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Support a Single Source of Truth with Efficient, Automated Document Control

June 26, 2023
Effective document control means everyone is working from the same playbook for compliance, quality and safety.

New models of products are introduced regularly and often require a new way of interacting with a product. Imagine if that change—requiring that electric vehicle consumers replace fluids more frequently, for example—never makes it into the user manual. Or imagine a change to safety protocols on the plant floor that fail to be documented and shared before a serious injury takes place.

Failure to ensure proper document control is not just a compliance issue; it can be a major source of financial, safety and brand risk. It is also the cornerstone of compliance, quality, environmental health and safety (EHS), and operational excellence.

Ensuring that employees, management and even auditors have access to the most current, approved versions of key documents is imperative. Yet, many companies still grapple with the shortcomings of unreliable paper trails and multiple versions of the same documents.

This can be compounded when global companies, with thousands of employees, offices and sites are working within varying regulatory environments. Adding to that complexity is the impact of mergers and acquisitions, which result in the time-consuming steps of unifying procedures, processes and data enterprise wide.

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In most manufacturing firms, change happens daily—whether it’s upgrades to a product feature, the use of new suppliers, temporary changes in supplier materials, or changes in training or operating procedures.

Since most changes impact many departments, employees, customers and regulatory bodies, any change or event in one area should trigger an evaluation of all relevant existing documents. All other functions, processes and people that rely on this information are thus immediately updated, with all are operating from the same set of information.

This can be a significant challenge, since no two documents or workflows are alike. An internal policy document has different people and steps involved in review and approval than a work instruction or an engineering specification.

A document control system designed around best practices will allow you to link and configure dedicated workflows for different document types and customize the entire document cycle. It will also intelligently automate those workflows and document review and approval processes, ensuring the necessary parties have reviewed and approved each document prior to distribution and use.

Efficient, automated document control can serve as the hub for all of your company’s critical information and drive all other key corporate processes, such as quality systems, training management and regulatory compliance. It can help sort and tag production, manufacturing, regulation and quality documents more easily, to immediately retrieve stored documents related to a specific topic instead of hunting through email inboxes and file trees.

Consider these document control best practices:

Leverage Intelligent Business Rules for Faster Reviews and Approval 

Intelligent business rules eliminate inefficiencies and bottlenecks in a process. It’s not just about sending documents to the next phase in the workflow—the system should use intelligent business rules to ensure conditional routing to key recipients depending on the specific business process.

It also should use delegation rules to route documents to an assigned substitute when the primary contact isn’t available; escalation rules to notify responsible parties when documents pending review aren’t reviewed on time to keep the process moving forward; and sequential routing to send documents to people in a specific order.

Embrace Metadata to Customize and Categorize Your Documents 

Metadata is important for tasks such as categorizing, reporting, searching and filtering documents. You need to be able to include metadata based on document type to create unique fields, categories, keywords and more. Configurable forms able to adapt to updated metadata are essential to optimizing your document control system to meet your organization’s unique needs and focus on the strategic priorities that matter most.

Closely Align Document Control with Employee Training 

Critical to any document control system is the ability to train your workforce on changes to documents such as procedures and specifications. During document creation or revision, you should be able to specify the type of training associated with the document, link new requirements to the employee training system, create and track post-training test results, and update employee records.

Prioritize Access Control and Data Security

Data and document security is fundamental to compliance and process excellence. Your system should ensure that only appropriate levels of personnel can access, approve, review and make necessary revisions to key documents. And once revisions are made, only approved users can access the documents, based on their own access rights, as well as other identified factors such as role and location.

An example of a company that has benefited from automated document control is a leader in photographic and digital imaging solutions. The company operates five state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, yet managing quality and compliance across these facilities proved a challenge since it maintains more than 200,000 documents across the enterprise, making quick retrieval of important documents difficult.

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By leveraging a Quality Management System (QMS) with robust document control, the company has full text search capabilities enabling users to execute multiple criteria searches and create custom views of important documents sorted in any number of ways. These features provide it with increased visibility of company documents, making the retrieval process easy and efficient.

Automating document control is much more than managing a virtual paper trail. It means taking a proactive approach to compliance, better workflows, collaboration, information access and continuous improvement that unleashes new opportunities for your business.

This article was submitted by David Isaacson, vice president, Product Marketing, ETQ, a provider of quality management software.

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