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In the Food and Beverage industry certified good quality, compliance with regulations, and protection of company reputation are essential. However often there’s not a huge amount of resources to maintain good quality and compliance. Thus, people managing quality and compliance have many roles: working on quality documents, managing ISO and other quality certifications, dealing with internal and external audits, training employees, following the changes in the regulatory landscape, and putting down bushfires now and then. That is quite a collection of hats to wear – and it raises some valid questions. Does any of this sound familiar:

“We have several computer systems that somehow relate to daily quality and compliance work. We store documents in many places, product tracking records ends up in our ERP system, some processes are run manually using spreadsheets and email, and some on paper since they need to get signed. Over time documents and data have been piling up in so many places. I honestly think we have good quality, but the evidence of this is scattered all over the place.

So, we’ve tried to improve things by implementing some dedicated cloud systems. Like the one for tracking the CAPA tasks. That is a nice, simple system… but it’s only used by a handful of managers. And this system is not connected to anything else. Say, here’s a completed CAPA task that says we have improved a work instruction and then organized training on the topic. But the instruction document itself is not here – so where is it? And where are those training records?”

Welcome to the Columbus Quality & Compliance series for Food and Beverage industry. In this series, we hope to bring you useful insight on building a true digital quality system. Some of our specific topics will be:

Quality Theater
  • Quality has two sides to it. There’s the public side in the form of big statements on the website, publicly advertised quality certifications, and more – a vital part of the company image. And then there’s the day-to-day quality work that stays hidden within the company. Well managed companies put resources to both: make bold claims about what they do so well, but also back those claims up by showing real auditable evidence when requested. Only doing the public side is what we call the Quality Theater. Avoiding this just-for-the-looks quality theater is the dominant theme of this series. Why? Because quality theater always eventually backfires, and someone gets hurt – it can be a customer, an employee, the environment, or the company reputation.
  • How to stay on track on different types of quality tasks like nonconformances (NCR), audit findings and complaints? How to find evidence that these tasks were completed on time. A ‘done’ checkbox is not quite enough - where are the records that prove it was done properly? How could good IT help in getting tasks done, providing peace of mind, and finding those records in just seconds?
  • In many organizations, people still manually move SOPs and other vital quality documents between systems. This is resource-hungry and prone to human error. Let’s discuss how to improve and automate.
  • Do we know for certain that all staff is trained and qualified for their jobs? New employees start, roles change within the company, processes change, and work instructions get updated. All these calls for some new learning & qualification. Handling this manually is a huge burden. Can some good IT help? Can we find not just the training records we have, but also the ones we should have but are now missing?
  • Many organizations today favor visual process maps and flowcharts. This is a great idea since we humans absorb visual information so much faster than written text. Let’s discuss how to integrate process maps into all the other quality and compliance processes, content, documents, and tasks.
  • Most organizations scatter documents and other information in many systems. Modern storage-meets-collaboration systems like O365, Google G-suite, Microsoft Teams, and many more, allow setting up new storage locations so easily. Each new location looks nice and clean when it’s new – but two years later it has become a chaotic folder labyrinth. We do like those modern collaboration tools but what could we do differently to avoid them becoming hiding places for information?
  • Supplier qualification is a vital, recurring process that could be streamlined with some good IT. The ERP system should have the up-to-date master inventory of qualified suppliers, but ERP systems are not the ideal tool for qualifying and auditing suppliers and subcontractors. Let’s discuss how to improve.
  • After a company merger or acquisition, the now-merged parts of the company remain in their computer system silos for surprisingly long, with the only email being the unifying aspect. Network drives and other legacy systems stay hidden and inaccessible. How to collaborate better with your new colleagues and build a company-wide transparent quality system?

And many more. If some of these topics sound relevant, please subscribe to the series and stay tuned. In the mean time, you can download a guide on how you can secure, improve and simplify quality support processes with the help of effective information management.

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Unlike us humans, documents are not created equal. Among the millions of electronic documents stored on disk somewhere only a few are critical to quality and compliance. We call them by many names: quality manual, standard operating procedures (SOPs), work instructions, policies, guidelines, official templates, and more. Despite their smaller volume, managing them is a ton of work. Just like a signed contract embodies a binding relationship between two companies, an effective SOP embodies how a key process is repeatedly run with high quality, compliance and safety to all parties. A Big Quality Document is so much more than a nice-looking PDF – someone’s life might actually depend on the document being good, its contents known, and systematically followed.
In this article we take a look into something that should be simple: storing files and documents – and then finding them when needed. Most organizations struggle with this seemingly basic aspect of information management. There are dozens of network drives and hundreds, sometimes thousands of SharePoint sites and other legacy systems. Each system is a silo, so you need to remember where to start looking for documents. And inside each system the folder structure has over the years turned into a folder labyrinth. Document searching gets harder, different versions are stored all over the place, hyperlinks to documents get broken, and no one seems to know who has permissions to see what documents. Systems designed to store documents become document hiding places, creating chaos.
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