As sustainability and compliance become a “license to operate” for companies of all sizes, more and more organizations are on the search for digital solutions for managing this strategy in an efficient way. Here are six of the most important questions to consider, in order to secure the right solution for your organization’s needs.
#1 – What are your needs now - and later?
Vendors of digital sustainability solutions tend to market similar functionality, but looking deeper, solutions solve different needs. Digital sustainability solutions vary greatly, from measuring deep level data internally to coordinating sustainability efforts or reporting, sharing and visualizing data to stakeholders, or assessing performance in the value chain. Functionalities have varying importance for different businesses depending on the industry, complexity of value chain, stage of their sustainability journey, and so on. Look at what your needs are today, but also what you could end up needing as your efforts advance and your market changes - one, three, or five years from now. Will you be able to grow in the system? How easy is it to expand the usage when you need it? And more importantly, how costly would it be to expand and how scalable is the solution?
#2 – How flexible is the solution?
Every strategy is unique, and most strategies change over time. A modern sustainability management solution should, therefore, be flexible enough to give you guidance and order, while at the same time being adaptable to your needs and the changes in them. This is only possible with a solution offering clear workflows and support, yet combined with self-service customization. Will the vendor have to setup all the customizations for you? This will increase the complexity and limit your own control, and it will cost you both initially and at each update. Or, does the solution allow you to do customizations and continuously update them yourself?
In the era of digital innovation and big data, it’s more important than ever to look at the modernity of the technology. At what pace does the provider update its system? Are they innovating? Are they keeping up with technological advances? Or will you be locking yourself to a legacy software with little plans on modernizing?
#3 – Will it help you align with sustainability and compliance frameworks?
Most organizations want to align their sustainability efforts with established guidelines and standards – for support, compliance or reporting purposes. Which frameworks are important to you, and your various business functions? Does the solution provide all of them so that you can utilize the same solution cross-business wide? If you are missing some frameworks, can they be added? If the solution offers multiple frameworks, are they cross-referenced so that you can easily re-use content and get a complete view? Is the solution offering functionalities that help you visualize your progress within the frameworks, streamline reporting and improve coordination, or is it merely an excel sheet in the cloud?
#4 – Does the solution connect you with colleagues, stakeholders, and other companies?
Solutions vary in how well they connect you with key parties. Can you coordinate your work with colleagues? Can you visualize efforts to different stakeholders? Can you also connect with other companies to access or share information? Do you want to be able to connect auditors to the information, or perhaps consultants? The sustainability and compliance practice is by nature dependent on sharing and exchanging information with both internal and external groups, so make sure the solution is built for connecting you and your data - and not a silo solution built only for your own initial benefit. If you are going to use the solution for assessing data from business partners, such as suppliers, how easy is it for them use? Does it involve a cost for them? The solution you choose will influence the level of participation of other parties involved.
#5 – Is it user-friendly and intuitive?
If the solution you choose is cumbersome to understand and use, it doesn’t matter how great the functionality is in theory, it’s not going to be used efficiently, or at all. People must be able to quickly grasp the solution and how to use it. If the interface design is attractive, your sustainability efforts will feel less complex and more enjoyable for the whole team, which in turn will lead to better use and better results.
#6 – What’s the cost, and the actual cost
Along with user-friendliness and flexible configuration, one of the most important aspects for buyers is obviously the cost of the solution. When you analyze the cost of a solution you must consider costs beyond the actual price of the subscription or program fee. Costs can easily add up with implementation and have to hire consultants to set up and adjust the solution to your needs.
Does the solution require implementation rollouts? (also important if you have a deadline to consider). Will there be additional costs for customizing the solution, and re-configuring when your needs change? Does the subscription come with regular technology updates, or does it cost extra to update?
Moreover, consider the cost of the time training your team in using and understanding (or not understanding) the solution.
Considering these questions will help you find a solution that matches your needs today and tomorrow. Look for a solution that you can grow in, that is flexible enough for your needs, and that also helps you align with international frameworks. Consider the hidden costs of purchasing the solution, and don’t forget that user-friendliness is a key determinant of whether the investment will give expected return.
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