Environmental and Sustainability Software:
How one company’s cloud environmental and sustainability software is changing how firms and government manage environmental information.
One of Neno Duplan’s favorite quotes is the statement by Chief Justice Louis Brandeis that "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants," and he uses that idea as a guiding principle for his company and his message about environmental data management.
His vision for better global environmental stewardship focuses on empowering organizations to better track and mitigate the environmental impact of their activities. That vision has come to fruition in the work his company, Locus Technologies, does with some of the largest companies and government organizations in the world.
When Duplan recognized an opportunity to think bigger about managing environmental data, he bootstrapped Locus in 1997—without outside capital–and he literally created a new industry at the intersection of two major trends before either was a trend: Internet-based data management and environmental monitoring and reporting. In 1999, Locus started offering the first Cloud-based environmental data management software on the market. Over the last 16 years, that software has expanded to cover more and more aspects of environmental compliance, sustainability, energy, and water tracking, mitigation, and stewardship for the companies that use it.
The company not only defined and pioneered the new space of environmental information management in the Cloud, but also became a leader. It left both well-funded startups with borrowed ideas and established ERP software companies behind. Locus created the industry and the leading product and has stayed in the leadership position through several difficult business cycles.
Since Locus Technologies launched in 1997, Duplan won the Silicon Valley Entrepreneurial Award in San Jose, Calif., and continues to raise environmental awareness throughout the world.
With the Locus SaaS cloud, companies gain immediate access to their environmental and sustainability data and reports all in a scalable cloud-based solution. Modules like water quality, health and safety, air emissions, radionculides, or carbon management, and sustainability information are not only readily accessible for company use, but also create the official system of record for environmental, health, and safety (EH&S) compliance activities of large enterprises. Duplan talks about the core ideas behind Locus Technologies, its benefits for companies worldwide, and even shares advice with forward-thinking businesses in regards to future of environmental compliance and sustainability.
What are the core ideas behind Locus Technologies?
Mr. Duplan: Locus specializes on organizing environmental, health and safety and sustainability information for enterprises around the world, all in a cloud-based solution.
How does each enterprise benefit from the use of environmental information Locus Technologies provides?
Simplistically, Locus helps companies organize their environmental and sustainability information and data required for compliance and other regulatory filings. We use our intelligent databases and mobile solutions to collect, manage, analyze, visualize, and report the findings to their plant, and corporate management, and consultants. Management, or their consultants, then file reports for external (government) compliance requirements and internally to senior management to determine how they stay in compliance. We also give them advice on how to reduce their operational costs while optimizing their processes.
The type of environmental information we focus on is in the category of emissions — specifically emissions to water, air, or soil that surround us. Under law, companies are required to report those emissions to regulators, especially if they exceed regulatory limits. In the process, companies amass huge amounts of data and information that is highly scientific in nature. They need a certain level of domain expertise and intelligent databases to turn this raw data into information and to ensure that they reach certain standards of compliance for testing and reporting. Furthermore, companies must reuse the data and information used for reporting to improve operational processes and to reduce amount of data they collect in the future. This, in turn, lowers operational costs by optimizing operations.
To organize the complete workflow process and leverage our intelligent databases that reside in our cloud system, Locus empowers companies and gives them a fast way to check whether those emissions exceed the limit. Kind of early warning system. We organize information so that it can be easily visualized and reported to corporate management and regulators for figuring out how the customer can use this information to potentially reduce operational costs associated with that information.
Is there a market for environmental software companies today?
There are quite a few companies out there, and they typically fall in three categories. First, there are companies like ours that started 15-plus years ago and have slowly built a solid position in the marketplace. Second, there are startups. Over the last five years, we have seen a proliferation of startup companies coming into this space. Many of these companies assumed that this is going to be a large market due to the shift toward environmental issues and sustainability in recent years. Some of them have entered the market with various success rates, but considering the complexity of the space, I would say most of them have not been successful so far. Lastly, there are established large enterprise players, such as Oracle and SAP, that approach the environmental compliance challenge from a risk management perspective. They fall in the category of ERP companies and their offerings are typically not deep on the domain side. We call them inch-deep and mile wide.
When a company uses Locus Technologies’ system, what environmental data is readily accessible, and what is it used to measure?
