Environmental Resources Management (ERM)

ERM stays ahead in the business of sustainability using Microsoft 365 to work faster and smarter

With a focus on sustainability, ERM is a leading provider of environmental, health, safety, risk, and social consulting services to the world’s largest companies. ERM uses Microsoft 365 E5 intelligent cloud services to automate data collection in the field and deliver more insightful reports to customers faster. Using cloud-based collaboration tools, ERM consultants build closer relationships with customers and collaborate more efficiently to conduct research for global and regional key accounts that include Fortune 500 companies in technology and the oil and gas industries.

Today, an estimated 40 million people worldwide live in modern slavery and many consumer goods are touched in some part of their life cycle by this global issue. This single fact, recounted by Sabine Hoefnagel, Global Director of Strategy at Environmental Resource Management (ERM), is only one of millions of data points that ERM collects to help each of its customers understand the environmental and societal impacts of their operations—and shape a more sustainable future with the world’s leading organizations. 

As more and more of the world’s largest companies seek help embedding sustainable practices into their operations and building integrity into their supply chains, ERM is there to show them how to balance environmental and societal stewardship with a healthy bottom line. And since the company deployed a Microsoft 365 E5 complete, intelligent business solution to automate data collection and streamline global collaboration among virtual teams, ERM is reinforcing its competitive advantage—providing more efficient and effective insights to help create a better future for our world.   

Faster, better, and safer

Today, companies are under pressure to incorporate sustainable practices faster, better, and safer as investors and customers make decisions based on an organization’s track record. “For example, if we are helping a customer perform due diligence prior to an acquisition or divestment, we can add more value by spending less time on data collection and management, and more quality time on analysis and advising our customer on material issues identified,” says Catherine Rivera Lyons, Senior Partner and Global Oil & Gas Key Account Director at ERM. “We support all aspects of a business life cycle where sustainability is important. Our solutions include combinations of our various service offerings. Being able to advise our customers faster, better, and safer will extend the value we provide and help them achieve their business sustainability goals.”  

ERM is digitalizing its service deliverables to perform “faster, better, and safer,” a company mantra, and it’s starting with a new cloud-based platform to streamline data collection for site reclamation projects. “Many of our customers are walking down that road of digitalizing their business, completely revamping their IT systems to take advantage of cloud computing,” says Oliver Phipps, Partner, Account Director and Global Program Manager for ERM Nexus. “So, as customers look more progressively to their consultants to match that approach, it’s imperative that ERM automates its services to stay ahead of the competition and remain in a market-leading position.”  

Sustainability is evolving into an integral business practice that reaches throughout a company’s supply chain and involves all aspects of a business. Anticipating this development, ERM is empowering its global workforce with digital tools to foster virtual teamwork among colleagues working remotely in the field, and with the growing number of stakeholders embedded in a customer’s organization. “Today, companies need to manage environmental, social, health, and safety issues by involving lots of different departments, subcontractors, and disciplines,” says Hoefnagel. “We typically work with engineers, lawyers, economists, scientists, social anthropologists, administrators, and project leads. Our account teams provide 25 different services offerings in 43 countries and 160 offices, often for the same customer at the same time. To coordinate our efforts, expedite projects, and better serve customers, efficient digital collaboration among all these players is crucial.” 

According to Richard Zotov, Group CIO at ERM, the company is addressing these industry trends by harnessing technology and data to transform how it delivers services. Microsoft 365, a complete, intelligent solution that empowers everyone to be creative and work together, is playing a foundational role in that transformation. It includes Office 365, Windows 10, and Enterprise Mobility + Security.

“We’re creating our value-added solutions on solid technology with Microsoft 365,” says Zotov. “As the underpinning of a new workplace culture, we’re using Microsoft cloud services to help build and transform the firm.” 

