|Information Systems and the Environment | Edited by Deanna J. Richards Braden R. Allenby and W. Dale Compton|
Environmental Information Management Systems at Rhône-Poulenc
JAMES W. HEPTINSTALL
Rhône-Poulenc Inc. (RPI) is the North American affiliate of Paris-based Rhône-Poulenc S.A., one of the 10 largest chemical companies worldwide. RPI employs approximately 6,000 people and manufactures basic, specialty, and agricultural chemicals at more than 40 locations in the United States and Canada.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s RPI made several large acquisitions, growing from five manufacturing sites to more than 60, and from less than a half billion dollars in sales to over $2 billion. In the mid-1990s the company began restructuring its manufacturing operations and business organizations and reengineering its customer service, procurement, and supply chain processes.
In 1994, RPI decided to reengineer various internal staff functions, including human resources; engineering; communications; and health, safety, and environment (HSE). At that time the company structure consisted of a corporate group and three operating divisions (specialty chemicals, basic chemicals, and agricultural chemicals), each with its own internal functional support staffs. This paper highlights the reengineering of the HSE function and the role that RPI's information management system (IMS) played in the implementation of the redesigned processes.
REENGINEERING THE HEALTH, SAFETY, AND ENVIRONMENT FUNCTION
Phase 1: Discovery
In the discovery phase of the reengineering effort, an RPI project team reviewed the HSE function and defined 15 distinct processes (see Box 1). The team interviewed representatives of RPI's various HSE customers to determine their views of each HSE work process, in terms of its current usefulness and potential future value. In addition, HSE personnel were surveyed to determine the resources (human and material) required to deliver each of the processes. From this information, priorities for the HSE redesign were established and potential costs and benefits were projected.
Phase 2: Process Redesign
A senior management team selected 8 of the 15 HSE processes (see Box 2) for potential redesign. Their selection was based on cost-savings opportunities and the desire to consolidate the HSE function into a shared service organization that would serve customers in each operating division. The selected processes represented about 40 percent of the human resources and costs identified by HSE during the discovery phase.
The redesign of the eight selected processes was conducted over six months by a team of HSE professionals and manufacturing managers with the assistance of a consultant. The redesign involved mapping the HSE processes, identifying customer satisfaction attributes, identifying process breakdown points, and recommending improvements. Tools used in the redesign effort included customer surveys and interviews, industry benchmarking, and consultation with subject-matter experts. Specific activities identified as opportunities for improvement included outsourcing; simplifying or eliminating work; and standardizing, consolidating, and automating work. One person from the team was assigned to each HSE process and was responsible for coordinating its redesign efforts.
During the third month of the redesign, RPI reorganized into two operating companies with their functional staff support groups combined into a shared service organization. The HSE function was consolidated from four groups into one, which heightened the need to improve its process efficiencies.
A critical element in seven of the eight targeted process redesigns was the implementation of an IMS that would increase the availability of HSE information throughout the company, improve access to HSE best practices and process information, allow data and documents to be entered once and used by many, improve the speed and consistency of HSE processes, reduce administrative and non-value-added work, and reduce the redundancy of HSE information reporting and recordkeeping.
Phase 3: Pilot Program
A small, four-month pilot study was initiated to evaluate the estimated benefits of the IMS and to determine what type of system was best suited to RPI's HSE needs. Four manufacturing sites agreed to participate in the pilot, and meetings were held with application providers and developers to discuss potential system solutions. It quickly became apparent that customized applications developed for RPI's needs would be more cost-effective than purchasing off-the-shelf applications; the development cost could be divided by 40 (the number of sites), whereas off-the-shelf application costs would be multiplied by 40. An application developer was chosen and six applications (see Box 3) were targeted for the pilot.
Within six weeks the hardware and software were purchased, 80 percent of the applications were developed, and the system was rolled out to the pilot sites. The sites were asked to use and evaluate the applications, and after two months the HSE personnel were brought together again to discuss their findings. Their evaluation involved brainstorming possible areas of savings, quantifying the savings in each area, and verifying the consistency and accuracy of the saving estimates.
The evaluation indicated that the project had a payback of less than a year. The pilot results were presented to senior management, and the project was approved for companywide adoption over two years.
THE HEALTH, SAFETY, AND ENVIRONMENT INFORMATION MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
The HSE IMS consists of a network of 32 site servers. Sites with servers are connected through a local-area network (LAN), and sites without servers are connected either through a wide-area network or via remote dial-up. Currently, more than 1,000 users can access the system using a standard Web browser.
