Sunday, January 20, 2013

Survey Results & Final Research: Sustainability Data Management Software

Executive Summary

Sustainability Issue
Although there are few legislative standards that mandate a certain level of sustainable performance for companies in the U.S., there is still enormous value to be gained by those who proactively pursue sustainability goals.  Effective management of environmental and social performance data is critical for organizations of all sizes and industries to achieve these goals.  Because the task of collecting, analyzing, and communicating sustainability data is so extensive and complex, advanced software systems are needed to centralize and simplify this process. 

Research Needed in the Industry
Literature that currently exists on this subject is largely focused on the vendors in the industry.  Since 2008, excitement in this space has spurred the emergence of dozens of new sustainability software products, developed by larger and well-established business solutions providers such as Oracle and SAP as well as smaller, newer, and more specialized companies such as Hara and CRedit360.  Accordingly, current research aims to demystify this rapidly growing market by providing potential users with resources to help them understand the different products and ultimately choose a solution. 

This study addresses what is currently missing in the industry – that is, an examination of the user-end of these products.  This allows vendors to better understand customer needs in the market and improve their products and services to increase customer success, which is, ultimately, an effective corporate sustainability program. 

Research Questions Addressed in this Study
1.  How do organizations collect, analyze, and report their sustainability data?
2.  What systems are they using to facilitate this process?
3.  What challenges are they facing, and what do they need to meet those challenges?
4.  How can enterprise sustainability software be improved in order to support the implementation of effective, data-driven sustainability strategies?

Key Findings
The greatest opportunities for vendors to increase their value to customers are to improve 1) product implementation, and 2) reporting capabilities.  These were rated as two of the top three most important features of a sustainability software solution.  However, this study found that users are, on average, only marginally satisfied with their solution's ability to deliver on these critical features.  The other feature rated in the top three was simplicity of user interface. 

Product Implementation:
Ease of product implementation was rated as the number one most important software feature out of a list of fifteen.  However, almost two-thirds of research subjects who purchase sustainability software also use Excel spreadsheets to support their data management efforts.  This finding indicates that the majority of software users have not been successful in fully transitioning to the solution they pay for even though these products should be designed to handle the entire data management process.  This challenge can be resolved with improved vendor service at the onset of launching a product with a customer.  The services needed include: locating data sources, loading historical data into the system, and helping to establish processes for pulling future data from internal and external sources.

Reporting Capabilities:
The ability to generate reports directly from software was rated as the third most important product feature out of fifteen.  Sustainability managers currently struggle with the need to communicate information to several different stakeholders and reporting organizations.  Each one requires a different set of reporting standards, thus further complicating the data management process.  There is a need for sustainability software that integrates not only the most common reporting frameworks, but also the reporting requirements of customers' unique stakeholders.  This can be part of a vendor's implementation service and includes working with each customer to identify their specific reporting needs and building a solution that allows them to easily provide the necessary information to each stakeholder.  

Moving Forward 
Effective data management will continue to be a key driver of sustainability progress in organizations, and vendors should not be deterred by the temporary lag in sales growth that the industry has experienced over the last year.  

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