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Gary Robinson

Quality Insider

Transforming Quality Management Through Automation

How to get better results for your organization in less time

Published: Monday, January 23, 2012 - 10:45

In an era of fast-paced and ever-increasing competitiveness, continuous business improvement is no longer reserved for a select group of innovators. It is a requisite for survival.

Every business strives to increase market share, drive down costs, manage risk more effectively, and improve customer satisfaction to benefit the bottom line. One of the longest-standing ways to accomplish these goals is to certify quality through international standards.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, certification using international standards has been a trusted and effective way to monitor and improve business performance, with ISO 9001, from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), as the most commonly used framework for quality management systems.

Around the world, thousands of companies certify quality within their organizations as an important business strategy. The problem, however, is that traditional methods for managing compliance data have become antiquated with the rise of technology.

Now, the innovators are those who are adopting new ways to manage their systems, and quality managers are achieving better results for their organizations in less time.

Business as usual

An estimated 80 percent of managers use Microsoft Excel and Word to manage their auditing and compliance systems. Although this method of management has worked for many years, it does not allow for the type of decision making that is necessary in a complex, interconnected, and fast-paced marketplace. There are a number of challenges that quality managers face by using static management systems, including:

Inefficient use of employee time. Those who compile ISO certification data from across various sites within the organization are in some cases inputting data twice as they consolidate it into unified reports. On average, eight hours a week per employee is eaten up with unnecessary data management.

The best example of this is related to production metrics and lab results (in quality assurance labs). Supervisors and production managers often send vast amounts of data by e-mail, usually in the form of spreadsheets. These are then collated by the department and passed up the chain, often to subsequently be collated again at the corporate level for multiple facilities.

Lack of reliable real-time information. It takes time for information to be distributed and updated throughout the organization. Compliance data are often updated long before it is integrated in the system. In case of emergency, one must filter back through the latest changes of compliance data to ensure that an accurate assessment of the situation is made.

Limited availability of accurate top-line analysis. Senior executives rely on quality managers for a bird’s-eye view of what is happening in the organization. Many times, CEOs are not quality managers, and so they rely on others to analyze and present data so that it is understandable. The creation of such reports takes considerable time and energy and slows the feedback process.

Compiling monthly reports is incredibly tedious and a duplication of effort for most organizations. The worst scenario is when all the data are compiled, and time is now sucked from managers to present it to the executives.

Reactive employee communication. Crafting communications and chasing people for training and noncompliance can be a very time-intensive process. Many quality managers find themselves using a huge amount of time reacting to compliance issues rather than focusing on other, more proactive, planning and design activities.

Shifting paradigms

New ways of doing things almost always arise in response to existing challenges.

The old way of inputting and analyzing compliance data is quickly becoming antiquated because technology is making it easier to compile and manage data. Engineers are leveraging technology to do all the heavy lifting so that managers can spend more time planning for future growth, change, and improvement.

Think about it this way. If you spend 80 percent of your time identifying benchmarks, establishing frameworks, compiling data, chasing people for their data, ensuring it is accurate, and creating reports, you don’t have much time left over to actually do something with the insight you have gained. Using technology allows quality managers to take things to the next level. Let’s call it ISO management 2.0.

Although there are a number of automated ISO management systems out there, some are better than others. Any option you choose should do a few basic things including:

Automate aggregation. If data is recorded and input at a particular site, it should only be done once and should fold into the larger data set where it can be accessed without duplication.

Update information automatically. It is important that changes to information be updated immediately, automatically, and throughout the organization. Senior management needs to be able to count on reliable, up-to-date information when reviewing data.

Using Word documents and spreadsheets is simple, but heavy lifting is required to make use of the information. Unless a master spreadsheet or master database exists, these data are often captured on a form, then input in a spreadsheet, then passed on for collation or consumption.

A single web-based repository allows visibility on the one master data set immediately and can feed scorecards and live reports to ensure near real-time decisions can be made. Ownership and accountability are implicit in the process because if an action is completed, the requestor is notified and the action verified.

