As You Like It

The waste management industry uses software to track their clients, waste production and processing. Fifteen years ago, that software was generally limited to word processors, spreadsheets and limited databases, which could be used to track data at each user's desktop. These tools enabled considerable flexibility, but tended to require duplicate data entry and produced “islands” of information, whereby data would be available on one desktop but unavailable elsewhere.

More recently, client-server-based applications provided the waste management industry with tools that could be used across the organization. While these tools provided centralized data repositories within the organization, they tended to be expensive, difficult to configure and customize, and still only provided limited access.

Software as a service (SaaS) is a model of software delivery in which the software company delivers its application directly to the desktop of the user over the Internet without needing to install hardware or software on the user's side. One of the key differences between SaaS and the more familiar application service provider (ASP) approach is that traditionally, the ASP is simply hosting the third-party application on behalf of one client. This type of setup does not provide the speed, flexibility or power of SaaS applications. In addition, ASP software suffers from the same maintenance and overbuilding problems that plague the software installed at the customer's location.

SaaS applications support many companies and users with a common software code base. This flexibility enables the customer to 1) adjust the type and intensity of use as needs change, 2) quickly and inexpensively access legacy information systems, 3) reduce the cost of maintenance because upgrades are seamlessly delivered overnight without additional cost. IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based industry research firm, estimates that by 2010, over half of all new software purchases will be bought through SaaS.

Let's illustrate the technology transition with a real world example. In 1992, a utility company in California with more than 100 generator locations and two treatment, storage and disposal facilities managed its waste using the tools available at that time: paper, spreadsheets and word processors (to prepare manifests). To ensure compliance, the company had to track waste generation and account for how that waste was transported, processed and disposed of. Each manifest was prepared by hand, and each shipment was tracked as a series of lines on a spreadsheet. The company had difficulty preparing annual reports to track waste management and could not determine the level of compliance at each location. Laboratory results were frequently lost or associated with the wrong sample.

Over time, the company developed an in-house client-server application that enabled better tracking of waste and reasonably consistent tracking throughout the organization. But the client-server solution was expensive since it required ongoing software development and information technology (IT) personnel time.

Because of the expense required to maintain the client-server application, the company switched to a waste management system using the SaaS model. This has reduced their IT burden, provided consistent availability of the database and allowed employees to access the system from any Internet-enabled device. Further, the system is geared toward compliance, allowing users to set up and assign tasks, and issuing automatic notifications when materials are not shipped within the right timeframe or when the manifest is not returned in a timely manner.

The utility company found that use of an SaaS system has reduced their compliance overhead, improved performance and cut computer costs. As an integrated system, it has automated production of key reports across the entire corporation, enabling management to track waste generation, as well as source reduction initiatives. It has enabled workers to access the system from the field, preparing labels or obtaining information in real time, thereby reducing the overall cost of waste management.

Stephen Paff is product manager for hazardous waste at Enviance, a software design firm based in Carlsbad, Calif.