A few years back I began consulting for a new client working heavily in the petroleum industry. Never having consulted in a high-compliance industry, I was a neophyte to the true definition of safety. I naturally assumed that all staff simply acted in a “safe manner” and that was the end of it. So you might imagine my shock when I witnessed the reams of paper generated by their 500 employees — each of whom filled out between 10-30 forms per week to document every nuance of their “safe manner”.
Organizations working in high-compliance industries — energy, agriculture, manufacturing, etc. — will know all too well the level to which they and their employees' actions are scrutinized. Every element of your staff’s training and the work they perform must be recorded, verified and validated. And for good reason; employing safe processes leads to a more efficient and safer work environment. But keeping track of the paper for these processes can bring a business to its knees.
In the first week of working for my new client they began the endeavor of responding to an audit for a large, local oil producer. This audit would end up requiring 6 weeks of administrative labor as they sifted through box-upon-box of submitted forms to find all the necessary documentation. They produced training records from their safety team, behavioral and counseling forms from HR, daily job safety analysis as well as the referenced safe operating procedure documents covering all work performed — not to mention every incident, near-miss and taproot report. This cavalcade of paper spanned multiple departments, dozens of managers and required hundreds of hours to assemble. And from my humble IT vantage point regarding data, it looked like the most ridiculous exercise known to man. I would come to learn this is partially why I’d been hired: to assist with bringing about a paperless revolution. And over the next 3 years, that is exactly what we did.
Full disclosure: I am a co-founder and the CTO of FormForce, a new Bakersfield-based corporation committed to solving safety, training and compliance challenges using web and mobile technologies. The software we develop is informed directly from these very-real, in-house challenges and a desire to give birth to corporate data in an electronic form. Leveraging iPhones and iPads in the field with a web console in the office, our approach can revolutionize entire organizations by incorporating a new level of real-time accountability for all staff.
In this new compliance ecosystem all forms are available electronically to the proper staff who complete and submit digitally. This digital nature adds many enhancements to the paper form. First off, we can capture more diverse types of data: audio, video, images, GPS locations, temperature, etc. And we can alert supervisors the moment forms are complete — or in- complete. But most importantly, we can mine this data. As we employ a database infrastructure, we can search from every angle to report on the most minute subtlety of our work. All-in-all, it’s a panacea for high-compliance organizations providing a window into all activities in real-time.
It’s important to note that while the problems I’m discussing can certainly be solved with our software, there are other ways to skin this cat as well. Some organizations use Adobe Acrobat PDFs to disseminate forms and documents. Others are developing paperless solutions in-house. So however you choose to conquer compliance in your own organization and move towards a paperless process, research the offerings that support your industry before taking the leap. But don’t dilly-dally — that next audit is right around the corner....