Hoefnagel paints a picture of what “faster, better and safer” begins to look like as ERM consultants adopt new ways of working, taking as an example a typical  impact assessment and planning  engagement. “For every site reclamation project, Microsoft cloud solutions play a key role: from the initial step of travel risk assessment—such as malaria risk or helicopter flights into remote areas—to connecting and collaborating with ERM experts, colleagues, and subcontractors around the globe to collecting and analyzing field data and delivering insight through data analysis and intuitive dashboards,” she says. “We touch any part of a business where there is a sustainability challenge—helping a company to understand the financial implications of climate change or working with an oil conglomerate to address community unrest about a drilling project. ERM helps the world’s leading organizations conduct their business while building a better future for everyone—and Microsoft products empower us to do that work.” 

It’s all about the data

As companies struggle to harness the value of big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, ERM uses Microsoft cloud business intelligence and data solutions to help. The company will soon introduce its first digitalized service solution, an app called ERM Nexus. Approximately 1,000 employees will take advantage of the app to automate data collection using Microsoft Power BI and the Azure cloud platform. ERM will manage the mobile devices employees use to collect the data with Microsoft Intune, a component of Enterprise Mobility + Security. 

And there is a lot of data. Some projects produce hundreds of thousands of data points that combine to form a complex matrix of information. For example, a water sample provides chemical information for lab analysis, but to add value to that data, ERM brings in variants that could include the specific time, temperature, and weather for each sample collection. “The ability to combine different sources of information into an intuitive data asset for our customers is where the big trend is,” says Simon Gibbons, Technical Director at ERM. “So, if we engage with one of our oil and gas customers who has concerns about regulations for a new drilling site, ERM consultants and subcontractors use mobile devices to collect field data instead of the traditional method of using pen and paper.” 

The data is uploaded and hosted in Azure, where anyone with permission from anywhere in the organization can easily access it to collate and analyze. This way, colleagues back in the office can begin reviewing the data faster. “We use Power BI to collate data sets—weather data from a website, analytical data from our database, information from a customer’s SAP solution—into a single interface where consultants can create a dashboard for customers who want well-crafted, insightful analysis that’s easy to consume,” says Gibbons. “Consequently, we’re spending less time on data manipulation and management and more time on interpretation to add value and insight for customers.” 

ERM is also looking at incorporating the artificial intelligence capabilities infused in Microsoft technology. “We’re starting to use machine learning to recognize particular types of equipment in images that we collect on site, so that they are classified correctly and are easier to search,” says Gibbons. “We have built code into Power BI for ERM Nexus to generate algorithms that develop contouring maps. We use contouring to understand the direction of groundwater flow, for example. Previously, we used third-party software to process and present this data. Doing it all in Power BI is a powerful time saver. And for customers waiting for that data to demonstrate compliance with local regulations, it means they can start operations sooner rather than later.” 

ERM Nexus is accessed through the company’s upgraded intranet named Minerva, built using Microsoft SharePoint Online. The app also incorporates Microsoft Flow, a service in Office 365 that provides workflow management to integrate and automate different tasks. “ERM Nexus uses Microsoft Flow to move data among different systems, prepare it for manipulation in Power BI, or store it in a logical place in Minerva,” explains Gibbons. “Our new SharePoint-based intranet is really the central repository for information that supports what we are doing in Nexus.” 

Tagging turtles and building relationships

There are approximately 400 ERM staffers working for the company’s third-largest account. They work on site, in ERM offices from Denver to Thailand, and with a local team at a deep-water offshore project. “The intranet is really the backbone for internal communications and knowledge management as our global teams collaborate on behalf of a customer,” says Hoefnagel. 

In the case of this customer and its upstream project, ERM global team members use Minerva to efficiently coordinate their environmental and social impact research efforts so the company can quickly obtain the requisite licenses to begin work in the area. From fish and bird studies to turtle tagging and mapping to local health and safety reviews, ERM consultants work with the customer and with subcontractors who provide expertise in local environmental and social stakeholder concerns. “Because we work as an integrated team using a single SharePoint collaboration platform, ERM meets the schedule set by our customers,” says Lyons. “Without SharePoint, we wouldn’t be able to help customers obtain the licenses they need to operate at the pace their businesses demand.” 

