If you are looking for a solution to your enterprise environmental calculation and reporting challenges, this article is for you. Go visit the website of any of the typical Environmental Information Management System (EMIS) or Quality Health Safety and Environment (QHSE) suppliers and you’ll get a laundry list of environmental features and capabilities for each system. When all is said and done however, it’s 2019 and there are a few primary requirements that separate themselves from the noise. Below we share the five most important requirements and why you need to make sure your solution delivers on all five.
1.) Interfacing to BI Tools
All companies are standardizing how they want to work with data using business intelligence (BI) tools. Power BI from Microsoft is growing in its market share, Tableau is also popular at lots of companies, and there are a plethora of others. Your environmental solution better be able to deliver its data to these tools in a seamless manner just like other corporate solutions do. This means not just the raw operations data used for the calculations, but also the emission calculation results. Your solution must calculate and store emissions periodically to support your company’s choice of BI tools.
If you cannot show how your environmental solution can be treated just as any other data source when working with the corporate BI tool of choice, you’re going to soon be encouraged to find a new solution. And make sure you don’t need some third-party vendor to transform your environmental data to work with the BI tools. The environmental solution should directly support the BI tools.
2.) Flexible Reporting
Notice that the first requirements on this list are related to the ease of getting data out of the system. What good is any system if you struggle to get data out? In addition to supporting BI tools, your solution needs to be able to let users query the data and extract it for reporting in an environment that the users can control. BI tools are powerful, but users typically want their data in Excel to do the work they need to do to produce the reports management needs. How easy is it to get the data to Excel? Can the results generated in Excel be fed back and stored in the system?
In addition to custom reports, users need to deliver data in a variety of formats for different regulatory reporting regimes. Some agencies support .xml delivery, while others might require reporting an Excel .xlsx format. It must be easy to get the data out and into a form that is easy to deliver to agencies to support automated reporting.
3.) Transparent and Useable Calculation Environment
This requirement should really weed out the solutions that your company evaluates. Can staff members review and audit how calculations are being performed in their solution, or do they need to rely on a third party? Does the solution have a proprietary calculation environment that staff members have to learn in order to understand how environmental emissions are being calculated? Excel is the most powerful calculation tool the industry has available and everyone understands it. Can the environmental solution just leverage Excel as a calculation environment and support it with database capabilities?
It is 2019 and no company should be committing their data for the next five to ten years to some vendor’s proprietary calculation environment. Don’t let them tell you that Excel cannot handle a big enterprise or that it’s not rigorous for your complex processes. Excel can be augmented with database capabilities for better data governance and control of data sharing. Many of the top solutions on the market actually use spreadsheet engines as the core of their proprietary calculation engines. As soon as someone shows you a proprietary calculation tool, you should be running for the hills.
4.) Interfacing to the Enterprise
How easy is it for a particular solution to pull data from other processes in the company? How easy is it for other processes to pull the environmental data?
In the past you just made sure that your solution had good Application Program Interfaces, or APIs, which a programmer could use to write code to build interfaces between systems. The code would know how to read data from the environmental system or write data to it.
Today interfacing is more advanced and more is expected of a system. A system better have Restful APIs or Rest APIs. That means that the system actually has a service that is ready to deliver data back upon receiving a request from a user on the internet or internal corporate network. These types of interfaces are the cornerstone of browser based applications and support the strong BI interface solutions.
You’re going to have this system for five to ten years, so you better at least get the technology so that it’s supporting today’s standard – REST APIs.
5.) Automated Validations and Checks
Again, it is 2019 and everyone is getting better at moving data around in more automated ways. Less cutting and pasting is going on. With data moving in more automated ways, how do we make sure that the data being moved is good? This is a critical concern of environmental staff. Reviewing data for completeness and reasonableness is a big part of what staff members do today as they are copying and pasting. How is this reviewing going to be automated in order to deliver on the improvements and savings everyone is looking for? The answer lies in better methods for automated validations and checks.
When evaluating systems, you better be asking “how does that automated data load from the plants or the remote locations get validated before it is fed into the environmental calculation tool?” Good solutions will be rigorous in their separation of inputs, calculations, and outputs. If so, the raw data can be stored and automated calculations (checks) can be run delivering validation results which can be reviewed before data is approved and used for calculations. Users don’t need to check all data, they just need to check the data that the system already flags as suspicious. How is your new environmental system going to handle this? You better know how because this is going to be a cornerstone for what you are going to need to be able to deliver on in the next five to ten years.
So, there you have it, these are the five key requirements from our point of view. There can be hundreds of requirements related to different report types, different agency formats, sophisticated calculation methods, storage of emission factors, version control on factors and calculations, etc. But we believe the five key requirements listed here are at the core of any system that expects to be successful for the next five to 20 years.
David Gloski has been working with environmental calculation and reporting technologies for over 25 years, helping to design the opsEnvironmental calculation engine in 1992. And yes, that object-oriented enterprise modeling and calculation tool is still in use and it has also formed the basis for many of the commercial solutions available today. Ten years ago, David recognized the evolution of Excel as an open, powerful calculation environment that was going to eliminate the need for proprietary calculation tools. He founded xOverTime to better support Excel in an enterprise environment, developing a patent to bring database and collaboration capabilities easily to users within Excel’s open environment.
Interested in learning how xOverTime can improve your environmental calculation and reporting? Reach out.