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Compliance and quality assurance: Pieces of a complex supply chain puzzle

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Ensuring quality in the supply chain

Farbest Brands has been manufacturing and delivering food nutrition ingredients for more than 50 years, with a strong commitment to using high-quality products obtained from ethical suppliers. The company sells products that are certified in categories such as organic, non-GMO, kosher, and halal, as well as products that are vegan, gluten-free, or that meet other specifications. Farbest has a global network of suppliers and a national network of customers, so a reliable and efficient method of tracking products and suppliers is essential. In addition, customers often request information about the products and their ingredients, so having up-to-date and accurate information is also critical.

To ensure that the products in its supply chain meet the required standards, Farbest maintains an extensive set of documents with detailed descriptions and specifications, but the documents were being stored in network folders and tracked manually in spreadsheets. Maintaining the spreadsheet was difficult and time-consuming. The existing system also made it difficult for Farbest to find the latest information or to follow a standardized process for approving suppliers and products. Finally, this method of managing documents did not facilitate responding to the many requests for information received by Farbest on a daily basis.

Workflows and documentation

Farbest explored a variety of solutions, and selected the intelligent information management platform from M-Files. Its decision was based in large part on the ease of creating a custom workflow for reviewing and approving documentation about products and suppliers in its supply chain, according to Shakirul Alom, quality assurance and compliance manager at Farbest.

After Farbest developed and implemented the workflow for review and approval, the status of each product and supplier was easy to determine. Because Farbest now has an automated process rather than a manual one to track products and suppliers, it has been able to handle a 50% increase in document requests while maintaining the same staff size. Locating the relevant information and providing it to customers became much easier because of the improved search capability enabled by M-Files’ use of metadata.

The M-Files platform securely tracks and records activities throughout a product’s lifecycle, providing compliance support in case of an audit. Farbest has been able to ensure compliance and mitigate the risk of making an error in managing its products and suppliers. It plans to extend the use of the M-Files platform into other document-centric processes throughout the company.

“M-Files is metadata-driven,” said Greg Milliken, senior VP of marketing at M-Files. “This produces a rich descriptive view of the data, so the physical location of the file is not the primary concern.” The AI-powered platform helps organize and sort information, particularly for large repositories. Regardless of where information resides, it can be accessed and managed through a single view. “If a company has a set of contracts in SharePoint and does not want to lose that investment,” Milliken continued, “they don’t need to migrate the data; the documents can be accessed in one’s preferred application and be found easily once the information is tagged.”

Using hierarchical folders is too subjective a method for organizing files, according to Milliken. “Each individual might have a different vision of the hierarchy for the information, depending on their use of the data. With a metadata-centric approach, the metadata creates a layer that unifies information in different repositories, and a flexible user interface allows a different view for each person.” This approach also allows for easier reuse of information associated with a supply chain, whether for compliance, tracking parts, or some other use.

In a supply chain context, if a company receives a product for maintenance or repair, a certificate of conformance contains documentation that it was received and met the required standard. “Parts may come in separately, and the lot number is not organized around a particular set of parts for the repair,” Milliken explained,

“but they can be related to each other by the task they are associated with, or the customer, or any other specified metadata.” This allows each company to organize its supply chain information in a way that best meets its needs. “Process manufacturing and discrete manufacturing have different ways of documenting quality, and M-Files can adapt to each one,” he said.

A complex supply chain puzzle

Compliance and quality assurance are pieces of a supply chain puzzle, which is a complex one. An immense amount of data is entailed in this process, from weather and traffic to availability of parts, as well as product demand at the destination. Gartner cites AI, analytics, IoT, and blockchain as four of the top eight trends in supply chain technology for 2019. Self-learning systems in which analytics are used to determine causes of bottlenecks, along with ways of either resolving them quickly or preventing them, promise to increase supply chain efficiency.

Work remains to be done in order to achieve the goal of end-to-end visibility. Incisiv recently surveyed supply chain executives in retail and manufacturing at KPMG LLP and JDA Software and found that more than half of the respondents identified real-time product visibility as the main driver for digital supply chain investment. One of the obstacles is a lack of a strategy and management commitment.

Full supply chain automation depends not just on technology but also on having a vision. Neither the technology nor the vision has been fully realized yet, but the organizations that combine them to meet high customer expectations will have a clear competitive advantage.

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