Metcalfe's Law states that a network's value grows exponentially with the number of users. The Internetworking of society over the past decade has produced dramatic examples of Metcalfe's Law at work. With everyone "connected," electronic mail and the World Wide Web are now communication standards within organizations and between organizations and their customers.
This pervasiveness of the Internet has spawned innovative applications designed to improve organizational efficiencies. Two recent trends, Web-based software provided by "application service providers" (ASP) and business-to-business (B2B) commerce, are using the Web to further streamline business operations.
In the ASP business model, an ASP creates and maintains productivity and business software applications that it provides to customers on a subscription basis over the Internet. The ASP assumes the costs and headaches associated with software and server maintenance and upgrades, data storage and data backup. The customer provides the desktop computer, the network connection, and standard Internet and Web-based applications. Total operating costs are reduced for individual customers because the ASP's infrastructure is shared with multiple customers.
Web-based B2B marketplaces, another benefit of Metcalfe's Law, have been developed in industries as diverse as commercial fishing and automobile manufacturing. In commercial fishing, Maine-based Gofish.com (gofish.com) brings buyers and sellers together online so that sales can be executed faster, which is critical for perishable products. In the automotive industry, Ford Motor and Oracle created auto-xchange (www.auto-xchange.com), a "... global automotive supply chain network" providing supply chain management, collaborative product development and global procurement services.
Blue292 is hard at work bringing the benefits of ASP software and online markets to environmental, health and safety (EHS) professionals. Blue292 applications -- EHS Management System, EHS Emergency Management and EHS Training Management -- are adroitly integrated with an EHS online market. Space does not permit a comprehensive review of the entire Blue292 suite, so I'll concentrate on the EHS Management System and EHS Training Management applications, leaving the EHS Emergency Management application for a future issue.
Once a company establishes an account with Blue292, it receives access to private and secure Web space on Blue292's servers. At least one employee is assigned system administrator privileges to manage the company's user accounts. A Web browser is the only software needed to access the company's Blue292 home page, Blue292's application software and the online market.
The hub for user access is a personal "portal" Web page summarizing the user's projects, calendar of events, assigned tasks, pending requisitions and training assignments. A context-sensitive menu bar at the top of the Web page provides quick access to the various applications and features.
The EHS Management System application is centered on "projects". A project can be anything imaginable -- a compliance calendar, a safety program or other activity. Creating a project establishes a virtual workspace where team members assigned to the project work together to manage the various activities, events and documents needed to meet the project goals.
Activities associated with a project are managed by creating "tasks" and "events." Electronic documents -- project reports, meeting agendas, task specifications, Web sites or even executable programs -- can be linked to tasks and events, or stored in the project library. Each project includes a Project Forum, a Web-based bulletin board where project members exchange messages.
Complex projects can be broken into smaller, more manageable chunks by creating subprojects. Each subproject has its own workspace with its own tasks, events, library and forum.
This project focus is easy to understand, simple to use, quite flexible and promotes collaboration across organizations. For example, I used Blue292 to design a project that manages a confined space entry program. First, I created a confined space entry project that includes tasks and events for creating and maintaining the written program, confined space inventory and confined space permit form, storing all documents in the program library. Next, I created a subproject for tracking confined space entry testing and rescue equipment, and for scheduling periodic maintenance and calibration as recurring events on the calendar.
Finally, a subproject was created to process confined space entry permits where maintenance supervisors maintain a calendar of jobs involving confined space entry, attach a completed confined space entry permit and assign the event to my confined space safety professional. The assigned event, with the attached entry permit, appears in the safety professional's portal for review, approval and return to the maintenance supervisor with a copy of the completed permit saved in the subproject library for long-term storage.
The end result is a computerized system for scheduling, processing and storage of confined space entry permits that took just 30 minutes to plan and create.
The EHS Management System application provides a reports module that supports reporting by project, requisitions, event or task. A report is built by selecting first the date range, then the projects covered. Next, the fields that appear in the report are selected from a list and placed in the order to appear in the final report. Finally, up to five Boolean conditions can be set to select the desired records. Completed reports can be named and saved for repeated use or exported as a CSV file for importing into spreadsheet or database applications.
EHS Training Management
Blue292's EHS Training Management application has everything needed to manage, create, deliver and track training. A training administrator coordinates the training process by managing the course catalog, assigning training managers and designating course authors.
Training managers assign and track training in their organizations. Training assignments are made by employee or course. Assigning training by employee involves selecting an employee and checking off a list of available courses. Assigning by course involves selecting the course, followed by selecting the attendees from an employee list.
Authors prepare online courses in an Authoring Center that provides tools for creating course lessons, quizzes and exams. The course can include imbedded graphics and links to documents, Web sites and programs.
Training reports are available to help manage the training program. These reports work just like the project reports, except they focus on completed courses, past-due courses, courses not completed and not past due, and individual course statistics.
Blue292's EHS Marketplace provides a wide selection of EHS goods and services. The Marketplace is divided into sections on EHS supplies and equipment, analytical services, rental equipment and an Expert Solutions section. Each of these sections is divided into subcategories that the user uses to drill down to specific products.
I found the Marketplace search function more useful at finding products than browsing the product categories. While I struck out looking for confined space rescue equipment in the "industrial health and safety/emergency response/first aid and rescue category," a search on "confined space" quickly generated a list of hits that included three confined space rescue harness and lifeline systems under the "industrial health and safety/personal protection/fall protection category."
Each item in the catalog includes a product description, detailed specifications and purchasing options. Placing an online order is quick and easy, with the completed requisition linked to the project where you started your shopping trip.
The Analytical Services procurement module deserves special mention. Blue292's patent-pending Requisition Wizard helps the user build laboratory requisitions by selecting the desired analytical methods, generating a list of laboratories that can provide the required analyses. Clicking on a laboratory name provides detailed information on the lab, its
accreditation and certifications (including images of the actual certificates), and a list of all methods performed by the lab. Clicking on a method provides a summary of the method, analytes and the detailed method in PDF format. Finally, clicking on an analyte produces a list of chemical synonyms with external links to NIST Chemical Info sheets and NIOSH Pocket Guide information.
Twenty-one laboratories offer a full range of environmental and industrial hygiene analytical services through Blue292. Once a lab is selected to perform an analysis, the user completes the order form, schedules the delivery of sampling supplies and selects the level of detail in the quality assurance report. A single requisition can handle orders for multiple methods and laboratories, simplifying an otherwise complex manual order process.
Blue292 integrates EHS management, training management and procurement into a superior Web-based application and online market. Sure, there is room for improvement -- easier access to NIST and NIOSH information on specific chemicals, one-click transfers of attachments from events and tasks to the project library, and the ability to transfer events and task information between Blue292 and a Palm Pilot. But the bottom line is there is a lot to like about Blue292.
For additional information, visit Blue292's Web site (www.blue292.com), where you can browse its marketplace, view product demonstrations and register for an online tour of its applications.
Contributing Editor Michael J. Blotzer, MS, CIH, CSP, author of "Internet User's Guide for Safety and Health Professionals," is an occupational hygiene and safety professional, writer and computer enthusiast who brakes for animals on the information superhighway. Mike can be reached by mail addressed to Occupational Hazards, by fax at (253) 595-3889 or by electronic mail at [email protected]