Collaborating closely on SharePoint sites is only one way that ERM uses Office 365 to build deeper relationships with customers to drive loyalty and repeat business. Lyons cites the way instant messaging and video calls break down the barriers of time zones and keep the business humming—both among her colleagues, and with customers. “One weekend, I was finishing up some work and someone from a key account popped up through IM to give us some great feedback about how much they valued our work,” says Lyons. “I really appreciated that we had this tool to make a spontaneous connection on a Sunday afternoon, because that immediate connectivity supports what is a much stronger customer relationship than we’ve ever had.” 

Bringing one ERM together for customers

Contributing to an already collaborative corporate culture, ERM employees everywhere are building better relationships and making connections using Yammer, the corporate social network in Office 365. Employees have adopted Yammer with enthusiasm. “Yammer usage has increased in response to a couple of major company initiatives over the past 12 months,” says Hoefnagel. “We launched our new Technical Community approach with Yammer as the principal platform; this initiative saw an almost 20 percent increase in engaged group members month-on-month. Following the introduction of Office 365 five months ago, we have seen a steady increase in all metrics across engaged groups and messages, along with the number of messages across the platform.” She adds, “Every employee’s home page in Minerva has a personalized Yammer feed, and we introduced a popular function called ‘Urgent Request’ that uses Yammer as a vehicle for employees to reach out and find subject matter experts or get answers to questions quickly.” 

Today, 31 technical communities are flourishing on Yammer, and employees have taken to sharing ideas and best practices on the platform. “People feel empowered when they can contribute in an open conversation. We’ve noticed more engagement from our staff because they have a way to see what’s going on around the organization,” reports Lyons. 

“People delivering similar types of technical services can form connections through Yammer—a great way to drive innovation,” adds Gibbons. “These relationships are completely based in Yammer, in terms of how they communicate and solve problems. For example, the Data Analytics and Visualization team turned to Yammer to help the Site Investigation team use Power BI to automate the development of a statistical analysis around contaminant trends. The subsequent solution was used for an individual remediation project but has since been turned into a template and transferred into the Nexus tool.”

Now that all ERM employees use a standard suite of tools for the workplace, collaboration happens seamlessly anytime, anywhere. For example, employees can access and share information on demand through Microsoft OneDrive, where they have uploaded terabytes from personal hard drives. “As part of providing risk management services to one of our key customers, our team collaborated using OneDrive for file sharing and PowerPoint Online for real-time coauthoring,” says Phipps. “It was much more efficient than emailing drafts around and provided greater assurance on version control.” 

ERM enabled Microsoft Stream for all employees to more easily share content in video/audio form. Content examples include all-employee messages from the CEO and podcasts on the company’s sustainability program shared across Minerva and on Yammer. “The integration between Stream, SharePoint sites, and Yammer is excellent and allows our employees to access video content much more easily than before,” says Hoefnagel. 

Today, ERM is a more cohesive, productive, and efficient organization, in part through the adoption of Microsoft cloud services. The company is staying ahead of industry trends and generating more value for its customers. “With Microsoft 365, we empower all employees with a universal set of apps, taking the best of the firm and bringing it to bear for the customer,” says Zotov.  

“We can do the same job more effectively now, and that’s the competitive advantage that we gain from this new digitalized way of working,” concludes Gibbons. “We benefit from the ability to move more rapidly as technology advances. Using Microsoft cloud technology, we participate in the evolution of bringing real data science to the desktop. Staying on that frontier means we’ll be first to market with new insights for our customers. That’s good for ERM, and for the future of the planet.”

Find out more about Environmental Resource Management on Twitter and LinkedIn

Read the blog from the ERM CIO, Richard Zotov.

We’re creating our value-added solutions on solid technology with Microsoft 365. As the underpinning of a new workplace culture, we’re using Microsoft cloud services to help build and transform the firm.
Richard Zotov, Group CIO Environmental Resource Management
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