‘Soft’ sell at UMass

08/07/2007
By From Mass High Tech

By Ethan Forman

 

The University of Massachusetts Lowell has gotten into the business of selling software.

Last week, creators of an environmental management system program said they have launched the first commercial sale of software on the open market by the state-run university system.

EMS WebWare is a web-based file management system geared toward environmental compliance. It’s designed to help municipalities, companies, campuses and large organizations manage the flood of regulatory documents surrounding the creation of an environmental management system.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency created the need for such software several years ago by calling for large organizations to put an environmental stewardship plan in place based on the international standard of ISO 14001.

“We’ve been working very closely with the EPA and regulators, and everyone wants to do the right thing,” said Richard Lemoine, UMass-Lowell’s director of environmental health and safety.

He developed the idea for the program to streamline the documentation of an EMS plan after he was deluged with documents from across campus when he tried to develop a plan of his own.

The software took two years to create and bring to market, Lemoine said.

“We feel we have a tool that can save 35 percent of the time of a company developing an EMS program,” Lemoine said.

Mikunj Joshi developed the software for Lemoine as a web designer and a former IT graduate student.

The program has since been registered for a copyright and its patent is pending. Joshi now works as a business analyst for a Framingham company specializing in human resources software.

“What makes this unique is we are focused on the public domain while a lot of companies are based on the private (sector),” said Joshi about EMS WebWare.

But getting the software to the market was not easy.

“We actually had a lot of roadblocks in the way, a lot of legal stuff. The university had to evaluate the investment and its future potential,” Joshi said.

While the program was launched last week, you can’t walk into a store and buy a copy.

Instead, environmental compliance and health and safety officials can sign up online ߞ; the program is accessed over the Internet.

The campus’s Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property office seeded the venture and is supporting its commercialization.

Companies or organizations do not have to install any software or buy pricey equipment to run EMS WebWare, said Susu Wong, CVIP licensing associate and chief marketer.

“The beauty is we are completely hosting it. It’s a turnkey solution,” said Wong, a former employee of Lotus Development Corp. and IBM who has experience rolling out software.

Conservatively speaking, sales could be $750,000 over five years, Wong said.

A 10-user license runs $5,000, and the price goes up for more users, Wong said. Maintenance fees are extra.

Wong said the campus will not only benefit from revenues that the software generates, but students will work on upgrades and marketing.

Lemoine began his career at UMass Lowell as a custodian 28 years ago, he said.

Through work in the expanding field of health and safety, and its growing regulations and paperwork, he eventually earned a bachelor’s in public administration with a minor in legal studies at the university. He is working on his master’s.

As Lemoine went to work on the campus EMS plan, his office in the basement of Cumnock Hall filled with documents that grew to a 3-by6-foot stack.

“He was flooded with forms,” Wong said. “He was flooded with minutes (of meetings) and he was thinking there has to be another way to do this.”

“Back in 2000 and even today, you have the expertise out there to tell you how to implement (an EMS) but there are no software programs out there that could streamline the process,” Lemoine said.

“The companies that have this type of software, they are mostly supporting the private sector,” Lemoine said, “and the cost of their product is not economical for many municipalities, organizations or even small business.”