Environment / Food Safety / Quality / Safety / Technology Enabled Business Solutions
Comments: No Comments
Virtually every regulatory agency (e.g., EPA, OSHA, FDA, USDA) and voluntary certification standard (e.g., ISO, GFSI, organic) has compliance requirements that call for companies to fulfill several common compliance activities. KTL has outlined eight compliance functions that can be instrumental in improving a company’s capability to comply. One very important compliance function involves records and document management.
Records provide documentation of what has been done related to compliance—current inventories, plans, management systems, training, inspections, and monitoring required for a given compliance or certification program. Each program typically has recordkeeping, records maintenance, and retention requirements specified by type. Having a good records management system is essential for maintaining the vast number of documents required by regulations and standards, particularly since some, like OSHA have retention cycles for as long as 30 years.
Moving Away from Paper Recordkeeping
Organizing and maintaining the records can create challenges—where to store them, security levels, remote and local accessibility, etc. Supply chain requirements can further add to the cumbersome workload of collecting, reviewing, and sharing documents and information.
Companies have been keeping records and documents in binders and file cabinets for years. And while that system can work, many dynamic tools are available to alleviate some of these challenges and support organizational decision-making. A document management system can help create:
- Process and document standardization
- Central and secure storage, organization, and access to documents and records locally or remotely
- Improved document searchability and accessibility
- Enhanced workflows for approving and completing tasks involving documents
- Easy access to documents for audits and clear audit trail, particularly for remote audits
- Version control and history
- Reduced paperwork
- Higher quality data due to reduced human error
- Improved collaboration
- Improved security of sensitive documents
All of which lead to consistent, efficient, and reliable compliance performance.
Transitioning Your Records
Transitioning from a paper-based recordkeeping system to an electronic document management system can seem overwhelming, particularly given the sheer volume of documents some organizations have. However, following a step-by-step approach—and considering the desired end product from the start—can help ensure that organizations end up with a system that will function well within the business context and provide ongoing compliance efficiency.
Step 1. Assess Current Documents and Processes
The first step is to identify where all your documents reside and how you are currently managing and organizing those documents. Additionally, an assessment of the documents themselves should be conducted to evaluate if they are still current, if they are in line with the processes and procedures they are intended to monitor, and if they are collecting all the required information.
Where are documents stored? What is electronic vs. paper? Are documents sorted by necessity, date, version, compliance area? What processes are currently in place for creating, managing, and storing documents? Where are the inefficiencies in adequately managing documents and records? If there are multiple systems, are they working together?
The goal of this step is to get a good handle on the current state of your documents and systems so you can move onto step 2, which will be to define the desired state of your document management system.
Step 2. Define Document Management System
Before building the system, you must define your ultimate desired end state. In a perfect world, how would the document management system operate? What parts and components would it have? How would things work together? At this point, you must consider the immediate need (i.e., document management) within the context of the overall business need. The idea is to align the document management system with any overall compliance management system (CMS). This requires a genuine understanding of both daily routines and the big picture.
Bring together key stakeholders to discuss their objectives, review the current state, and evaluate industry best practices. While it is necessary to get senior management buy-in and to understand the business needs, it is equally important to understand the routine activities and tasks of the people who will use the system in a daily basis. The system must be designed with all these users in mind—the end user entering data in the field, management who is reading reports and metrics, system administrator, office staff, etc.
Step 3. Gather Documents and Populate System
This step can involve significant resources depending on the volume of documents, so taking a phased approach can make it more manageable. It often makes sense to start where you already have processes and document storage systems in place that can be more easily transitioned into a new document management system to encourage user buy-in. Priorities should be set based on ease of implementation, compliance risk, business improvement, and value to the company.
Step 4. Determine Access and Train
The only way to ensure employees will correctly use the document management system is to provide adequate training. Define who needs access to the various parts of the system and what everyone’s roles and responsibilities are. Every employee who will touch the system should receive hands-on training to teach them how to correctly use the system to create efficiencies.
Step 5. Conduct an Annual Internal Audit and Document Review
Audits offer a systematic, objective tool to assess compliance across the workplace and to identify any opportunities for improvement. Audits may be used to capture regulatory compliance status, certification system conformance, adequacy of internal controls, potential risks, and best practices.
An internal audit of the document management system provides a valuable way to communicate performance to decision-makers and key stakeholders. This final step is an important one, because it will help ensure that:
- The organization is getting the most out of its document management system.
- The system and associated processes are operating as intended.
- Data can be used for trending and predictive analytics to better inform business decision-making.
- Ongoing opportunities for improvement in document organization and processes are identified and implemented.
- Efficiencies in business operations and overall compliance management—including remote access and remote auditing—are fully realized.