Health and safety on a Web services platform

Aluminum giant Alcan Inc. has built a database of occupational health and safety information that can be shared across more than 50 countries.
Montreal-based Alcan, which operates about 500 sites around the world, is using a .Net architecture for its database project, EHS First. A Web services approach

seemed the most feasible, says Sylvan Robert, Alcan’s director of corporate applications, since the firm has facilities in far-flung locations in countries including Cameroon, Iceland, Australia and Canada.
EHS First, which went live in January, is used by each of Alcan’s four groups: bauxite and alumina, primary metal (smelting), engineered products and packaging.
“There was a call to action a couple of years ago to try to find out where the major improvement points are in terms of environmental health and safety,” says Robert. “Alcan, being a rather decentralized business in terms of information systems, didn’t have a one-stop shop for data collection in those areas.”
Different sites collect data on workplace safety as well as environmental factors like water purity and air quality. The information can be shared across the organization and generate reports, using a Crystal Decisions tool. The information helps Alcan meet requirements laid out by the Kyoto Accord, as well others like the environmental management standard ISO 14001.
The system is built on .Net with Microsoft’s SQL Server on the back end and SAP’s data warehouse. Ease of deployment was an early consideration, said Robert, as was ease of use. With 73,000 employees spread out across the globe, Alcan required an interface that could be understood with a minimum of training.
Alcan convened one-week sessions — two in Europe and two in North America — to train “super-users” who could go back to their respective locations and pass on knowledge to their staffs. A support system set up to field questions about the application was quickly shut down as unnecessary — queries are so few Alcan’s regular help desk can handle them.
Alcan has demonstrated some leadership in its ability to roll out a Web services application of this scale, says IDC Canada Ltd. analyst David Senf, based in Toronto.
“Right now a cross-country deployment of Web services — on whatever technology, either .Net or J2EE — is atypical. Large Fortune 500 companies could eventually be found doing that deployment,” said Senf. Alcan was able to handle the bulk of its integration work, but used IBM Global Services for some assistance with Crystal Reports. A master user in Montreal is responsible for the system’s upkeep but there are key people involved from each of Alcan’s four groups.

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