As I mentioned earlier, this highly technical and scientifically based space requires detailed domain expertise about information that you are constantly gathering and managing. In a typical company, the C-level executives really would not care how you collect, test, or even analyze emissions data. What they care about is if they are violating limits of federal and state laws, and if emissions violations have a potential impact on their company brand and the cost of doing business. At Locus, we understand the compliance and executive requirements and bridge that gap to provide the relevant information using very simple dashboards. Executives can instantly see what is going on in the company across the different regulatory frameworks, different media (air, water, and/or soil), different divisions, or different geographies or product lines and know, at any point in time, where they stand relative to their goals and compliance requirements for EH&S. But we also provide a sophisticated tools for people in trenches to do their job, to organize data and information for regulatory compliance and perform trending and forecasting.
In summary, we believe that our customers can become better environmental stewards and, at the same time, reduce their operational expenses by moving their environmental information from silo systems to a web-based, centralized database that delivers efficiencies through greater data accessibility and the implementation of standardized practices.
How would companies manage regulatory changes?
This is a complex space, and there are many different components to it. The beauty of the web is something called mashups, and we typically team up with companies whose core business and competency is just to maintain an up-to-date collection of various regulations in their web-based systems. If you combine these regulatory streams of information with emissions data and our intelligent databases, then you end up with a very powerful real-time environmental management information system or EMIS. The beauty for the customer is they can access their data immediately in the Locus cloud from any location via the web and can compare it to a regulatory framework that governs that location. That tells them if they are in compliance or if they are exceeding their emissions levels in near real time–all for very reasonable cost with no involvement from their IT Department. That saves them lot of money.
Are companies turning to Locus because they simply lack a proper system?
I would say the majority of our customers come to us because they have no system at all or they have been using spreadsheets, homemade silo databases, or some other system that was developed and cannot scale to the enterprise level or fulfill their corporate mission. These customers are at a disadvantage, as they cannot perform modern enterprise level data mining or analysis of their data. In the past, companies built the silo systems as a single function, single application, and single site system 15 to 20 years before the Internet even existed. With systems like these, the amount of rework is simply catching up with their owners and, at some point, the maintenance cost becomes unbearable.
Why are companies not actively searching for better environmental solutions?
… This is all relatively new, both governing regulations and technology to process information. We have had the basic environmental regulations like Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act for quite some time since the late ‘70s, but a lot of the newer stuff relative to climate change, energy management, water quality management, and emission management is relatively new. Companies are surprised how quickly cloud-based systems can be deployed and how much value they can get out of it. They are equally surprised at the amount of reporting they have to comply with new regulations. When we first started 18 years ago, for example, we had a very hard time getting an audience with companies as the need to test and track emissions wasn’t nearly as strict or understood in the corporate world as it is today. Now companies care a lot. Just one mistake can create millions of dollars in fines and alter a company’s brand image. The environmental reporting landscape has really changed very rapidly around us. And climate change and water scarcity are adding another level of complexity and importance in managing environmental and sustainability data.
How are clients responding to the new mobile version of your system?
Mobile is a huge market for us, and actually we introduced our first mobile “in the field” application in 1999 when the Palm Pilot VII, the first truly wireless data-capable information device, came about. We have been offering mobile ever since. Today, we run our Locus Mobile on Apple iOS devices that integrate with our cloud Software as a Service or SaaS. Our customers collect large amount of data and information that is uploaded to our Cloud databases in the field. With a mobile platform, data for samples that do not need to be tested in the laboratory can be synchronized via mobile devices in real-time with our cloud-based software. As a result, we reduce cycle time, improve data accuracy, and perform data validation on a fly–all resulting in lower cost and higher data quality for our customers. Locus can send notifications if emission readings are off, so customers can react before disaster strikes.
How does Locus Technologies forge new relationships?
It is a combination. The largest channel is word of mouth. Happy customers refer us to new customers. We have a solid penetration in a number of verticals like oil and gas, chemicals, food, water and electrical utilities, and the Department of Energy. Once we have traction in one of the verticals, we typically expand using the domino effect, because we offer a solution that is specific for that industry and not only simplifies reporting, but also reduces operational costs.
What benefits will companies gain using the environmental information cataloged by the Locus system in regards to data mining?
