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Manufacturers finding fragmented market for sustainability software

Despite making sustainability a strategic priority, many manufacturers will struggle to choose from more than 120 niche products and sustainability software suites in the coming year.

Manufacturers want to reduce their carbon footprints more than ever but are confused by a fragmented yet fast-growing market for manufacturing sustainability software, according to analysts who track companies’ green initiatives.

Many companies are just starting to make the business case for sustainability software, while others struggle to collect and centralize their energy data, according to Kimberly Knickle, a practice director at IDC Manufacturing Insights, a research firm based in Framingham, Mass.

IDC recently surveyed approximately 600 companies and found that a majority have manufacturing sustainability strategies that vary widely in their depth and maturity.

“Followers only look at utility bills,” Knickle said in an interview, referring to companies with fledgling sustainability initiatives. “Some of the tools that are out in the market right now make sure that you can get up and running quickly, and they do that by not requiring a lot of data collection and integration. Leaders will also add analysis of energy consumption data by plant, look at assets and figure out why some plants do better.”

But the required data capture can be difficult, especially at large companies like United Technologies Corp. and Honeywell International Inc. with multiple locations and product sets that call for widely varying raw materials and manufacturing processes.

“If you only have a partially automated data collection and analysis process, when you have to do that 12 hours a day instead of every three weeks, you’re going to have a different perspective,” Knickle said.

While many manufacturers don’t perceive this lack of automation and integration as a problem, that is likely to change as compliance requirements are ratcheted up, Knickle said. Companies will eventually be required to maintain legally sound audit trails like the financial-accounting records they produce for Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

“If your brand and reputation depend on it, don’t you want some kind of confidence in the data?” she said. “For that to happen, data collection will need to become more automated to minimize human error.”

Green quadrant ranks manufacturing sustainability software vendors

Ten vendors -- CA Technologies, CarbonSystems Pty. Ltd., Enablon, Enviance Inc., Hara Software Inc., IHS, ProcessMAP Corp., SAP, Tririga Inc. and Verisae -- are best positioned to exploit the demand for sustainability software because they have the most complete products and viable business strategies, according to Verdantix, a London-based research firm that specializes in sustainability issues, in a recent “green quadrant” comparison of carbon and energy management software vendors.

Verdantix identified more than 120 vendors in the market but only evaluated 28 packages from vendors that are successful enough to have at least five customers with $1 billion in annual revenues. It rated the products by 99 criteria that address data capture, supply chain emissions, energy management, modeling, reporting and other key functions.

The software comes in four varieties, according to Peter Charville-Mort, a Verdantix analyst and author of the report. Carbon management software, also known as carbon accounting, helps capture and analyze energy data and translate it into carbon equivalents, while energy management helps implement real-world improvements by, for example, monitoring and optimizing the energy use of physical assets. Environment, health and safety (EHS) tools manage green initiatives in a combined program that also addresses employee health and safety. A fourth category adds tools for managing the financial and strategic concerns of chief sustainability officers (CSOs) and chief financial officers (CFOs).

Charville-Mort sees 2011 as a watershed year as companies respond to unpredictable energy costs and new greenhouse gas regulations with strategic efforts that require more advanced software for forecasting and auditing.

“We’re sort of crossing the chasm,” he said. “People are starting the land grab in terms of customers.”

That includes system integrators like Accenture, Capgemini, and Deloitte Development LLC, which are aggressively forming partnerships with vendors, boosting the software’s credibility and making large-scale deployments more likely.

 “This is a very important step,” Charville-Mort said. “These partners of Deloitte will have access to the larger budgets of the CFO.”

However, significant impediments remain.

“The governance issue is still very much a problem,” said Charville-Mort, who interviewed executives at 15 different manufacturers for the study.

Many companies have fragmented EHS, sustainability, and facilities management initiatives, and have not brought their procurement officers into the process. Many also have yet to graduate from tactical to strategic planning and are stuck in the initial phase of collecting and analyzing energy data to meet minimal reporting and regulatory requirements. 

“The CSO is often illiterate when it comes to selecting software,” he said.

Leading companies, in contrast, use formal project management to align sustainability with their business strategies and create brand-enhancing, revenue-generating initiatives in both their internal processes and their products, Charville-Mort said, citing HP as an example.

“They’ve actually achieved carbon reduction, which for a growing firm is a Holy Grail,” he said.  

Others research firms are keeping a close eye on sustainability software. In a recent report, analyst Daniel Krauss of Forrester Research Inc. said the software must evolve from basic analysis and reporting to help companies anticipate their own sustainability needs and realign their strategies appropriately. And Gartner Inc. called 2011 the year that chief information officers must get serious about learning the needs of their sustainability managers and building the necessary IT systems.

Steps toward a green manufacturing future

Charville-Mort advises manufacturers to map out their user populations and current and future usage scenarios, then investigate the software’s data-integration flexibility and scalability, which some early adopters have found easy to outgrow. Ask for evidence of value delivery and numbers that can help estimate total cost of ownership, he said.

Knickle predicts 2011 will be a year when sustainability converges with other business improvement initiatives, such as lean manufacturing and employee safety, and green decision making spreads deeper into organizations. In addition, manufacturers will “look to IT for assistance in transitioning from talk to execution,” she said, and more companies will use analytics software to review what-if scenarios and make the necessary tradeoffs.

“There’s still a long way to go,” Knickle said. “It’s fits and starts. I’d like all of the ERP vendors to get it -- to understand that this is an opportunity to help their customers.”

But ERP vendors will have to tailor their offerings carefully to convince customers leery of getting drawn into another expensive, drawn-out project. “Part of that is making sure this is not another wave of the ’90s ERP implementations, where they’re going to be in these organizations forever.”

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