BY: Stacey Pisani
Technology Enabled Business Solutions
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Traditional processes tend to produce traditional results. You can’t expect technological innovation without technological integration. The key is identifying the traditional processes that yield benefits (most likely cost or time savings) from technological integration. Doing this allows companies to stretch and empower every limited resource.
Fix It & Find It
Take the business practice of internal auditing as an example. The most traditional practice for internal auditing (e.g., environmental, safety, DOT compliance, ISO 9001, food safety) is a “find it & fix it” cycle, where the internal auditor goes out into a facility and audits operations as they exist. During the audit, the auditor identifies issues based on a standard set of protocols. The auditor typically walks a facility with a notepad and pencil taking notes of field observations that aren’t in compliance. Following the audit, the auditor creates a report and shares the findings with a responsible party. This can take weeks or even months. The cycle is repeated when the auditor comes back at a later time to check the site again.
The “find & fix” audit cycle works, but only to a point. The difficult part comes next. What happens with that inspection form or accident investigation report after it is completed? It is likely reviewed by a few people, perhaps transcribed into electronic form by a data entry clerk, and filed away someplace for legal and compliance reasons, rarely (if ever) to be seen again.
Filing data away in a drawer is better than nothing because it does show some documentation of findings, but that is where the benefits end. What happens when the auditor is asked to compile year-long data from the findings? How do you evaluate patterns and trends to best allocate your limited resources for improvement initiatives? The paper method of recordkeeping makes compiling field data into a report an enormous task.
Electronic Data Capture
If the auditor were to capture all the field data via smart phone or tablet at the point of discovery, the task of generating a report to analyze trends would be much easier. When data is collected, uploaded, and stored in a database, accessing and reporting on the data becomes as easy as asking a question. Questions like, “How many deficient issues were there at the warehouse last year?” or “How many overdue action items does Bruce have in repackaging?” can be answered by simply making a request of your data.
Data entered in the field can be used in many ways. Some applications written for devices allow you to print reports immediately from the smart phone and tablet device. Others require the data to first be uploaded to a desktop computer. Either way, the reports generated can include photos at the point of discovery and reference information, along with field comments. These reports support the auditor’s findings and remove questions about what was observed or whether a situation is in violation of the protocol. Subsequently, these reports also become a valuable learning tool for employees in the field.
Once uploaded, the data is stored in a database for later reference. Assessments continue to be added as audits are performed to amass a large bank of data. In electronic format, that data (unlike handwritten notes) can be easily arranged for analysis. Reports can be generated using a large menu of criteria, including running statistics on a site over a period time or identifying instances of a certain violation. Mining your data in different ways helps identify root causes and end harmful trends so that real improvement can occur.