That is an important question. In the past, and more recently, companies were collecting the data with only one objective in mind — to stay in compliance. For example, they would take a water sample, analyze it for half a dozen or more chemicals, get results back from a lab, and submit them to the EPA. And that would be the end of it. With our systems and technology today, if they have stored ten years of data from millions of samples in our database, they can perform data mining and analysis, see trends, and make projections. They may be able to see, for example, that certain chemicals in the water are causing them 80 percent of the recurring monitoring and compliance cost. Suddenly, they can see the big picture. For example, if they are constantly reporting exceedances on Benzene, they can change or modify their manufacturing process immediately to get rid of the chemical that is producing exceedance (Benzene, in this case) all together or replace it with something less harmful. Bottom line, they can save money, eliminate the need to report, and be smarter about their business. Our software can shed light on an aspect of their business that they did not even know existed. In my opinion, this is the most powerful component of the system that we provide to our customers. It is not about how well you build the system to manage the big data; it is about how you build a system that helps companies understand their business better, so they can make decisions that are more informed and perhaps reduce or eliminate the need to collect data in the first place.
Who primarily utilizes Locus Technologies throughout the world?
We are primarily based in the U.S. with about 95 percent of our customers being U.S.-based companies. However, many of those companies are multinational and utilize our software around the world. Because our solution is cloud-based, it does not matter where companies or their sites are located. We manage information from more than 500,000 locations around the world, which is a lot, as the data is streaming 24/7 from anywhere in the world. Some of our customers are forward looking and environmentally responsible companies such as Del Monte Foods, Chevron, Honeywell, Monsanto, DuPont and US DOE.
In regards to the information Locus Technologies provides for all its clients, what are the major environmental components most companies subscribe to, and what should businesses keep an eye out for in the future?
This is a very broad space that touches on water, energy, carbon, health & safety, and various emissions and other activities in the organization that generate any type of emissions–and almost all do. It is rare that one company subscribes to all of our modules. One area of high interest is reporting on the carbon. Two and a half years ago, there was a tremendous push for carbon reporting, both here and in Europe, but it never materialized in this country at the federal level, as Congress failed to pass the so-called Cap and Trade legislation. However, in anticipation of that legislation, many new companies were opportunistically formed based on the anticipated new regulatory framework. Because legislation did not happen, most of these companies are now out of business.
What we have left of this regulation here in California is called Assembly Bill 32, which regulates carbon emissions markets. Many other states have voluntary carbon reporting, which doesn’t build as much momentum as an emission to track and report. Forward-thinking companies will invest in carbon tracking now, so they will be ready when it does become a federal law.
What is in store for the future of Locus Technologies?
We focus intently on managing emissions into air, soil, and water and grow our business based on these key areas. One segment with great growth potential for us is water. We believe water is the biggest issue for humankind. Simply, a human cannot live longer than a week without water. At the end of the day, the water determines our future. Drinking water typically requires a cleaning process, which is very expensive, because it consumes energy. We see a tremendous opportunity in the market for our software to provide a solution to organize drinking water and waste water quality information for water utilities and other companies. Our software gives them easy access to information at every single point in time and location to know what is in the water that they are discharging or delivering to their customers. Last year, we began working with the San Jose Water Company, and we are doing some exciting things together. Water quality management is the key component of our growth. We continue to provide services around air and waste, but water is our growth engine and will determine our future.
What makes Locus Technologies the top choice for companies in search of credible environmental information they can trust?
The reason is very simple. We organize environmental information that is important to a company’s bottom line and, ultimately, the planet. We believe that every company that wants to be credible with their environmental reporting must own their data and organize it in centralized database on the web. If we do not do our job right, nothing else will matter.
Our market category is not shaped by explosive growth of software companies like ones associated with social media or search engines. Our software manages and organizes a type of information on which the future of humankind depends. We organize it in a serious and very scalable way. Life, as we know it, is known only to exist on Earth. Earth, unique among the planets in our solar system, has surface conditions that allow the presence of liquid water. All life on Earth requires three basic ingredients to exist: liquid water, an energy source, and organic compounds to use as the building blocks for biological processes plus oxygen. We at Locus organize all other chemicals that may affect or destroy these elemental ingredients for life on the planet. To do that effectively long-term, we have high expectations that the whole planet needs to be wired and monitored in real time and any emissions prevented or quantified and documented before they affect the future of the planet itself.
Our market category is not shaped by explosive growth of software companies like ones associated with social media or search engines. Our software manages and organizes a type of information on which the future of humankind depends. We organize it in a serious and very scalable way.
ph: +1 (650) 960–1640