Virtual audit technology
A day in the life: Joe Dunne Regional Vice President of Quality, Health, Safety & Environment on his role with Kerry Group and a recent project reviewing virtual audit technology.
Dubliner Joe Dunne began his career in government research before moving on to a role as a microbiologist with GlaxoSmithKline plc. He then joined the Kerry Group and has held several positions over the years, mostly in Operations in Quality, Environment and Health and Safety roles.
Today he is Kerry Group’s Regional Vice President of QHSE for Europe & Russia. "The region comprises 46 manufacturing sites, producing Taste & Nutrition food ingredients and branded and own label food products for Regional and Global customers," he explains.
On working from home
Average days, Joe says, are few and far between but as for many of us, working from home has become the new norm. "I also try and get to manufacturing sites every week or two to keep connected with the business," he says. "The key focus now is closing out on strategy now for next year and ensuring sites and the teams are focused on delivering that strategy. Our business vision is to be our customers’ most valued partner creating a world of sustainable nutrition."
Food manufacturing standards in the UK and Ireland are world leading. "I believe the key challenge for us in this new temporary normal is how we continue to deliver standards and build our programmes to ensure delivery of world class food manufacture in this virtual world."
Virtual audits have become increasingly important and this led to Joe reviewing virtual audit technologies though The Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) Technical Leaders Forum. The forum gives Technical Leaders in the industry a chance to work collaboratively to find solutions. "Back in April, we had a shared learning discussion on Covid-19, and one of the issues that came up was this challenge around auditing: how could we assure that our food safety and quality standards would be maintained through this crisis?"
A subgroup of member companies was formed with the aim of exploring different methods of completing virtual audits and making the findings widely available to other companies. "As one of IGD’s working groups, we’re always very mindful of competition law, so we didn’t feel it was appropriate to recommend one single technology. Instead, our aim was to review the technologies that companies were trialling, and to share those learnings widely so that others may benefit and build their understanding of what’s out there." The subgroup looked at a number of different technologies, from Microsoft Teams to using Augmented Reality and even Google Glass.
"Virtual Audit technology has a key role to play in conjunction with our wider quality assurance systems," Joe explains. "There were also a lot of practical learnings: our food factories are typically built in the middle of nowhere, and the thick walls are brilliant insulators, but this means connectivity can be a real issue! Technologies that were both Wi-Fi and 4G/3G enabled tended to work better."
It’s also very noisy on the factory floor so noise-cancelling headphones are a must to block out the background noise for walkarounds. One of our major learnings was for the health and safety of the people doing this - walking around the factory floor with noise-cancelling headphones and forklifts moving about can be risky, so it’s important to have someone with the virtual auditors to keep them safe."
While Covid-19 has encouraged people in all sorts of industries to embrace new technologies out of necessity, Joe notes that they will never truly replace human interaction. "Business is built on relationships, and relationships are made on a 1:1 basis," he says. "Relationships are relatively easy to maintain, but they are really hard to build in a virtual world. The need for meeting face-to-face or visiting sites will always be there. However, virtual audit technology can help reduce the frequency of physical visits and is well suited to certain interventions such as first production launches, reviewing root cause analysis processes and KPI reviews, etc."
As for the future, Joe believes technologies such as Google Glass and augmented reality will continue to develop and, furthermore, that there is an opportunity to better connect with existing systems. "If I look at my own business, we have many standalone technologies, from the visitor system, SRM system within factories, live streaming, traceability and now these virtual audit tools.
"The world is getting more connected, and these are really interesting technologies, but they are standalone. The real opportunity is for these technologies to link up, gather data and use machine learning to support better predictive analytics for food quality systems."