The system consists of national databases (those replicated to all servers), enterprise databases (those replicated to specific enterprise servers), and site databases (those maintained only on site servers). The contents of the national and site databases are listed in Box 4.
Training on the system is provided by an implementation team and is augmented with LAN-based training modules. In addition, each application has its own help section that provides information about the application and instructions on how to use it.
Following are descriptions of some of the databases in the HSE IMS and how they are being used to share information and knowledge across the company.
The Knowledge Database includes a reference section with all of RPI's corporate policies, standards, procedures, model programs, guidance manuals, and interpretations of regulations. Each topic in the reference section has a designated technology manager who is responsible for the content. In the past this information was available only from hard-copy manuals that were updated when enough revisions were made to justify the cost of reprinting and distribution. With the Knowledge Database, revisions and updates are made by the content owner on the site server and replicated across all servers within 24 hours, so employees always have access to the most current information.
The Knowledge Database also has a companion discussion forum where questions can be raised and discussed by interested parties. For example, if someone has a question about Title V compliance, he or she would enter the question in the appropriate discussion forum, where it could be reviewed by personnel from all sites. Employees with experience in the matter at hand could then participate in the discussion and provide assistance with resolving the issue.
Accident and Incident Reporting
A key objective of the HSE IMS is to share information about accidents and incidents that occur at various sites in order to help avoid similar occurrences at other sites. The IMS accident and incident reporting application was developed for this purpose. It uses a standard reporting form that requests specific information, such as a description of the incident and the results of the initial investigation. The form is replicated to all servers so other site readers can view the information and then discuss it in small group meetings. This provides a valuable format to learn how to prevent similar accidents or incidents.
Site Documents and National Site Profile
The HSE IMS also maintains site-specific documents, such as safety manuals, policies, operating instructions, operator logs, and procedures. As with the corporate-related documents on the Knowledge Database, the IMS allows almost instant revisions to site-specific documents, thereby eliminating the cost of duplication and distribution.
Other information about sites is available in the national Site Profile Database. Templates created for this application provide a standardized format for collecting and displaying site information. Now, instead of having to locate a contact to obtain information about a site, users can simply access the site profiles on the database.
Material Safety Data Sheets
At the site level, the greatest impact of the IMS has been in the creation of a Material Safety Data Sheet database. Before automating the collection of MSDS data, each site maintained a series of hard-copy books (from one to six) for all the nonproduct chemicals handled at the site. These MSDSs were supplied by the chemical provider. Most sites had to maintain multiple copies of the MSDS books because they were required in various locations (control rooms, maintenance shops, labs, etc.) throughout the facility. This system required someone at each site to maintain the MSDS books (adding, copying, and distributing new or revised MSDSs to all the locations).
Today, MSDSs are scanned onto the IMS so that they can be viewed electronically from any PC workstation. Each MSDS has a cover page that lists the manufacturer's name and the chemical abstract number, which enables users to do keyword searches for chemicals. The cover page also has fields for listing certain critical information such as personal protective equipment, spill cleanup procedures, and chemical hazards. If a user wishes to view the actual MSDS, a click on an icon takes the user to the scanned document. This application allows for quick access to the necessary information in an emergency and eliminates the need to maintain multiple hard-copy books.
Several additional applications have also been developed. They include:
In addition to these applications, procedures have been implemented for network administration, security, and lost data recovery.
The HSE IMS project has been a success because the manufacturing sites found it valuable. The efficiencies defined in the business process redesigns are being achieved through the implementation of applications that were identified and prioritized by the manufacturing site HSE personnel.
This approach, working from the site-level upward, created momentum that carried the project through its pilot phase to implementation. It also allowed for close scrutiny by those responsible for corporate information technology and general management.
The implementation of the IMS by the HSE organization led to cost savings via personnel reduction (due to attrition). The implementation process also brought the HSE function physically closer to its customers (manufacturing sites) in the development of the system, and today maintains a way for HSE to be "virtually" close to its customers in distant locations.
In addition, the IMS infrastructure provided manufacturing sites with information-sharing capabilities well beyond HSE issues. For example, some sites have initiated discussion databases, shift-report databases, and other similar applications. As for the HSE community, the speed of communication that the IMS provides has enhanced the transfer of technology from external resources found on the Internet and from other professional sources.
As a final note, RPI has experienced continued declines in its lost workday and employee injury frequency rates. The IMS has played a small part in this accomplishment by providing rapid distribution of HSE experiences, information, and knowledge.