AJ Guikema: ‘Successful product compliance demands a future-focus.’

AJ Guikema has been working in compliance consulting for over 20 years, with experience in environmental and product compliance and years of experience working with IMDS in the automotive industry. Here, he talks about his work at Tetra Tech, the importance of data quality and what he sees for the future of product compliance.

What is your compliance background and what led you to start working in product compliance?

My background is in Environmental, Health and Safety compliance, but I started focusing on product compliance about 20 years ago. Initially that was in the automotive industry, but I’ve also been able to support aerospace, electronics and many other industries.

I first got involved in compliance because I was interested in environmental concerns, in general, but then the specific product compliance aspect became interesting due to its global scope and impact on world commerce. You have so many markets across the world, and it was fascinating to help companies navigate through the maze of requirements in each of these markets.

What are some of the biggest challenges you see right now in the world of product compliance?

The rapid development of technology has been a big challenge recently. Not only are requirements around the world changing, but software solutions are advancing just as quickly. For example, the IMDS software has been upgraded to handle new requirements like SCIP.

With more data available, I’d also say data quality is now a challenge. Having reliable and quality data from your supply chain is so important. If you aren’t paying enough attention to the quality of your data and just wanting to quickly get supplier data, which means you aren’t reviewing it carefully enough, you will likely have to redo everything. But, it’s such a big undertaking for a large supply chain to report all the necessary data.

How are companies responding to these challenges?

They are trying to educate their supply chains. They are also training their supply chains to review data very carefully to ensure its quality. In some cases, this may even require audits or laboratory testing of the product’s chemical make-up.

It’s really all about having enough high-quality data and having a database or software where that data can be accessed, managed and available for new requirements.

What are the best ways for companies to get that necessary high-quality data?

At the very early stages, they should start surveying their suppliers and communicating about requirements and data needs. They should be clear about what their long-term objectives are for the data and how they are going to manage it.

You don’t want to just be thinking in the short-term. Companies should be thinking about possible future global requirements and planning out where they want to be for five years or more.

In your many years at Tetra Tech, are there any projects you’ve worked on that have been particularly memorable or meaningful?

The set of REACH projects we have worked on have been especially meaningful. We have several clients we’ve supported for over a decade, and to support a client for that long and form businesses relationships that have lasted so long, and will go into the foreseeable future, has been really rewarding.

What kinds of projects are most exciting for you to work on?

Long duration, big-picture projects that are going to affect the future of companies and their products are really exciting to me. Projects that involve entire supply chains are also interesting. They are often cross-functional, so they require the involvement of many different departments and disciplines within a company. So, you might have a project that involves engineering, but also purchasing and IT management.

A lot of the product compliance projects we work on aren’t just narrowly-focused projects, but instead they require corporate communication across a company. This is because it’s so important that their products remain compliant to maintain access to global export markets. The stakes can be extremely high, and it involves a lot of people, sometimes hundreds of people, to make sure the necessary information is disseminated throughout the corporation.

How does “Leading with Science” inspire your role in product compliance consulting?

Data quality is such an important aspect of a strong compliance program, and having subject matter expertise for this is essential. Companies need experts with not only the appropriate technical background, whether is chemical engineering or environmental science, but also a deep understanding of regulations based on experience.

Understanding the ins and outs of different regulations and different jurisdictions is something that is developed over time, and we have team members who have been supporting projects for years and have built this type of expertise. This background helps us work much more efficiently than if we were just getting started.

What do you see on the horizon for global product compliance?

2021 is a very key year. We have the release of IMDS 13.0, the new SCIP database and a renewed emphasis by many global jurisdictions on increased enforcement. Data quality issues have also led to some notorious problems for major companies around the world.

This year will be a very interesting year in product compliance. There is a lot at stake, so it’s important for companies to evaluate where they are and make plans for the next five to 10 years to maintain access to global markets. Successful product compliance demands a future-focus.

For more information on how you can improve your data quality and compliance reporting, contact us. Our team of compliance experts is ready to help you with a variety of solutions — from IMDS training to reporting management and more.

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