managers to leverage data in new ways to not only improve EHS outcomes but also reduce operational costs.

ERM helped a global chemical company achieve an annual reduction of US$2.5 million per year in waste management costs by analyzing several years of waste management information. The analysis indicated the additional costs incurred by having inefficient use of waste containers and multiple suppliers. In addition, analyzing the shipment information showcased areas where the conservative estimation approach was driving up costs by requiring handling and treatment methods that were not required. By reducing its supplier base and establishing contracts with a smaller number of vendors, the company was able to eliminate the cost of third party audits, take advantage of volume discounts, and lower its risk liability.

Efficiency gains and cost savings with a tailored approach

By embedding support and sustainment into the digitalization roadmap from the outset, organizations can enrich the user experience and drive better EHS outcomes at an individual and operational level.

Although there are common support and sustainment elements, it is not a one-size-fits-all discipline and can encompass different skills, technologies, and services at different times. Establishing and maintaining these capabilities in-house can often prove costly and complex.

Working with a partner with a support and sustainment offering that can be flexed to match your specific goals and resources will help to maximize value creation now and in the future.

Support and sustainment is not just about realizing the full potential of EHS technologies; it’s also about ensuring you have the right people and processes in place to succeed. With the right combination, you will be able to tap into operational efficiencies and financial savings that not only benefit the EHS function but also the entire organization, which will protect and further your EHS digital investment.