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July 20, 2018

Purchasing EHS Software Solutions: Questions to Ask Before You Start the Buying Process


Purchasing EHS Software - Before the Buying Process

So you want to purchase a new EHS software solution.


First of all, congratulations! Whether you’re an EHS manger or a member of the executive team, you’ve made a decision that has the potential to transform the way your organization does business and boost the bottom line.


Now, where to begin?


Ideally, your software buying process should start with a review of your organization’s overall process. A little preparation to this end can save you a lot of time, money, and headache. Here, we’ve outlined the most critical questions you should be able to answer before you embark on the EHS software purchase process, as well as a checklist you can download so you’re prepared when you get in the room with solution providers:


Have I defined my problems, opportunities, and priorities?

Before you start evaluating EHS software solutions, you need to know exactly what you’re looking for and how these needs align with your organization’s strategic, operational, sustainability, and risk management objectives. Define your solution requirements and make sure you understand what the priorities are within your organization. This means consulting your potential end users and subject matter experts. Get them involved in the project as early as possible so you can better understand organizational challenges and where the real pain points and procedural gaps are.


In addition, you should identify key stakeholders among your executive team - we call them “Champions” (people who have power and influence to drive programs) and “Economic Buyers” (an EB – person/people who can ultimately say “Yes or No” and determine whether or not a project has the proper impact). Their input is key to ensuring that the outcomes the solution delivers meet your organizations’ strategic objectives, and will impact downstream requirements and objectives in the buying process. Executive sponsors will also be needed downstream when it comes to funding and approval, so the sooner these stakeholders are identified, the better.


In some cases, it may be worthwhile to consider engaging an outside consultant to help with this process. It can be beneficial to get a neutral third-party opinion of where your areas of risk are. For instance, if you’re managing your safety program using spreadsheets, where does that leave you open to fines or other disciplinary action?


Have I engaged IT?

IT is the stakeholder that’s forgotten most often. Having IT on board and engaged early in the process is a huge help when purchasing EHS software. Even if your potential vendors include multi-tenant SaaS providers and there’s a light load on the IT department, your IT staff will be an invaluable source about technology requirements at your organization. We recommend engaging them early, rather than hoping they don’t get in your way.


For any software acquisition, there are a couple of IT workflows you must concern yourself with. The first are the IT architecture requirements. Your organization may have specific requirements as to how software must be structured and your IT staff will be deeply familiar with them. This includes everything from supported web browsers and mobile devices to the location of servers. Second are the IT security requirements. Typically, IT will provide a highly detailed security questionnaire to vendors in order to establish if they meet the organizations standards for digital protection. Familiarizing yourself with both of these sets of requirements ahead of time will allow you to quickly screen potential vendors, as well as expedite IT security approvals.


Regardless of how much involvement IT will have after implementation, get them involved early and often in the buying process. IT can’t always give you the thumbs up, but they can always give you the thumbs down.


Do I understand my organization’s buying process?

Every company is a little different when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the software acquisition process. Some companies require you follow a formal buying procedure that involves screening vendor presentations and obtaining detailed quotes. Others look for an RFI, followed by an RFP. Some companies also require the formation of a buying committee.


Understanding the unique buying process for your organization is critical. You can do this by engaging your procurement contacts and talking through the process. Tell them what you want to do, and see what procedures dictate how you can get from Point A (identification of need) to Point B (software purchase).


Have I established executive sponsorship?

As we mentioned earlier, identifying and engaging Champions and Economic Buyers as executive sponsors early in the process is key. Larger corporate projects typically require a sponsor or supporter at the VP level or higher, so be sure to get approval from your Champion and/or Economic Buyer before you engage vendors. It may be the entire executive team or just one person, but without an executive sponsorship, you are not going to be successful in your purchase.


So how do you convince your potential sponsor to get on board? Create a compelling business case. Remember, for the executive team, numbers typically speak louder than words. Make sure you tie your justification to the bottom line and other objective metrics that your executive team cares about. Software vendors, EHS software consulting firms, and analysts such as Verdantix can assist you in building ROI justifications to help with this process. If members of the executive team can clearly see the business value in your proposition, they will be much more likely to support you through the project.


Do I have funding?

This question is pretty straightforward. You need to ensure you have sufficient funds to purchase your chosen software solution, and that means contacting whoever is responsible for the budget within your department and/or organization.


It’s important to note that there’s typically two types of budgets involved in a new software acquisition: a software licensing budget and an implementation budget. Make sure you understand how the numbers break down and confirm that you have money for both. You might have money to purchase the software, but if you don’t have the funds to implement it, you’re wasting your time.


In addition, be sure you understand the true cost of your problem. Do you have a $10,000 problem or do you have a $100,000 problem? No one wins if the buyer or EHS manager comes into the buying process under-educated about the real world cost of the issue they’re trying to solve. For instance, a comprehensive air management program at a large enterprise is not a $10,000 problem. Avoid sticker shock by doing your research and understanding the market.


What is the contract negotiation timeline?

Getting a contract negotiated and approved can take weeks, or even months. Prepare yourself ahead of time by having a conversation with your legal and/or contracts department to better understand the process. Having a handle on estimated turnaround times for contracts and what the department’s current workload is will help you set out a realistic timeline from initial evaluation to contract close and beginning of implementation. The earlier you can get contract discussions started with the vendor, the faster this process will go.


Who signs on the dotted line?

This is the simplest, but most critical step in the entire EHS software purchasing process. Know who signs the contract as it can vary tremendously depending on contract size and scope. Signatory requirements range from executives, to budget holders (IT or business users) and procurement personnel. In some cases, the process may involve several people from multiple levels of management.


Even more importantly, be sure to prepare your signatories ahead of time. Let them know that the project is coming – you may even want to engage them from the beginning of the buying process. Even after the ink is dry on the contract, getting the final sign-off can hold up final procurement and implementation for weeks.


At the end of the day, it’s all about knowing your buying process. Software acquisition is a team effort, and as the project facilitator, you need to be prepared and engage with the right people from the outset. Doing your due diligence is key to streamlining the software buying process, as well as saving yourself and your organization time and money.

Ready to put these questions into practice? Download our helpful free checklist so you can ensure you thoroughly understand your organization's buying process before engaging with prospective EHS solutions providers.
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