Planning to bring in new tools to support your Quality department’s functions? Consider a tool to digitize your Quality data?
Your Quality department or the Quality function in your organization is not exempt from the need to innovate and be more cost-effective. But you may find that the very nature of Quality as a function makes the effort to change more challenging than in other departments.
We can see the root of this challenge by simply looking at the various ‘industry’ definitions for Quality. No matter the specific school of thought, be it Lean, Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, ISO9000 or HACCP, they all focus on reliably and repeatedly getting what is expected as an outcome. Achieving that state for manufacturers is heavily dependent on a methodology based on rules and procedures that demonstrates, over time, that results can be consistently achieved.
Quality, or the achievement of Quality results, is such a significant concern to most manufacturers that an idea or suggestion that might ‘mess with the systems’ meets significant resistance. Yet the need for cost reductions, profitability improvements, and meeting the changing desires of consumers means that the Quality function must consider appropriate and helpful innovations, too.
So where can a manufacturer look for innovation or other opportunities to improve the Quality function without disrupting the Quality function?
Making the move to digitize your Quality data is likely the best place to start for most manufacturers and Quality departments. This is because the simplest and most effective efforts to digitize your Quality data can be initiated around existing processes. Such efforts reduce risk on two levels. First, the right software tools will integrate with existing processes, meaning changes will little more than recording your data electronically rather than on paper. Secondly, the availability of the data in digitized form will make it more accessible to a wider audience. The delays caused by manually handing-off paper will be reduced.
This effort of moving from paper and personal productivity tools to integrated information systems brings greater efficiency to all aspects of operations by centralizing data storage and facilitating the sharing of that data. Initially, the process should be nothing more than replacing manual paper- or spreadsheet-based systems with electronic systems that specify and collect the same data that used to be written down. However, simply generating electronic versions of our Quality data is not the endgame. If it were, then spreadsheets or personal productivity tools would be sufficient. If efficiency is to be gained at levels that impact the bottom line, then it is likely that such minor changes are not significant enough. The purpose of digitizing Quality data is not just to change the medium for storage. The goal is to make that data available for a wider range of common uses so that the ROI of the effort to digitize your Quality data is exponentially improved.
The most effective tools will help make data collection more efficient by supporting mobile devices and will include user controls that ensure the data is entered using the correct data type. Writing test results on paper documents is certainly flexible, because paper can go almost anywhere. But paper does not have the ability to respond or self-correct in real-time if results are recorded erroneously. Paper does not have the ability to evaluate whether results are inside or outside of desired ranges. And paper is a ‘personal’ commodity; only one person or small group of people can actually interact with a given piece of paper. Therefore, whoever has the sheet of paper has the data!
The controls found in the tools for digitizing Quality data can help you to overcome these limitations. Applying these controls means data will be more accurate and timely, and better data provides the raw materials for better decision-making. The ability for prompt and accurate decision-making can immediately impact the cost of operations by ensuring off-quality materials are identified, removed or adjusted earlier in processes.
Using electronic tools to support speedier and more accurate data collection is only the most obvious benefit from the effort to digitize your Quality data. More significant benefits are found when we begin to utilize that data in the various tasks that rely on that data.
A great example is the effort to provide customers with documents such as Certificates of Analysis, which compare a desired result against your actual test result. In a paper-based system, the applicable test results must be manually located and identified. This data must be copied or re-entered into Word templates and they must be proofed. Documents must be accurately named and properly stored. Searching for historical content is slow and unwieldy.
Quality management software such as Quality Essentials Suite has functionality designed to generate a wide range of Certificate of Analysis layouts and content. Digital data is quickly repurposed and seamlessly used. Tasks such as copying or re-entering the data onto Word templates and then proofing the entries are eliminated. The risks associated with document naming and network storage are also reduced. Searching for content is more logical and much faster.
The availability of dashboard and charting tools as part of the core functionality in Quality Essentials Suite means that proactive analysis of all the collected data is supported. It also means that sharing that data with appropriate team members is easily accomplished, either by generating documents for distribution or leveraging the unlimited user access licensing model to give users their own access to needed data. When users can access needed data themselves, this eliminates a burden on the Quality department to have to manage distribution and related tasks.
Digital transformation is a key phrase trending in the IT and business world. Upgrading tools and systems so that your data is available in a digital format is the first step towards enabling your organization to participate and benefit from this trend. Digitizing Quality data should enable recognizable cost and performance benefits for the organization.
Not sure how to begin your digitizing efforts? Visit our web site and download our Quality System Needs Analysis questionnaire to help you formally evaluate your Quality function requirements or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to help.