By Laurel Maloy, contributing writer, Food Online
ERP software aids the flow of internal, food-processing facility processes and ramps up communication procedures to improve internal functions. It also helps improve data retrieval, and processing. Quality control software should integrate seamlessly with your ERP software to elevate your business further.
The combination of enterprise resource planning (ERP) and quality control (QC) systems can drive your business to new heights. When upgrading software, ensure the two systems will mesh well. Lack of long-term technical support should be a deal-breaker if there is any question of system compatibility. The very best solution will be a single system from the same manufacturer that combines the two aspects, though that can be a tall order to fill. Software Advice, a company that analyzes and compares the most-recommended ERP software systems for food and beverage manufacturers, might be a good place to begin your search.
The decision to scrap one system and build a new one from the ground up can be intimidating. It is usually not just a simple upgrade, but will likely involve an entire system and process analysis, hardware upgrades, advanced training, and lots of capital investment. All of these considerations should add up to a lot of incentive to do it right the first time.
INTEGRATION should be your first consideration. Any system you choose must be capable of Open Data Base Connectivity (ODBC), which is simply a standard set of computer rules that will allow a connection to any database, regardless of the environment or operating system it is running in. Ask first about integration and be prepared to hear that your system may require upgrading to work with any of the most effective quality control and ERP software packages. It may also help to read Improving Visibility and Traceability with Cloud-Based ERP Systems, or 5 Advantages of Cloud-Based ERP Solutions for Food Producers to achieve a better understanding of how computing works today.
CORRECTIVE and PREVENTION ACTION (CAPA) requires the ability to link other forms or actions throughout the system that may trigger a CAPA notification or action, such as a non-conformance report or customer complaint. The goal is to streamline the entire process, effectively reducing the amount of time from discovery to implementation. Ideally, a CAPA form can be launched directly from another form, incorporating the necessary information while eliminating the errors common during manual data transfer. Data entry man-hours should be greatly reduced.
DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT will be key in all of your dealings with regulatory agencies, as well as in your efforts to improve your quality control system. Any document created within the system should be easily searchable and just as easily retrieved. Efficiency can be improved drastically by automating much of what is done manually, such as employee scheduling, routing, tracking, follow-up, and review. Even Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and/or Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) tasks, verification, and monitoring functions can be automated for audit and/or legal substantiation.
When implementing this system, pay particular attention to how permissions can be granted or disallowed. An important part of document management is to have the right persons be able to access the required documentation at the time it is needed, such as when an audit or recall is in play.
CHANGE REGULATION is an advantageous element in that turnaround and regulatory conformity is enhanced. Incorporating a “priority level” trigger, classification, and risk assessment of the change is automatically performed. The higher the level of change, the greater impact it will have on the product and the more likely the requirement for regulatory compliance. Automated, customizable reports within this particular scheme are a must-have.
TRAINING ADMINISTRATION is greatly streamlined when online training can be accomplished, recorded, and advanced, automatically. Ideally, this feature can be tied to the rest of the quality control and ERP system, so that any change to a document, process, or regulatory procedure that requires training, will spontaneously be invoked. Training assignments, tasks, and online exam grading is automated, with the necessary records readily available, and additional training requirements monitored and administrated.
ELECTRONIC DELIVERY of forms — such as FDA applications — should also provide a level of control in both assembling and in tracking the documentation necessary for submission. Templates — in order to streamline and standardize submissions — should be part of the package, as should seamless integration with all e-submission platforms your facility may utilize.
AUDIT MANAGEMENT is necessary to effectively-manage audit processes. Be sure, if both external and internal audits are performed, that compatibility with third parties will not be an issue. If using cloud-based systems, this is rarely a problem, though the question should still be asked. If in doubt, check personally with your third-party auditors for verification. No audit-management system is complete without advanced analytics, automated scheduling of audit-related recurrences, and sophisticated reporting capabilities.
Before embarking on the journey to install a new system, or to upgrade an existing system, first determine what you want to achieve. Preferably, if you are going to be spending big dollars, you want the system to ultimately save you big dollars. Savings can be accomplished across a wide range of processes as they are streamlined and automated, so look at the big picture. It may also be wise to consider the fact that technology is advancing so quickly it can be difficult to keep up. Just take a look at the smart phone or personal computer. What you buy today can be just as quickly outdated, so settling for an older model may not be the prudent choice. It may be better, and in the long term, more-economically far-sighted, to bite the bullet and build an entirely new system, than to apply Band-Aids to the old.