While Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, also called cloud solutions, have evolved to meet today’s Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) challenges, the perceptions some EHS professionals have about cloud software have not kept pace. As a result, not all leaders realize the ways software can streamline compliance and improve safety management.
And even those EHS professionals who are onboard with cloud solutions can find it challenging to know which system to select to ensure they get the most value for their organization. Following, we take a look at the applications and strengths of SaaS solutions, and how they can improve EHS management for manufacturers.
What is SaaS?
SaaS is not an on-premise solution. On-premise solutions are installed on servers at the user’s facility and directly run and managed by the user. They can be tough to install, expensive to run and update, take a lot of bandwidth from the IT department, and often necessitate pricy consultants to keep it all working.
SaaS solutions, on the other hand, are hosted and run by the vendor — offsite. Compared to on-premise, the benefits of SaaS include speed of implementation, ease of use, quicker end-user engagement, and mobile integration. For most EHS solutions, the customer pays a subscription fee to the vendor to access the application.
There are two kinds of SaaS solutions available: the first is single-tenancy, where each instance of the software serves a single customer. The second type – multi-tenancy - involves a single instance of the software that is accessed by many customers. These Multi-tenant solutions are sometimes referred to as “true cloud” solutions.
While both single- and multi-tenant applications can ease the burden and expense of an on-premise solution, multi-tenancy software is where the real ROI exists. Since IT costs are distributed among multiple customers, expenses are typically reduced. Multi-tenant users can also take advantage of the network effect, which means the benefits of the software increase as more people use it. For EHS solutions, those benefits may include product suggestions and EHS best practices turning into new software features at an accelerated rate, thanks to a growing base of EHS professionals providing input and feedback.
Can the Cloud Help with EHS Management?
True-cloud solutions can be easily deployed across an entire organization. This is especially useful for those in manufacturing that are looking to improve an EHS program within a large workforce spread across several facilities.
While by no means an exhaustive list, here are four areas in EHS that see the greatest benefit from SaaS systems:
1. Incident Management: SaaS solutions facilitate incident tracking by providing a single location for employees across facilities to report incidents. Some advanced solutions even offer on- and offline mobile reporting capabilities, so workers can record incident details as they occur without having to worry about internet connectivity. SaaS solutions can be implemented quickly, so users avoid reporting gaps and lags that typically occur with lengthy system “ramp ups.”
On-the-spot incident reporting ensures incident details are promptly documented and that the evidence trail remains intact. It also enables better injury and illness recordkeeping and reporting down the line. Increasing record visibility allows users to get the word out quickly about hazards to prevent additional safety incidents, and also demonstrate progress on corrective actions to boost employee buy-in, which in turn improves future incident reporting.
2. Audits & Inspections (A&I): At the heart of any good program, audits and inspections help demonstrate whether you are really doing the things you need to be doing. True cloud software offers the uniform access that allows users to schedule audits, view results and track corrective actions across the enterprise. Even when internet connectivity is limited or unavailable, mobile functionality offers users another way to conduct inspections and observations digitally in the moment, and to sync up later.
3. Compliance Management: Proving compliance with a wide range of regulations can be difficult. However, a true cloud solution simplifies the process by facilitating the review of regulations, mapping out compliance actions, and providing visibility to all affected parties when regulations change. More people will now have a way to keep their eyes on compliance, and will have less need for top-down compliance management.
4. Training: The benefits of training go beyond meeting requirements of regulatory standards. Training drives best practices and boosts productivity, and most of all, it safeguards a company’s most important resources — its people. Many facilities struggle to demonstrate training completion percentages due to obstacles in getting the applicable records from different worksites into a single system that can be accessed by the person or people responsible for verifying training completion. Multi-tenant solutions overcome these hurdles by making training records visible to everyone in an organization with permission to access them, in just a few clicks.
The Security Benefits of True Cloud Solutions
Even as recently as 2017, one survey of EHS leaders found that one-third of respondents said they preferred “EHS software hosted in my organization’s data center on servers only used by my organization.” And nearly two-thirds were skeptical of vendor-hosted solutions. That kind of skepticism is outdated in the face of today’s best SaaS solutions, which can actually improve the level of protection companies can expect from EHS software, especially when compared to outdated homegrown or on-premise solutions.
For instance, SaaS solutions aligned with Service Organization Control (SOC) 2 standards must undergo stringent audits to confirm the effectiveness of security measures and data privacy. This often results in true-cloud vendors maintaining digital environments that are even more secure than those customers can maintain themselves.
Taking the Leap to SaaS
With fewer pre-requisites to get started, a faster implementation process, fewer roadblocks for updates, and infrastructure costs that can be shared among many thousands of users, the financial benefits of a true cloud solution definitely add up. In short, SaaS solutions represent a better return on investment (ROI) than on-premise solutions. And over the long run, subscriptions and associated costs are typically scalable depending on customer needs, changes and new releases are often implemented in real-time, and the availability of vendor technical support can lessen the need for costly outside training or consulting services, meaning the lifetime costs associated with the solution are significantly lower than traditional EHS software installations.
For organizations and EHS professionals ready to leave paper and spreadsheet solutions behind, it’s time to give SaaS solutions another look. Today’s multi-tenant cloud EHS solutions provide the tools needed to improve a wide-range of EHS management tasks, including: incident reporting, inspections, audits, training, and compliance management. Above all, the ease of use and accessibility of true cloud solutions can drive user engagement and improve EHS program buy-in from those most critical to its success — workers on the frontline. Given all of the advantages, a SaaS approach to EHS is an idea whose time has come.
Phil N. Molé, MPH is an EHS & Sustainability Expert at VelocityEHS.