Environment / Food Safety / Quality / Safety
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According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), are currently more than 80 Management System Standards (MSS)—80 different standards designed to help companies improve their performance across a diverse range of areas and sectors.
Most companies these days have some sort of management system, whether formal (e.g., ISO, Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)-benchmarked standard, industry-specific) or informal. And, because most companies have various aspects and functions to their operations, many actually may have more than one system to organize processes and business objectives.
While management systems by ISO’s definition are designed to “help organizations improve their performance by specifying repeatable steps that organizations consciously implement to achieve their goals and objectives,” having multiple systems to manage often overlapping requirements (i.e., regulatory, certification, supply chain, internal) can create redundancies, inefficiencies, extra work, and overall confusion.
Integrated Management Systems: The Basics
A management system is the organizing framework that enables companies to achieve and sustain their operational and business objectives through a process of continuous improvement (i.e., Plan-Do-Check-Act). It is designed to identify and manage risks through an organized set of policies, procedures, practices, and resources that guide the enterprise and its activities to maximize business value.
A management system should be a means to better align operational quality, safety, environment, food safety, security, energy, etc. with the business. An integrated management system does just this. It aligns an organization’s various systems and processes into one complete framework, enabling the organization to work as a single unit to implement specific best practices organization-wide, fulfill the requirements of multiple standards, and meet a unified set of business objectives.
Integration Business Benefits
Ultimately, the various MSS have many common points—and all work towards the goal of making the organization more effective and efficient. Developing an integrated management system allows organizations to align the standards, find common management system components (e.g., terminology, policies, objectives, processes, resources), and add measurable and recognizable business value, including the following:
Greater consistency. An integrated approach creates greater consistency across business facets when it comes to terminology, processes, procedures, expectations, etc., and, in turn, greatly improved focus on a common set of business objectives. With an integrated system, organizations can ensure that processes, methods, and practices are in place, documented, and consistently applied across the entire organization. A common documented framework such as this helps alleviate duplication of efforts, allows for a more complete view of the functional needs of the entire organization, and reduces variability in performance.
Optimized processes and resources. Integrated systems allow companies to optimize processes and resources and, subsequently, reduce the time it takes to do certain activities. Integrated management systems help organizations to maintain requirements and associated documents concurrently—particularly through use of an information system—streamlining the process and allowing the organization to focus on improvements rather than maintaining multiple systems. A common system enables better use of resources and better collaboration and communication across the company.
More strategic approach. Organizations can take a more strategic approach with an integrated management system because it focuses on managing all aspects of the business, not just one area. It provides clear methods and processes to identify and prioritize risks, set and monitor goals, communicate risks to employees and management, and allocate appropriate resources to mitigate them. It also establishes a common language among managers, executives, and employees, which enables better goal setting, priority ranking, and allocation of resources. As a bonus, integrated systems also make it much easier to implement an organization-wide information system capable of tracking and reporting on common activities and key performance metrics.
Forward-thinking. More and more organizations are expecting more from the companies they work with—and that includes management systems. The push for best practices over just regulatory compliance is a growing trend. Reliable and effective regulatory compliance is commonly an outcome of consistent implementation of a management system. Beyond that, an integrated management system allows organizations to more effectively manage those risks (i.e., compliance, financial, legal liability, brand reputation) that can significantly impact the entire supply chain.
Help from the Standards
Standards organizations such has ISO are making it as easy as possible to implement an integrated management system—whether formal or informal—because, plain and simple, it just makes business sense. For example, ISO has adopted a Harmonized Structure (formerly known as High-Level Structure) to make sure every ISO MSS is structured in the same way with ten universal sections. The ISO MSS also use Annex SL, which dictates how the MSS should be written and, again, is consistent across the various MSS. These efforts simplify use, streamline protocol, and encourage standardization across the ISO MSS.
Beyond that, ISO has published a Guide to Integrating Management System Standards (revised in 2018) to help organizations implement integrated management system design—ISO or not. According to Michael McLean, Convenor or the ISO working group that developed the handbook, “Many organizations benefit from multiple management systems to help them ensure their systems and processes are in line with their objectives and help them maintain their business model through ever-changing environments. This handbook provides a practical guide for organizations to effectively align their management systems with their strategies, plans, and operations.”
Taking the Next Steps
If you are operating with multiple management systems—or even if you have no management system at all—there are some basic steps to creating an integrated management system:
- Invest the time to understand the current scope of operations, functional departments, compliance requirements, governance structure, etc. across the entire organization as a whole, not just siloed departments.
- Conduct a gap assessment to evaluate the current (“as-is”) condition of any formal or informal management system(s) against the desired (“to-be”) condition (e.g., ISO, GFSI, industry-specific).
- Create a development and implementation plan outlining tasks and resources required to close any identified gaps and achieve those objectives.
- Determine key components of the integrated management system required to achieve business objectives.
- Identify common elements to be standardized and incorporated into an integrated system (e.g., policies, procedures, processes, metrics, training).
- Determine what information technology can support and streamline an integrated management system.
- Provide relevant training to all interested parties to truly operationalize the management system across the organization.
Whether formal or informal, integrated management systems provide organizations—both big and small, in any industry—a pillar for sustainable growth. By developing and implementing an aligned management system, organizations can achieve more consistent, reliable, and efficient performance across many areas, while adding measurable and recognizable business value.