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Steve Arbogast

Quality Insider

Electronic Quality Management Systems Are Worth the Money

A paper-based QMS usually sits on the shelf collecting dust and offers no value.

Published: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - 11:04

It can be extremely difficult if not impossible to have an antiquated, document or paper-based quality management system (QMS) work for a company. To possess, build, and support this type of management system burdens the organization.

On the other hand, a QMS that is electronic, linked, or related so that the piece parts can be analyzed when change is required, maintains history from a corrective action management perspective, and is published electronically to the total organization is a management system that adds value on a long-term basis. A QMS must be dynamic, and capable of being analyzed and changed quickly. A real-time managed system stored and managed electronically provides speed and agility to any organization. It permits management to communicate continually so that the quality message is heard regularly, but also delivers procedures, processes, and instructive material to everyone in the organization. Many organizations achieve this by simply converting the paper-based QMS into a set of material typically delivered via the intranet or internet, thus permitting easy access to the information essential to people doing their jobs.

It's also important that everyone in the organization have the capability to provide feedback, improvement suggestions, and change requests to the management system. This capability can and should be provided from the intranet or internet. This is how total organizational involvement in continual business improvement is achieved.

Books on dusty shelves do not constitute a QMS

There are businesses that believe that a quality management system is nothing more than a set of documents that are created, version controlled, and stored in a library, so that the business staff can peruse them when necessary. In this supposed management system, it is extremely difficult to deal with change management and continual improvement. These businesses have documented their QMS, placed it in three-ring binders, and put it on a shelf to collect dust.

A QMS simply sitting on a shelf, not communicated to anyone, or used by few in the business is not a QMS. A QMS must define what it is that the business does and what it expects all of its people to do. It must govern the work of the organization, monitor that work and the products and services being produced and delivered, and support change management and continual improvement. Organizations that use quality manuals only during audits or the certification process, or do not communicate the expectations of the QMS to their people are no longer competitive and many no longer exist.

Imagine that in hundreds or thousands of documents (e.g., vision/mission/strategy documents, process documents, standard operating procedures, audit reports) a business must inspect and understand how a standard or regulation change will affect each and every document. The inspection process alone could take weeks or months. The actual updating of each document to reflect a new standard or regulatory need could take additional weeks and months. And then when the documents are updated they simply go back into the library. Think about the time it takes for everyone in the business to read and understand the documents that are relevant to their area of responsibility. Is it any wonder that businesses are giving up on their quality initiatives and not providing budgets to their quality efforts?

A solution to all of these problems is to invest in an electronic QMS. Such a system is easier to maintain than a paper-based system, all the information is immediately available at any computer, it is easily audited, and any changes are easily communicated across the organization.

One large global aeronautics firm applied an electronically managed and continually improved management system model discussed earlier. This firm wanted an operational management system that would be accepted and used by all employees and graphical in nature so that its process documentation could be improved over the earlier written-procedure-based system.

The electronically managed and published management system saved this business $1.5 million per year in direct operating costs, reduced training time when introducing new employees to new work areas, yielded a 50-percent reduction in the number of people required to manage process and procedure documentation, and reduced written text compared to the previous management system by 85-percent. It provided one management system, supporting 18 different quality certificates, gave a 90-percent decrease in findings from more than 200 external audit days, increased employee process improvement suggestions from an average of 50/year to 1,100/year, and eliminated more than 3,000 documents previously used to describe the work processes and procedures.

The electronic QMS more than paid for itself.


Quality cannot be ignored, and yes it requires an organizational commitment and an investment; i.e., a line item in the budget. Change management is a necessity, and an effective and utilized business management system will help in change management and continual improvement of any business. For those of you that want to build a one-time management system, get registered, and put the management system on the shelf, don’t do it. Your money is much better spent on an electronic quality management system that won't sit on a shelf doing nothing, but instead will help your company, and it's quality, continue to grow.


About The Author

Steve Arbogast’s picture

Steve Arbogast

With more than 40 years of experience in managing both business and IT functions, Steve Arbogast specializes in defining, mapping, integrating and changing corporate processes, business management systems, and governance approaches, with a focus on aligning business goals and strategies with business operations. Arbogast utilizes his background in IT and business management to improve the overall strategies and operations of businesses in the pharmaceutical, computer, telecommunications, legal, petroleum, software sales, and insurance industries.

Arbogast manages the North American QualiWare business, and continues to provide professional services to a variety of enterprise customers.


Electronic Quality Management Systems

Even if an organization is unwilling to spend money on a commercial system, it's a no-brainer to put your documents on the company network and restrict write access to the QA Manager. Creative use of hyperlinks can also create easy access to reference documents. That's the bare minimum.

Of course a good commercial QA system simply makes everyone's job easier (read more efficient)