In this article we consider the use of “traditional” quality management systems, which rely on hands-on manual insight from personnel, and compare its performance with automatic software-based systems. Paper-based quality management systems are popular and common, particularly in SMOs. They are inexpensive to implement, require little ongoing training, and are familiar to many staff.
Unlike an automated system, there is little preliminary capital outlay, and no proper time-investment in employees. For companies looking in the bottom line, using a paper-based quality management system would appear to be an obvious choice. However, there are unseen, hidden costs. The shortcomings of relying on a paper-based quality system are wide-reaching, not least their potential to undermine a firm’s productivity, as well as increasing the risk of non-compliance.
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A comprehensive quality management system can trend / categorise quality-related problems, and use that means to recognize problems before they occur. Preventative action in quality management is seen as one of the great achievements of automated systems. In comparison, this is often impossible to attain with a paper-based system, which will not provide itself to trending problems. In addition, paper-based systems make document control – a simple facet of most compliance programmes – time-consuming and difficult. Specifically, a paper-based documentation system does not afford visibility into the status of documents in the review cycle, making these reviews and unpredictable long.
This in itself can decelerate – and even immobilize – an organisation’s ability to adhere to regulations, and also to apply and enforce constant improvement initiatives. Using a paper-based system necessitates manual effort to comply and analyse metrics. The compilation process itself is usually highly time-consuming, producing a slow-distribution of information, and equally sluggish analysis then.
The world wide web result can be an inability to address matters as they occur and to respond appropriately and in a timely fashion. Therefore leads to a high cost – both of poor quality, and of compliance. Finally, while a paper-based system may have few preliminary start-up costs, hidden costs quickly become apparent.
Productivity is reduced while managers become tied-up with manual, menial matters – such as identifying and rectifying hold-ups in document reviews, locating missing documents and identifying and managing staff members responsible for delays or errors. The costs of failure to recognize corrective actions aren’t quantifiable, but by the right time these issues come to light, the damage is done.
Even if corrective action is implemented, this is difficult to establish often, delaying the quality-management functions even more, and undermining regulatory compliance requirements. By contrast an automatic system works to streamline the process. All users have instant and total visibility of most parts of the machine, and can identify the status of a record at any given point. Any personnel lagging behind in the process can be discovered instantly, and managed accordingly.
A reviewed record is updated and documented, so that users are, at all right time, focusing on the most up-to-date version – minimising delays and errors. Automation also allows users to determine all corrective actions that require to be studied as they arise, as well as flagging potential problems and enabling management to address them as necessary.