The VW emissions scandal thrust compliance with environmental legislation straight into newspaper headlines, not just within Germany. Somebody clearly developed software to cheat on emission tests carried out on diesel engines. For whoever developed the software, the “common good” or long-term environmental protection were clearly not at the top of their agenda – something that cannot be said for IVO, the Steinbeis Innovation Center Information Systems for Responsible Organizations. It has developed a software package called CCPro which is all about researching and developing innovative information systems for use in corporate environmental management, thus turning the spotlight on environmental protection.
Companies are obliged to adhere to a variety laws, guidelines, and directives in a variety of areas of environmental legislation. If they fail to adhere to guidelines, they can be penalized, may have to pay fines, could lose licenses, may have authorizations withdrawn, and may even be forced to shut down. As a result, companies need specialists whose duty it is to ensure that all pertinent legal requirements are being met. A typical title for such a discipline in companies is environmental compliance management. The function involves a variety of tasks and requires detailed specialist knowledge. One of the key areas of responsibility is to monitor announcements of new regulations or legislation revisions. The originators of regulations and revisions are typically local environmental agencies, state authorities, federal environmental departments, and other similar bodies on a European or even international level.
Another key task in this field is to assess the relevance of new regulations and revisions to the company, to organize and implement decisions in order to adhere to legislation, and to organize and implement systems that monitor the effectiveness of different measures. It is essential that each task is documented meticulously as complete and executed, because to pass an environmental audit, companies must provide evidence of seamless documentation – which cannot be manipulated – in all areas relating to environmental law.
The sheer volume of legislation has been expanding for years and the frequency of revisions to regulations is intensifying as different lawmakers in all kinds of areas relating to environmental guidelines place more and more demands on companies. The impacts of globalization – shorter product cycles, the cost crunch, more intense competition, and more and more intense work for employees – have every potential to exacerbate this situation. For many companies, ensuring they fully comply with environmental legislation, and preparing for and successfully passing environmental audits, feels like a gargantuan task. It therefore makes sense to look carefully at their compliance management processes. As a next step, they then need to establish a foundation of process management methods in order to optimize compliance management, typically by using the right information systems.
But it is particularly in this area – when it comes to systematically organizing their compliance management processes and making the best use of IT – that so many SMEs seem to have problems keeping up. A number of empirical studies have established that SMEs are frequently reverting to standard office software – such as simple spreadsheets and word processing packages – to carry out environmental compliance activities. As a result, companies even accept that there may sometimes be significant shortcomings in their adherence with compliance obligations. Inevitably, these can be failings such as information deficits or a failure to comply with common standards in areas such as data security and data protection. This constitutes a major risk when it comes to ensuring a company is conforming with environmental legislation. It must also be assumed that compliance officers will be underachieving in terms of productivity.
It was against this background that experts at the IVO Steinbeis Innovation Center have been working in collaboration with consultants at UBSplus (Heilbronn) to develop CCPro, standard software (but still customizable) that draws on databases and is fully adaptable. It helps structure and reliably administer environmental compliance management tasks. CCPro is aimed at officers responsible for ensuring a company complies with environmental legislation, who can use it for administration, monitoring, data management, and documentation tasks, drawing on a central database which has secure access and can be closely monitored. CCPro supports organizational modeling mechanisms, making it possible to precisely map the specific structures of a company. Clear and realistic distinctions can be made between different parts of the company affected by various compliance requirements, also taking into account decision-making processes or involvement with environmental legislation specialists. CCPro sets up different areas for each business unit so that compliance tasks can be monitored and managed based on available data.
Another feature offered by CCPro allows important decision-making processes to be systematically structured and monitored, including aspects such as measures introduced to adhere to legal requirements. This makes it possible to fulfill important prerequisites pertinent to environmental legislation compliance. People working in compliance management are thus freed up to focus on specialist duties. The amount of time invested in administrative and organizational tasks is kept to a minimum, as is the time needed for simply managing information.
CCPro offers standard overviews and evaluation functions to call up the current status of compliance tasks at any time, with different lists and diagrams. It ensures the company is in a position to provide information and keeps things transparent for all employees involved in environmental compliance duties, helping them to monitor and check the progress of any processes related to adhering to legal guidelines.
The IVO Steinbeis Innovation Center is currently working on an internal project to develop a kind of risk radar as an extension to CCPro. Aside from drawing on known methods and techniques aimed at predicting risks, the team is also developing new kinds of data analysis methods to pinpoint and assess errors made when carrying out compliance management tasks. The aim is for CCPro to continuously update risk profiles in order to provide companies using the software with extra assurance that they are adhering properly to relevant environmental guidelines, also shielding them and other affected parties from damage. Risk profiles are made available on an adaptable dashboard showing users their key indicators, risk indicators, and recommended courses of action to deal with risk. Weak points, omissions, and missed deadlines are instantly recognizable on the dashboard. This makes it possible to execute the necessary risk management measures in good time.
Following a successful dummy run with an initial prototype under a real operational scenario, CCPro will be continually updated and improved upon using modern software engineering techniques. CCPro is being developed with a focus on SMEs in all sectors of industry in Germanspeaking countries. Work is also underway to develop a Web-based version. The background research into database technology, business environmental information systems, and IT-based compliance management is being carried out by the project partner, Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences.
Professor Dr.-Ing. Heiko Thimm is director of the Steinbeis Innovation Center for Information Systems for Responsible Organizations which is based at Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences. Work at the Steinbeis Enterprise revolves around the investigation, development, and testing of IT solutions aimed at supporting the responsible and sustainable actions of organizations, as well as process design and IT systems used in environmental management and environmental legislation compliance.
Professor Dr.-Ing. Heiko Thimm
Steinbeis Innovation Center Information systems for responsible organizations (Bretten)