Coffee Talk: Regulatory Standards Manager Talks Standard Forms

Marc Simony
July 13, 2022

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In this penultimate chapter of our limited series showing what we’re been working on at TraceGains, we sit down with with Regulatory Standards Manager Kari Barnes.

TraceGains: What are TraceGains standardized online forms?

Kari Barnes: They’re a godsend. Let me explain by first providing a little background.

image001-09I was a TraceGains end-user before I became a TraceGains employee. I was on a small supplier approval team for a food ingredient manufacturer that has nearly 100 global manufacturing and distribution locations. We were managing about 90 suppliers, 330 items, supplier approvals, supplier monitoring, and the never-ending, brutal matrix of maintaining supplier documentation by manually slogging through each process individually. It was an overwhelming, arduous, and error-prone process that often led to expired and missing documents. Suffice to say, there were mulitple opportunities for improvement. There was a world of difference managing these processes before and after TraceGains. I’m absolutely not kidding when I say that I’m one of our company’s biggest advocates.

TG: Now you’re on the other side, managing these online forms. Tell us about them.

KB: TraceGains worked with the industry, around 50 companies of all sizes and industry verticals, and selected the most frequently traded documents in the food, beverage, and dietary supplement industries for standardization. With input from all these different companies, TraceGains was able to standardize and normalize the data elements required on each document-type for compliance with GFSI and FSMA requirements, nutrition and supplements product labeling, as well as the SIDI [Standardized Information on Dietary Ingredients] initiative.

From this, TraceGains then developed online forms – supplier and item questionnaires, nutrition, allergens, suitability, sustainability, foreign supplier verification program, and national bioengineered food disclosure forms – and convinced TraceGains customers to begin using these forms in place of each company’s proprietary document. Since we established this standardization with the help of industry – and all of these committees still exist and will continue to exist – market-wide adoption continues to this day.

Most importantly, the value of these forms is not just this standardization across industry, but getting actionable data rather than just PDFs, faxes, or printouts. Since everything is digital, the data can be leveraged for dashboarding, reporting, and automated risk scoring. We upload the data automatically with each new document submission so that you always have an up-to-date, clear, and concise snapshot of your suppliers and items in real-time.

TG: That’s great for anyone who needs to collect information, but what about those who need to complete these forms? What do they get out of it?

KB: The standardized online forms benefit both suppliers and manufacturers. For suppliers, instead of manually filling out each form for every customer, they can now fill out each form just once and post it to all their customers across the TraceGains Network. And if a company doesn’t have all its customers using TraceGains, they can just download the completed form as a PDF and send that to any other customer anywhere in the world. Then, the next time that form needs to be completed – for example, it might have expired – rather than filling out a new form from scratch, the supplier only has to update a few fields and resubmit it and that saves everyone time.

For manufacturers, the forms create streamlined and more meaningful compliance to GFSI and FSMA requirements with automated supplier documentation, automated supplier approval, and automated monitoring supplier performance. The forms automate much of the work that needs to be done around these processes and seamlessly guides you through the rest. In short, the forms allow both suppliers and manufacturers to spend a fraction of their time and resources managing these processes. Everyone can more quickly get back to generating revenue for their business rather than being paper clerks, which is a degree no one went to school for.

TG: Speak a little more about the value of data vs. “just” documents.

KB: OK, but let me address automation first. As I said before, supplier documentation is a never-ending, brutal matrix to maintain. That’s not hyperbole. The number of documents required from just one supplier can be staggering. Step one is getting all the documents, if you’re lucky. Step two is maintaining them and keeping them up-to-date, which is infinitely more complicated because every document expires at a different interval and frequency. It’s messy. And painful. And so time consuming.

With the standardized online forms, document requests can either be sent out en masse or individually, received over TraceGains Network, and neatly stored in one place. The system automatically notifies your suppliers about missing or expired documents until they’re fulfilled, instead of you hounding each supplier individually. The processes of having and using the standardized online forms streamlines the complexities of managing and maintaining up-to-date supplier documentation.

So, data… The standardized online forms also automate the supplier approval process from beginning to end, to help you make faster and better-informed decisions. The answers provided on the standardized online forms are data that can be pulled into dashboards, reports and tools like risk and hazard assessments. The dashboards and reports are automated, scalable, and configurable and, as I’d already said, are updated with every new document submission. Your team gets an immediate, up-to-date view of supplier performance at the corporate, production or sourcing, ingredient and raw material, and packaging levels.

You can then begin to do the important work that you’ve never really had time for or begin by managing by exception, because the system will alert you. For example, with the amount of time you save on the supplier approval and management processes, you can better fortify your supply chain by qualifying and managing backup suppliers to mitigate risks around supply chain disruptions. And because the supplier data is updated with each new document submission, you can see and react to changes in-real time.

So, what are SOFs and what are their benefits? They’re amazingly insightful tools that create order out of chaos. They create better and more meaningful compliance to GFSI and FSMA. They create streamlined and efficient processes for maintaining supplier documents, supplier approval, and monitoring supplier performance.

And I’m working on making all of this available globally, with regulatory compliance standards and standardized online forms appropriate for other jurisdictions. More on that in our next chat.