Edition MONTH 12 | 2017 12
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More and more companies are replacing their paper-based systems with online ones. Automation is a hotter topic than ever before. And yet, in the food industry, quality departments have so far tended to lag behind. However, that is now starting to change. Ruud Stoop, Business Unit Manager at Quality Software Company, explains. 

“If quality managers continue to ignore the online trend, they risk missing the boat,” claims Ruud. He believes that the growing importance of automation is based on two main reasons: “Offline systems such as Excel and Word are no longer enough. Quality documents and reports are often large files that are regularly amended and extended. The offline systems are not optimally designed for this. In addition, the pressure is increasing from all links in the supply chain. Nowadays everyone – from the retailer to the consumer – wants to have insight into the safety and origin of raw materials and ingredients.”

Remote access from any location 

Such transparency requires good management and control of all of the documentation within a company. When do the certifications expire, for example? Have the registration lists been completed in full? Does the manual include the most recent instructions? The quality department must ensure that all this is taken care of. Ruud: “And then there are the unannounced audits. You no longer have the luxury of deploying a group of people to get rid of the backlog in the run-up to the audit. If you do that, you’ll be too late. An online system offers the solution. All the documents, tasks and improvements are gathered together in the same place and employees always have access to the most recent versions. As a manager you can log in remotely from any location, see the current status and initiate the necessary action, even if you’re sunbathing on the other side of the world.”

Easy to manage risks 

An online system also offers advantages in terms of analysing the raw materials risks. “In the past, most raw materials were sourced from within Europe. However, companies today have a global focus. The more raw materials and suppliers there are, the more complex risk management becomes. After all, you have to assess and safeguard against every potential risk associated with each supplier and ingredients category.” This involves gathering input from the RASFF and Riskplaza databases which, as Ruud knows from experience, can be very time-consuming. He explains: “In an online system you only have to input your suppliers and raw materials once, and the rest is done pretty much automatically. Besides that, we’ve integrated an automatic connection with RASFF, Riskplaza and the latest legislative requirements in QA Online. Alerts from this database pop up automatically in your personal dashboard and can be reviewed and updated in a single click. That saves the QA manager a tremendous amount of time.”
 

Planning improvements and actions

Schedules, improvement reports and overview of actions to be taken are often still drawn up on paper or in Word or Excel – but there is another way. Ruud: “Imagine that there has been an internal audit. You make a note of any deviations and the associated improvements to be made in the online system. This only has to be done once, and it’s easy to link the relevant employees together, including deadlines and any other material such as photos. As a result, you always have insight into the very latest status of action points. So an at-a-glance schedule in an online system that everyone can access from any location is perfectly possible nowadays.” 

The full online experience

The automation trend is expected to continue in the quality sector, and Ruud agrees with that outlook: “We’re gradually working towards further automation, but we’re not losing sight of the human aspect of course; a person can do some things better than a computer system can. The benefits of automation are that it takes over routine tasks, it streamlines the communication process and it gives all relevant employees access to the necessary documents. This means that quality managers can focus on the things that really matter within their company – process efficiency, in other words. And that sounds good, doesn’t it?” 

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An example: cocoa

Imagine you source cocoa from ten different suppliers. Based on your research into cocoa, you conclude that there are five potential risks. Ten suppliers multiplied by five risks equates to 50 lines that have to be processed. Not only is that a time-consuming activity using offline software such as Excel or Word, but the risk analysis might also become a muddled and confusing document, especially if several people work on it – not to mention the complexity of making any changes to it. New information, whether coming from your own production process or due to changes in legislation, can have an impact on your risk management activities. In this case, an online system represents an efficient solution.
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