Know the pros and cons of configurable vs. out-of-the-box EHS software

It’s the main consideration when evaluating EHS software systems: will the system adapt to us, or will we to it? In the era of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), many vendors now exclusively offer cloud-based solutions; these tend to be less configurable than traditional on-premise implementations, but easier to support and upgrade. Despite this, EHS software buyers still favor configuration.

An out-of-the-box (OOTB) system is shipped by the software system as-is and is a tool delivering on a need. It may have built-in templates and workflows derived from the vendor’s experience of best practice.

A configurable system has its tools and workflows tweaked by the vendor before it’s delivered. Typically, the client will communicate requirements (i.e. the way you want to do things) and the vendor will match the configurable software to those needs.

Some EHS software systems can be defined as OOTB or configurable (and either can be SaaS, which refers to the license structure), but many are a combination, offering varying levels of configurability. LNS Research reports that the biggest portion of companies surveyed (29%) aim for a 60/40 balance between OOTB and configuration when implementing a software solution.

However, in relation to EHS, independent industry analyst Verdantix found that configurability is the top criteria EHS software buyers look for – knocking user interface off the number one spot. Configurable software is in demand.

Out-of-the-box pros and cons

Much of the software we use in our day-to-day lives is OOTB - we don’t necessarily need to make changes for it to function the way we want it to.

There are several reasons or scenarios for an organization to prefer an OOTB EHS software system, and it tends to be a weigh up of budgets, needs and how adaptable the management process is. For example, you may be running a relatively small EHS operation in its infancy. Or you may be looking to overhaul protocols to match industry best practice, which an OOTB EHS software could prescribe.

Out-of-the-box becomes less optimal when the enterprise software supports a mature organization. Nonetheless, it has its pros and cons.

Out of the box pros Out of the box cons
Timely and low-risk implementationLack flexibility for changes going forward
Can be cheaper than complex tailored systemsPaying for functionality that may not be required
Easier for the vendor to support and upgradeUser adoption hindrance if it deviates from common practice
Align with industry templates for best practice in the vendor's experienceMay have to change internal processes to match the system's abilities

Configurable pros and cons

Configurable software provides the framework, with the frills left to be tweaked. Configuring an EHS software system usually starts with a gap analysis to identify the changes to be made to the vendor’s software, including forms, workflows, analytics reports and dashboards.

As Verdantix research shows, configurable is the preferred model of EHS leaders, and for good reason. Mature organizations operating in mid to high risk industries usually have different compliance requirements, operations, culture, legacies and visions. These are unlikely to all have been pre-programmed into an OOTB system.

On the other hand, configured systems can be seen riding against industry standardization, with potential to become overly complex and over-run implementation timelines. Just like out-of-the-box, configured has its pros and cons.

Configurable pros Configurable cons
Performs the way you want it toMust have internal policies and processes already enshrined
Develop a close relationship with the vendor in a partnershipImplementation timelines are longer
More successful user adoption with less training requiredPrice rises if configuration is complex
Flexible for changes going forwardMore effort for the vendor to support and upgrade
Existing internal processes need not be changed

Furthermore, the ability to configure software to your organization’s specific requirements is recognized as industry standard best practice. The recently updated ISO 45001 for Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems Requirements agrees that your application needs to be flexible for an organization to easily improve safety.

Configurability is king, but demand for OOTB will grow

Whatever your preference, it’s likely that many of the 200 EHS software vendors worldwide can deliver a fit-for-purpose system. It’s also likely that configurability will remain a leading desire of EHS professionals, as workplaces become more diverse and complex. One of the top reasons EHS software systems fail is by not meeting users’ needs.

In our consultants’ experience, configurability is one of the main factors in clients' decision to choose Pro-Sapien.

“Companies want to have control over the information they are putting into and getting out of their EHS management system – canned reports are a particular frustration of practitioners we speak to looking to replace an out-of-the-box system. The success of our clients’ user adoption is largely down to the systems we deliver being tailored to match their unique process. The ability to configure is almost always top of the list of needs and wants of EHS professionals I speak to.” – Andy Gray, Principal Consultant at Pro-Sapien

For the foreseeable future this will be our preferred deployment model; however, OOTB has its place and as EHS software becomes more affordable, the demand for ready-to-go systems will increase as smaller organizations buy into the marketplace.

Configure your EHS forms, workflows and dashboards

Watch the demo today of Pro-Sapien's configurable EHS software on SharePoint. It's been described as one of the most configurable systems available on the market. See the software in action and envisage how it would work for you.

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Hannah Stewart manages the Digital Marketing team at Pro-Sapien, and has been with the company since graduating with a BA Hons in Communications in 2015. Hannah has a keen interest in technology advancements and enjoys engaging EHS professionals in conversations about how the profession will be affected by such changes. At Pro-Sapien, Hannah manages all things marketing and works closely with the Sales team on business development.