California Startup Eyes Environmental Software Windfall


California Startup Eyes Environmental Software Windfall

By John Makulowich
Senior Writer

With government agencies and companies always seeking to tighten their belts another notch, an environmental software startup in California thinks it has a way to help.

The solution offered by Environmental Software of Huntington Beach, Calif., is desktop automation for environmental professionals through an environmental management information system suite. The suite integrates geographic information systems, computer-aided design, analysis, graphing, database and reporting tools.

The company claims its just-released SitePro product allows engineers, scientists and technical managers to identify, visualize and analyze soil and water data at least 30 percent faster. With the costs of regulatory compliance unlikely to ebb soon, that figure could mean real savings.

Indeed, U.S. businesses spend $3 billion and 115 million hours each year completing the paperwork required by the massive reporting system the Environmental Protection Agency has developed over the last 25 years, according to the federal agency.

Environmental Software estimates the market for environmental software products will grow from $500 million in 1997 to more than $1 billion in 2001. And the cost of environmental staff, contractors, permits, fines, cleanups, waste disposal and emission controls commonly is 1 percent to 5 percent of revenue, according to company estimates that used information from Gartner Group's Dataquest, San Jose, Calif., and Donley Technology of Colonial Beach, Va.

The company has quickly gained a high profile as its software is being used by Metcalf & Eddy Services, part of the Professional Services Group in Houston. Metcalf is under contract to the Army Corps of Engineers and will use SitePro to analyze and monitor the Baird Superfund site in Holbrook, Mass.

Located 14 miles from Boston, the 20-acre site was home to chemical manufacturing and processing for more than 70 years. Because of unmanaged waste disposal, the soil and groundwater have been contaminated with hazardous chemicals.

New Hampshire's Experience

An early user of the beta product, which came out April 1997, is Paul Currier, a civil engineer and project manager in the Waste Management Division of New Hampshire's Department of Environmental Services in Concord. He worked on the remediation of the Beede Waste Oil Superfund site in Plaistow, N.H.

His demand for the software arose from the need at the superfund site to perform a fast-track remediation analysis in a short period of time, as well as monitor and use information as it was coming in.

"We needed a database of complete documentation on the samples we were collecting for use in QA/QC [quality assurance and quality control]. We are now at the point in the project where most of the samples have been collected. And we are at the tail end of the analysis," said Currier.

"Our demands for both tracking and QA/QC were more elaborate than for a non-superfund site. To use the program for interim analysis and site design required that we display the output and make decisions on the fly."

Currier's background includes work on a superfund site in Alaska where, he said, the process was overrun by data and no place to put it for subsequent analysis.

From the Alaska experience, he decided to avoid the learning curve of making his own database.

Currier said he feels the value of a program like SitePro is having the data organized so it can be presented to meet the regulators' needs.

At bottom, the program allows for control of the data in order to manage environmental issues.

Vrinda Bhandarkar, a senior industry analyst in Frost & Sullivan's Environmental Group in Mountain View, Calif., noted that while environmental software itself is a highly fragmented market with many competing products and companies, "applications for environmental system management is not a very saturated market. The key is to tie in with other databases."

For Bhandarkar, one of the keys to success for a company like Environmental Software is to have its product become part of a company's day-to-day working, part of the enterprise package management buys.

One of the marketing difficulties is that most companies that need such software - for example, manufacturing firms - only see the cost side of the equation with little sight of the benefits.

The situation in Europe is different because of the regulations that companies there have long had to meet. Bhandarkar feels that evidence of a benefit may come from those European companies who can demonstrate some efficiencies to be gained from products like SitePro.

She also feels that to penetrate the market, such products must offer an idea of total emissions; feature an environmental inventory covering air, water and solid waste; and generate the myriad reports on air, water and soil that must be filed with government regulatory agencies.

Most importantly, however, the programs must facilitate oversight by an executive at the level of an environmental manager.

Software Potpourri

Susan Perrell, Environmental Software's vice president of marketing and company founder, got the idea to form the company in 1995 after years of experience with ARCO Chemical Company, Newtown Square, Pa. During that stint, Perrell managed environmental compliance, superfund site cleanups and negotiations and encountered frustration with the potpourri of environmental management software.

"Frankly, there were no systems to help support environmental management, that is, site cleanup, remediation and assessment work," said Perrell. "I did not even own my own data. I had to buy it from other companies who were in the business of collecting it. "We could not get our hands around our own problems," she said. "Even today, too much time is spent analyzing data, and a lot of it in the environmental field is not fully utilized."

Seeing Green

  • Estimated market for environmental software products will grow from $500 million in 1997 to over $1 billion in 2001.

  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. businesses spend $3 billion and 115 million hours each year completing the paperwork required by the massive reporting system the EPA has developed over the last 25 years.
  • From a marketing viewpoint, Environmental Software is focusing on the global 2000 manufacturers, the companies with the most environmental responsibility.

    These are the firms that need sophisticated professionals in-house to manage their environmental data.

    It is also targeting environmental and engineering consulting firms like CH2M Hill Companies Ltd., Greenwood Village, Colo.

    Environmental Software spent most of its first three years working on the software and on building a platform to handle geographic information systems, computer-aided design, the database and analytical tools like graphing and reporting.

    The product, SitePro, carries a version number 3.0 because it sold beta versions first released in April 1997.

    The company is hard at work on its next products, AirPro, set for launch in July, and EMISPro, scheduled for release next year.

    The former product will take the same tools in SitePro and apply them to air management, the permit process and risk assessment. The latter product will be designed help plant and tank farm manufacturers to manage compliance.

    Later this year, the company intends to release EMIServer and SitePro SQLServer.

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