5 Partialities In EHS Software Selection

On 27 July, 2017, design and consulting firm Arcadis announced the acquisition of E2 ManageTech, independent EHS services provider, as part of the 27,000 employee-strong company’s strategy for digital growth. Just as this announcement echoed around EHS news platforms throughout North America, it was CH2M’s turn on the megaphone – the Colorado-based engineering and consulting behemoth released a statement on 2 Aug, 2017 that it had been acquired by Jacobs Engineering in a $2.85BN deal. CH2M operates across many sectors, and although Environment, Health & Safety is a small part of the business the name is well known among EHS professionals. It’s not surprising that the horizontal EHS market continues to benefit from investment; Verdantix valued it at $9.3M in 2016, expecting growth of up to $1.4BN by 2020. We are now, and have been for a while, in a booming industry.

And a booming industry makes for a saturated marketplace. There are dozens of EHS software vendors each with their unique strengths, making the job of practitioners that are selecting an appropriate system a challenging one. Consultants such as Trinity and JSA Services have blossomed out of this increasingly difficult process, as large organizations seek the assistance of experienced individuals to help with everything from gathering requirements, to deciding on a vendor, to the implementation and roll out of the software itself.

As part of a range of services, these kind of companies – Trinity, E2 ManageTech, CH2M among others – help the client EHS software selection team understand the self-biases of vendors, and avoid partiality themselves. However, as we know biases come in many shapes and sizes and although at a much lesser extent to that of vendors, consultancies are not excluded from the inevitable trait.

Partiality or bias in vendor selection is often subconscious. As LNS Research points out, “Bias is natural and unavoidable.” But in the interest of getting the most meaningful system possible for a business function that is critical to employee wellbeing, EHS professionals can try to understand and recognize such prejudices and take heed in their software selection. Here are a few that LNS Research has identified as sometimes present in the process.

1. Exposure Effect – team members have used it before

The ‘mere-exposure’ effect, sometimes known as the familiarity principle, is a psychological phenomenon by which someone will have a tendency to express undue liking for things merely because of their exposure to them in the past. They recognize the brand so develop a preference for that product over others they have less experience of. A fairly natural response, but one that can skew perceptions of the appropriateness/functionality of a system and limit your view of the whole picture.

2. Functional Fixedness – limiting its potential to tradition

This cognitive bias limits the perceived usefulness of something to the way that it is traditionally used. It has been defined as a “mental block against using an object in a new way that is required to solve a problem.” For example, SharePoint can be a great platform for enterprise EHS management if it is used and enhanced in new ways – however, some may struggle to consider the technology for something besides document management. We see many EHS professionals completely and pleasantly surprised at how well SharePoint can lend itself to their practice – and with ‘Poor integration with IT systems’ as a top reason buyers seek new EH&S software according to NAEM, breaking your Functional Fixedness should be a top consideration in remaining impartial.

3. Not Invented Here – preference for building it internally

NIH is not just a subconscious bias but also sometimes a stance adopted by organizations that do not want to buy-in from specialists. In the case of EHS software, a selection team – and often this rhetoric comes from IT – may prefer a system built in-house, despite there being readily available and suitable solutions on the market. The question of buy vs. build is one we come across frequently at Pro-Sapien, and almost always, those who choose to build return to us down the line when the project has failed. You might be surprised that only 9% of in-house software projects come in on time and on budget, and at that, the completed ones embody just 42% of the originally proposed features (The Standish Group, 2014.)

4. Status Quo – wanting things to remain the same

This emotional bias is probably one of the most common in the world – humans like things to remain the same, for fear of the unknown. Someone may not want to settle on a new EHS system simply because they want the current state of affairs to remain. Verdantix reports that resistance is most likely to occur when internal stakeholders don’t fully understand the need for change, lacking the incentive to move on “because they overlook current inefficiencies.” Clear communication and understanding of the drivers behind the project will be instrumental in alleviating this pain-point and avoiding it as a bias in the selection process.

5. Zero Risk – aversion to short-term risk

Economics studies have found that people are willing to pay high costs to completely eliminate risk, even when alternative options produce a greater reduction in risk overall. In the context of EHS software selection, as framed by LNS, this could be opting "for a larger vendor with a capable but average solution over a small vendor with a superior capability." Short-time investment risk may be alleviated, but in the long run a system not fit for purpose will affect processes negatively and you could be right back at square one. Don’t let the Zero Risk bias leave you exposed to the number one killer of successful software implementations – end-user revolt!

You won’t be able to avoid them all – you are human, after all! – but being aware of potential subconscious influences will go a long way in encouraging impartiality. For more information on common biases in vendor selection, read the full article by Dan Miklovic on the LNS Research Blog.

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