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Integrated management systems – Myth or Possibility?

An ajar laptop in a dark room

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts;” Aristotle

There is a lot of talk around at the moment about integrated management systems. This might be driven by the recent changes in ISO9001, but many of us have seen this term bandied around for decades and are a bit cynical.

The idea behind an integrated management system is to take the core quality, environment, safety and other systems and run them in an integrated fashion. This means that you no longer have disconnected and confusing policies and procedures. In there place is a single consistent environment that meets the organisation’s obligations but without the triplicate overhead.

The standards people understand this opportunity and have been making good progress towards it over the years, with ISO9001 the latest example. In some organisations the quality, environment and safety people sit in the same team, but for the most part they are running three separate systems.

There is a way to create a truly integrated management system, but it uses tools and techniques that are often unfamiliar to the teams that currently manage quality, safety and environment.

The first step on this path means realising that management systems are not just an overlay of policies and procedures, they are in fact modifications to current business processes. If you look at the processes on a page for a business (see my blog on value streams), you can find the core processes affected, such as risk management and incident management.

Using the standards to define process scope, businesses discover that the same processes are exercised in multiple systems. In most current implementations the processes are different for each system (for example the incident management for safety may be different to that for environment and different for that for product quality).

All the relevant current state processes have to be discovered and mapped – failure to do this will lead to a replacement system that does not meet the requirements of the business. Then comes the tricky part of consolidating the existing processes into a lesser number of integrated processes. Here the business analysts, standards specialists and operational managers must work together to create something that is efficient and effective while stripping out unnecessary complexity.

This improved process environment must be rolled out to staff and the processes themselves must be managed and continually improved.

BAPL has the skills to make this sort of project work. We understand business processes, how to discover them, how to document them and how to improve them. When process is put at the heart of an integrated management system, the whole can truly be more than the sum of its parts.

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