There are better alternatives to 'export to excel'.

Since its inception in the early 1990s, the purpose of EHS software hasn’t changed: to manage health and safety data. What has changed, however, is the volume of data and its best practices. So why is “Export to Excel” still a critical requirement for new EHS systems?

When looking for new EHS software, you’ll spend a considerable amount of time formulating a list of needs. This exercise helps you approach vendors with a Request for Information (RFI) and an end-goal in mind.

Pro-Sapien sees many RFIs, and overall, a few trends have endured the years.

‘Export to Excel’ is still popular

Deep within the Analytics section, nine times out of ten, the requirement of “Export to Excel” will be lurking.

Excel is a wildly popular business program, with one study reporting that 86% of companies rely on it. In EHS, it is used for data collection, tracking and analyzing; but it is time-consuming, misunderstood and not hugely secure.

Nevertheless, “Export to Excel” prevails. Why? Arguably, the reliance on Excel as a backup is influenced by basic analytics abilities in commercial EHS software.

“EHS teams are accustomed to EMIS systems not providing flexibility, but retaining Excel gives the option to pull things together just in case,”

says Murray Ferguson, Director at Pro-Sapien.

“This is especially true where there are multiple disconnected systems used for EHS management. We understand the desire and safety net, but as my son would say when complaining about technology issues, “We are not living in the 1990s!””

Why you should update your manual methods

Being able to pull information into a tool the EHS team is comfortable with is totally understandable.

Excel is ubiquitous and remains close to hand in a situation where an individual, regardless of experience, needs to pull together numbers quickly. So, what’s wrong with using Excel? It does the job, right?
Yes and no. It does the job, but its flexibility is also one of its flaws.

Independent analyst firm Verdantix reports that the sheer lack of analytics tools in EHS software is the biggest barrier to a modern approach.

Here are four standout reasons why you should move away from manual Excel processes.

  1. Manually maintaining spreadsheets is labor-intensive – spend your time elsewhere.
  2. Ensuring data integrity on static worksheets is difficult – there’s no audit trail and often multiple versions of the same information are floating around.
  3. Data access security is not optimal – spreadsheet files can be easily shared outside your organization.
  4. Opportunities are out there – you’re missing out on improving efficiency, transparency and productivity.

Three better alternatives

Let’s face it, exporting your static data to Excel is not ideal, but it’s easy and familiar. Plus, your EHS software hasn’t made you take the leap. However, you don’t need to go very far at all.

We’re not saying abandon Excel altogether; quite the opposite.

If you have Excel, it usually means your company has invested in Microsoft. The following alternatives are for users of SharePoint or Office 365, as around 80% of Fortune 500 companies are. All options become even more meaningful when you’re using Pro-Sapien’s HSEQ Innovate. Read on.

1) Excel Services

This option in the most closely aligned to Excel. Excel Services works by establishing a live link between the Excel program and your EHS data in Pro-Sapien’s software.

Use your Excel skills intuitively. Refresh data, and instead of saving a spreadsheet locally, you’ll save it to SharePoint where it can become a real-time, browser-based report.

For example, several Pro-Sapien clients have used this method to streamline monthly board reporting. Users with Excel know-how have built a standard report that they simply return to once a month and hit ‘refresh’, and ‘share to group’. No exports in sight. Voila.

2) Power BI

Power BI is Microsoft’s latest analytics tool that they’ve invested millions in, available as part of Office 365. The technology is like Excel, but the interface is very different.

Download our guide to how Power BI and EHS software works together

Power BI makes analytics easier for the average Joe—like me, and like EHS professionals, who aren’t business intelligence experts. Once connected to a data source(s), you build reports with a drag and drop interface and easy-to-use filtering.

Choose your chart style, layout, drill-down, labels, refresh schedule, ‘shared with’ and more.

If you’re a client of Pro-Sapien, we can set it all up for you, and leave you with the skills to be self-sufficient in the future.

3) Configured Dashboards

Traditionally, EHS software vendors prescribe a suite of standard reports and dashboards to meet the needs of many industries. This is good business sense for the vendor, but the “one size fits all” approach is wearing thin — and contributes to the “Export to Excel” problem.

Sometimes it’s best to stay within the EHS software’s walls, without opening something like Power BI. In this case, EHS professionals should look for dashboards configurable to the company’s unique profile and requirements. Otherwise, the statistics you (or, indeed, the vendor) are serving up may mean nothing to users, and you’re missing out on fully engaging the workforce in understanding their contribution to performance.

Configurability is often a desirable for new EHS software systems, and is the favored approach of mature organizations operating in mid/high risk industries. It may require more client resources during implementation, but it will make “export to Excel” redundant in the long run.

Drill into EHS data right within SharePoint with configured dashboards from Pro-Sapien

Configure it and they will come

EHS analytics is not just about the tools—it is more fundamental than that. It’s about the approach.

Understanding your skillsets and specific requirements is the first step. If 88% of all Excel workbooks have errors, issues are likely if you’re left to “plug and play” with powerful technologies.

Listen to your users, and don’t overestimate them. It may be worth spending time with your EHS software vendor to ensure the delivery is fit-for-purpose and has appropriate training.

For insights allowing you to make life-saving decisions, it’s a worthwhile investment.

In conclusion

“Export to Excel” remains a highly useful tool in our working lives (750 million of us use it). It is a trusty Plan B. The problem is when Plan B becomes the default.

There are options not requiring a leap of faith: market-leading, Microsoft-based technologies waiting to be leveraged by EHS professionals.

So, will you continue exporting to Excel?

Learn more about the technologies mentioned in this post:

Why not use Power BI for easier EHS analytics?

With Pro-Sapien's integrated EHS solution on Office 365, anything is possible with Microsoft Power BI. Have a read of our whitepaper to learn what Power BI is and how you can use it.

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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.