Execute internal communications. One of the most time-consuming parts of quality management is often executing internal communications as it relates to compliance. Good ISO management systems can follow up with employees to notify and track individual training requirements or to rectify a noncompliance automatically, until the task is done and will report when the situation has been rectified.

Monitor regulatory requirements. Staying up to date on deadlines for regulatory compliance can be daunting. Find an automated system that constantly monitors the regulatory landscape and informs you when there are upcoming deadlines or changes that impact your business.

Generate analysis reports. Communicating the big picture, in real time and in a way that someone outside of the quality management world can understand, is crucial to continuous business improvement. Automated management systems can analyze all data simultaneously and create visual reports with the click of a button for decision makers.

Automating quality management systems is all about shifting thinking from reactive data gathering to proactive data optimization. The potential of such a shift on the bottom line of the organization is enormous.

Organizational opportunity

Implementing automated management systems has shown to save employees one day of work per week.

Imagine the impact of instant access to management reports so quality managers can concentrate on analysis and decision making rather than system maintenance, or being able to compare sites consistently and immediately in order to take action to improve business performance, and having a fully integrated and automated system up and running in days rather than months. Imagine all this as part of one integrated system that is accessible at any time. This is all already available and many organizations are already on board.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating

GlaxoSmithKline Inc. is one company that joined the bandwagon early and automated its environmental, and health and safety systems to improve business performance.

The company generates a vast amount of information from hundreds of data points across the organization. Nearly 200 of these relate to health and safety data on injury, illness, and accidents, along with roles and responsibilities, and product-related information. The largest quantity of data collected, however, is environmental data under topics such as energy, solvent use, water use, and hazardous/nonhazardous waste, which comprise more than 300 data points.

GlaxoSmithKline chose an automated management system as the solution to improve its internal control systems and mitigate operational risk. By doing so, the company gained an ability to instantly locate, interrogate, evaluate, and integrate information across different areas of the business. The company wanted a consistent and scalable approach across the company that would benefit not only sites that already had certified management systems in place, but also those in the process of developing them.

Since implementing the system, GlaxoSmithKline has seen a significant improvement in the accuracy of data collection and a reduction in the time it takes for it to be collected. Instant visibility of all risks, opportunities, and compliance issues means that decision making has improved and resources can be deployed more effectively.

The automated system contained more than a half a million data points in 2009. Health and safety data are reported on a quarterly basis at GlaxoSmithKline, whereas environmental data are collated annually. Because the software is continually updated, information reporting is now available on demand.

The nuts and bolts of automated quality management systems

The system that Glaxo SmithKline Inc. used to automate its environmental, and health and safety systems also has specific elements geared toward quality that provide a consistent and comparable management framework across all sites.

It supports the process of implementing and maintaining a management system certifiable to ISO 9001 and provides features to:
• Communicate and maintain quality control policies and procedures
• Identify issues and identify failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) and risk assessments
• Maintain a register of legal and other requirements
• Set quality objectives and targets

Other tools include:
• Automatically creating task lists with escalating e-mail reminders and overdue action-item reminders
• Track and report product nonconformances and corrective actions
• Scheduling, conducting, and reporting audits
• Product specification, verification, and validation


Companies that have made an investment to certify operations, whether it is for quality, environment, or health and safety, can no longer manage them with traditional methods if they want to maintain their traction.

Quality managers can now get better results for their organizations in less time, and companies that are taking the leap to automate are gaining a competitive advantage.

With 80 percent of managers still using Microsoft Word and Excel to manage their systems, there is still time for companies to stay ahead of the curve.


About The Author

Gary Robinson’s picture

Gary Robinson

Gary Robinson is the commercial director for BSI Canada Inc., and is a founder of Entropy Software, a web-based certifiable integrated management system software. He is a graduate of Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, with a degree in international business specializing in management information systems. He has studied at the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University in the Netherlands and holds a master of science in environmental management and policy from the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics in Lund, Sweden. Robinson is a co-author of The ISO 14001 EMS Implementation Handbook (Butterworth and Heinemann, 1998).