When you begin the process of searching for chemical inventory management software, it's tough to distinguish between all the different options — many of which may seem similar on the surface.
You might see several systems that offer similar features, such as container tracking, safety data sheets, and reporting. One thing you’ll see no matter what is vendors claiming their system is “the best”.
The question to answer is: how do you really know that the software you're considering will be the best fit for your organization specifically? Here at BioRAFT, we want you to find the right software for your needs — whether that means working with us or not.
In this article, we'll walk you through some of the indicators that you've found the right software for you, so you can confidently recommend the best solution to your team.
Chemical reporting is one of the most time-consuming and expensive aspects of chemical inventory management. So, it makes sense that reporting should be one of the first things you look for when evaluating a prospective software system.
When you need to create a report, the last thing you want is scattered or incomplete data. Reporting should be integrated with your chemical inventory and not exist in a separate sphere. Any time your team needs to produce a report, they should have the information they need at their fingertips.
Reporting capabilities can differ widely between systems, so it’s important to weigh your options carefully. When you’re looking at a new system, consider all the different reports your team needs to generate. Do you need to create reports for DHS CFATS/COI? Do you spend a lot of time compiling data for Tier II reporting, or is that one you aren’t concerned about? Having a list will help you narrow down your search to software systems that will meet your reporting needs (or quickly ID systems that won’t work), saving you time down the road.
When searching for new software, what matters most is selecting a system you’ll actually use. You know you’ve found the right system if you can immediately envision yourself using it to locate chemicals across your organization. Or if you can picture using it to run reports. A good system should not only save you time – it should result in less uncertainty, greater confidence, and fewer headaches.
We recommend creating a list of your most common tasks, such as data entry, reporting, ordering and disposal, and so on. Then think about how long it takes to complete these tasks. Some people may even find it helpful to keep a time log over the course of a week or two to see how much time they’re spending on various activities.
When evaluating a potential system, consider whether it will take you more or less time to complete your typical tasks. Many vendors can help you calculate the potential time savings. If you can, ask what kind of results other customers have seen.
Purchasing chemical inventory software is a big investment. It's important to choose a system that not only meets your needs today, but can scale with you in the future. Another good sign that you’ve found the right software is that you can picture it working for your needs a year or five years down the road.
A lot can change over the course of a year, and a system that seems like a dream today can turn into a nightmare if your organization grows. You might add more labs or increase the pace of research. Look at the workflows you outlined above, and imagine you’ve got to perform those tasks with double the chemical volume, or with a new class of hazard you haven’t had to track before. Does it still seem manageable? Or is it hard to imagine how you could get it all done? Ideally you want to license a system that fits your needs now and can accommodate your requirements in the future.
A big part of this comes down to the vendor’s team. They should be willing to listen and explain how the system can scale to accommodate your future needs. Ultimately, you want someone who you can rely on if the road gets bumpy.
You’ll know in a matter of minutes if the software you’re considering checks this box. A good chemical inventory management system should allow you to answer questions like, “Where are all our peroxide formers?” and “How much flammable solvent do we have in this building?” quickly and with confidence. After all, there’s a reason you’re moving away from spreadsheets and disorganized filing cabinets to an advanced organizational system.
A good search tool should return information fast. You shouldn’t have time to get up for a cup of tea while you’re waiting for your results to populate. It should also return all relevant results — not leave you scratching your head at why a particular chemical isn’t showing up when you know it should be.
When it comes to filtering, there are two big things to look for. First, you should be able to filter on several dimensions at once — for example, filtering for oxidizers within a specific building. Second, you should have a diverse range of filtering options, such as location, hazard class, and regulatory implications. There’s nothing more frustrating than when you go to filter results by a certain criteria, only to realize that option doesn’t exist.
A chemical inventory system is only as good as the data within it. So even if a software system has all the features you’re looking for, you might want to reconsider if it seems like a lot of work to maintain.
Try to keep in mind that maintaining an accurate chemical inventory is an ongoing effort with many moving parts. Activities like bulk edits, controlling spaces and groups, and ensuring consistency in chemical identification are all important aspects of maintaining your inventory. You know you've found the right software if you can perform these tasks easily. Otherwise if it’s a lot of work to keep up with your inventory, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with outdated and unreliable results.
Although it’s great to find a solution that meets your chemical inventory requirements, it’s important to remember that you’re not buying a software solution in a vacuum. Before you even consider buying chemical inventory management software, you should make sure that it can work with your other safety systems.
For example, is the data in your chemical inventory management system accessible to inspectors or internal auditors? If you need to share data with regulators or first responders, how will that work?
It's a good idea to explore these possibilities thoroughly before you sign on the dotted line. No matter how much you like your chemical inventory system, if it isolates your data from other groups or systems that need to share information, it’s not the right software for you.
Chemical inventory management software offers many advantages. It can help your organization save time, answer questions with confidence, and maintain a high state of audit readiness — but that’s only if you select the right system.
Finding the right software for your organization is no small challenge, and there’s a lot to think about before you commit to a purchase decision. By paying attention to the six signs we’ve outlined in this article, you’ll be able to make a smart choice and reap the full rewards of a chemical inventory management system.
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