As a leader in your food production or processing organization, you know that keeping up with industry standards requires an enormous amount of technical expertise and organizational prowess. Maintaining a competitive edge means not only producing a safe product but also providing food with excellent quality, cost per unit, and environmental impact. Unlike your peers producing inedible goods in other industries, you face a much higher level of regulatory scrutiny from government agencies.
Each year, changes to regulations pose challenges for your company and force you to revisit your auditing strategy. Similarly, each time your organization adopts new techniques or creates new products, you have to re-evaluate your auditing program. For many food and beverage companies, this process is so costly and involved that they hire external consultants and compliance specialists to handle the change management process.
At Form.com, we believe that handing compliance to a third party costs many organizations their competitive edge. In fact, you can maintain compliance and gain the flexibility to handle regulatory changes all on your own. Read on to learn five simple steps that can modernize your audits without relying on the compliance industry.
1. Digitize your internal auditing process
The first step in modernizing your auditing process is getting rid of your paper forms. You may already use a strictly digital auditing tool or a combination of paper forms and spreadsheets, which is a step in the right direction. However, not all digital solutions are created equally. Make sure that your solution is mobile, flexible, and suited to your unique process.
Check out the Form.com Buyer’s Guide to learn more about making a better buying decision when it comes to mobile solutions. If you’re not sure which features to look for or don’t know which issues are trending in your industry, read our recent findings in this report.
The ability to create and maintain internal quality, safety, and process standards should be a critical ingredient in your solution. This is one area where spreadsheets and off-the-shelf solutions fall short. They can’t meet your unique needs or change quickly enough to suit shifting demands. Ultimately, you’ll be forced to work around their limitations, so go with a solution that fits your process exactly.
2. Universally integrate your audits
We previously discussed the importance of integrating your quality control audits with your other processes in a blog article entitled Why Traditional Quality Control is Obsolete. The principle here is essentially the same: don’t bolt on audits as an isolated program. When you separate frontline employees, processes, and customer feedback from your auditing program, auditors become blind to anything but their discrete objectives.
Universally integrating your digital audits requires a thoughtfully planned and executed solution. You’ll need the kind of custom-developed connections that off-the-shelf solutions and spreadsheets can’t offer. To learn more about how these integrations work and what to expect from them, read our page on APIs and integrations.
The gist of integration is simple: connect your audits with the other programs and systems you use to make things more efficient. The services you connect could be data analysis tools, like Form.com’s dashboards, which give executives deeper insights into real-time processes. Or, they might be work order scheduling systems that connect issues discovered in an audit with a prompt solution. In the latter example, when an auditor spots an issue, their report would directly connect with a work order to resolve it.
3. Stay ahead of changes using technology
The old ways of dealing with new regulations, quality methods, or leadership are holding you back. Instead of letting external forces dictate when and how you revise your audits, prepare for changes long before they affect you. For example, one way to get ahead is by using your digital solution to create a “staging area” for new forms or processes. Once you have working drafts, you can test, revise, and put them into action when they’re ready.
Unlike spreadsheets and off-the-shelf software, a customized mobile forms solution is flexible enough to pivot based on your current needs. At Form.com, we worked with one company that heavily depended on “one spreadsheet to rule them all.” When they needed to update this massive document, they were forced to organize an hours-long conference call, coaching every manager through each change. With Form.com, they’re now capable of making changes whenever they want.
However, mobile forms aren’t a panacea for all your business problems. If you ignore new regulations or advances in your industry, a customized digital solution will only help you catch up when you face the inevitable consequences. Always consult the appropriate regulatory authority or advisory group. Organizations like the FDA, USDA, or OSHA can be surprisingly candid and helpful when it comes to voluntary inspections. Nevertheless, prepare to follow their recommendations—even voluntary audits count toward official citations and corrections.
4. Gather deeper insights from your data
Routine audits accrue a lot of data. If you’re currently not using that data to improve decisions and identify trends, you’re missing out. Analyzing your data brings the auditing process full circle. Now that you’ve gathered useful information on your processes and corrected any outstanding issues, you can see where things are headed.
Custom dashboards, such as those provided by Form.com, can answer specific questions within an easy-to-understand interface. Dashboards take the data directly from your forms and break it down into bite-sized chunks. Each question or “speedometer” displays results from your ongoing processes in real-time, giving you the insight to make data-driven decisions.
Once you determine the right questions to ask and their answers, take action. Where are things getting better or worse? How and why? Use your oversight to track the root causes of issues, make changes, and monitor the outcome. With a deeper understanding of how your decisions affect each issue, it becomes easier to make more incremental improvements. More data means greater insight, and greater insight means more informed decisions.
5. Assess and revise your auditing program
Make time to assess and revise your auditing program. Even if your organization isn’t required to be certified or inspected by a third party, internal evaluations are critical. Placing your faith in a program that has been “doing fine” for years usually puts you in position for a rude awakening. A fair but unflinching look at your auditing program each year will help you stay competitive.
Ensure that frontline employees (i.e., auditors) have a comprehensive understanding of all your internal standards. Meanwhile, check that managers have the knowledge to make the right decisions and provide answers for their subordinates. Make reference materials available to everyone and ensure that they are up to date.
Although it may take time, effort, and thought, evaluating your auditing program is critical to long-term success. Even the best auditing solutions need to be put through their paces from time to time, which means authentic testing using real-world scenarios. When you need to deploy a new feature, form, or workflow, test it incrementally first. Start with a small group of your employees, get their feedback, and revise it.
How Form.com can help
Form.com specializes in turning your paper forms and spreadsheets into powerful mobile auditing solutions. We can help your organization keep up with the competition in 2020 using intuitive dashboards, easy-to-use mobile forms, and custom workflows. Get in touch with a solutions expert today to learn how Form.com can create a unique solution to help your organization maintain safety and quality in 2020.