The food industry has learned a lot this year — more than it bargained for. Specifically, COVID-19 has taught us some important lessons about modernizing quality, safety and vendor management.
Our industry has been slowly moving toward modernization, at the direction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety and increasingly complex supply chains, but the pandemic has necessarily moved that timeline up by years. We were expecting that we could slowly upgrade tech to meet new FDA guidelines, but the coronavirus pandemic has supercharged that timeline.
Company goals in food-related industries changed almost overnight, as 2020 became a year of reaction and short-term solutions. Many found that their operations and supply chains weren’t agile and resilient enough, and that their supplier pools were insufficiently diverse. Most saw that manual processes were too slow, and outcomes too murky, to make the fast-paced decisions needed to keep doors open, and employees and customers safe.
As the year has progressed, it has become painfully clear that familiar manual processes involving paper, e-mails and spreadsheets are simply not enough. Digital transformation and modernizing tech are activities that can’t be put off until later, if you want to gain visibility and insights and make data-driven decisions.
As you prepare for the future, it’s time to step out of the reactive phase of 2020 and turn toward proactive, long-term activities and tech solutions that support scalable and transparent processes.
By transforming and standardizing your tech, you can create a system that will set the stage for staying ahead of your competition, increasing efficiencies and preparing for long-term growth. Here are a few ways you can get started.
Think about continuous quality. The food-related industries, like many others, relies on point-in-time reports from annual audits, rather than a dynamic system that shows how your business is doing every day. It’s time to make goals that support continuous quality with suppliers, within your own walls and at each location.
The first step is to look at all the software or tech you’re using now, to see if you can consolidate or eliminate point solutions or irrelevant applications. Once you have a clear picture, you can ask whether your systems can “talk” to one another, with the goal of creating an end-to-end internet of things network that connects all decision-making data into a single source of truth. This helps eliminate data silos and increases communication.
Another continuous quality process is diversifying audit types. Large, yearly corporate “snapshot” audits won’t go away, nor should they. But even before the pandemic, many companies started adding self-assessments and other quick check-ins to their daily activity at every location, to continually look for trends and hotspots. These checks are done with an auditing app that is connected to quality-management software, so that managers can view the most up-to-date information and make data-based decisions daily if needed.
Move away from manual processes. How many times have you felt frustrated about all the admin work you do, when you could instead be doing meaningful work with your processes and systems? How many times has a document or other data been “lost” in e-mail chains or file cabinets? How many times have you worked extra hours to pull together a report by hand from a multitude of spreadsheets?
It’s time to let tech take over much of your admin work. This is the moment for the food industry to stop relying on paper, spreadsheets and other manual processes.
It’s important to remember that modernization isn’t about eliminating people from the equation. It’s using human-centric tech that reduces human error, decreases admin work and improves results. You’ll likely have to invest a little up front, but tech creates efficiencies and transparency that will save you time and money in the end.
Update how you manage vendors and suppliers. Many challenges accompany the onboarding of new suppliers and management of existing ones. E-mails go unanswered; renewal dates are easily overlooked, and getting back renewal certifications, documents and audits is a chore to say the least. On top of that, you may be pushing to diversify your supply chain due to disruptions during the pandemic. Taken together, that’s a lot of communication, documents and due dates to keep track of. Additionally, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your suppliers meet government standards.
Using software to manage supplier relationships makes it easier for all parties, allowing everyone to work faster and with more collaboration. Supplier communication, certification submissions and audit results all end up in the same place, so you can evaluate onboarding and renewal activities faster and with more confidence. Automated renewal reminders can put a stop to repetitive work, or worries about whether a spreadsheet was updated correctly.
Modernizing systems makes sense both from a competitive and financial point of view. For me, though, the most compelling reason to modernize is your employees. During these precarious times, they’re doing more with the same or fewer resources, taking on more stress and heading toward deeper and tougher burnout. If you can do more to bolster employees and create efficiencies, you’ll achieve better results in the long run, and that’s the investment that will pay off the most in the end. It will take modernization to get you there.
Kari Hensien is president of RizePoint.
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