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Supplier Documentation: To Automate or Not to Automate

By Maria Fontanazza
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Stack of papers and folders

Q&A Part I: Hiring and Training, Understanding FSMA Remain Big Industry ChallengesIn part two of Food Safety Tech’s Q&A with TraceGains, Anthony Arocha (customer success consultant), Rajan Gupta (vice president of customer success), and Jason Ulrich (customer success manager) explain the factors at play surrounding the lack of supplier documentation in the food industry.

Food Safety Tech: Just 44% of respondents said they automate supplier documents. What information can you glean from this? Why aren’t more companies automating?

Arocha: Companies understand that using technology is essential to manage the increasing demands on accurate food safety documentation and verification. For many companies, it is likely to be just a timing and resource issue as to why they have not yet adopted automation—timing as in they have not yet reached the pain threshold required to justify the new cost to implement and to have a resource to support or focus on it. As companies grow and new budgets get created, it is just a matter of time before they will have to include automation help if they have not already.

Gupta: I believe lack of internal respect for QA and thus lack of education and funding are key contributors to this area. Most of the quality staff is stuck doing daily activities with limited time to explore options to make their processes better. Lack of empowerment to make business process changes is also a large factor in not adopting technology. Marc states that the companies have silos as indicated by the transparency gains from technology—while that is true, the root cause of this may be that the various groups within an organization have never really paid attention to FSQA areas and thus never envisioned having access to information that can help the organization proactively manage risk and increase food safety awareness.

Ulrich: This is all about people money, and time. The industry as a whole doesn’t have enough in quality departments. The lack of qualified individuals available in QA departments has always been an issue. The money is usually used to improve production and other departments except quality. That leaves the limited resources in the department with very little time to review and implement new processes or software.

Food Safety ad Quality Assurance Survey, TraceGains
2016 Annual TraceGains Food Safety & Quality Assurance (FSQA) Professional Survey (Figure courtesy of TraceGains)

FST: Regarding supplier documentation management, where are companies falling short?

Arocha: Supplier document management is not easy. You are at the mercy of your vendors. I think the biggest issue is trying to do everything too fast versus having a risk-based approach and focusing on the top priority items first. Build on success. If you try to do too much too fast, it is hard to pick out the success stories easily and can become overwhelming.

Gupta: Anthony is right but he is also stating the obvious problem – “mercy of vendors”. We believe that technology such as TraceGains Network can improve efficiency greatly in sharing documentation and risk-based data, but lack of education and rapid acceptance within the industry of new approaches hinders innovation and limits already stretched resources to take shortcuts that may not be the best course of action long-term.

Ulrich:  In addition to what Marc, Anthony and Raj stated most are afraid to challenge the supplier. There is a fear of making them angry or asking for too much.

The Struggles of Managing Supplier Documentation

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Providing customers with updated certificates and audit documents, and migrating to digital platforms are steps suppliers can take to conquer document management.

In its annual Food Safety & Quality Assurance (FSQA) Professional Survey, TraceGains polled professionals in food manufacturing, processing and distribution on the challenges they face at various levels of the supply chain. Rajan Gupta, vice president of Customer Success at TraceGains discusses the importance they place on supplier document management.
 
Food Safety Tech: Companies understand the importance of document management. How do they struggle when collecting and managing supplier documentation?

Rajan Gupta: The greatest challenge to document management is that there is a complicated web of requirements that companies need to maintain for compliance, safety and business growth. For example, companies are required to maintain documentation proving compliance with rules and regulations such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), labeling, allergen control programs, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), as well as FDA and third-party audits, just to name a few. With each entity, rule or regulation, companies are faced with a different set of required documentation that they must maintain and furnish upon request. Obviously, this poses a challenge for companies to not only remain abreast of new rules and regulations, but also know exactly where they stand.
 
FST: How often do manufacturers need to monitor supplier documents to ensure they are up to date?

Gupta: Despite the common misconception that safety and compliance documents should be updated every year, this is not always the case.  Certain documents, such as Kosher certificates and third-party audits, should be updated annually; however, other documents only need to be updated when something changes. To complicate matters, the industry is so far behind that catching up is becoming difficult. Often, suppliers do not proactively send updated documents to their customers, thus forcing them to require new documents each year and further complicating the company’s ability to confidently know where they stand with compliance and safety rules and regulations.

FSQ_InfoGraphic_Final
Credit: 2015 Annual TraceGains FSQA Professional Survey

 
FST: What’s the biggest tip you can offer manufacturers when it comes to ensuring documentation is in place, especially when considering the requirements of an audit?

Gupta: The key to documentation success is actively working with suppliers to minimize the “noise” of unorganized information sharing. Companies should make it a priority to take steps towards digital information sharing, thereby enabling efficiency in an otherwise very inefficient environment.  Such small steps require vision, leadership, and an inclination towards entrepreneurship.