Seems like the "next best thing" is always coming out. I'm not one of those people who miss the good old days - I always marvel at what we have in the modern world. I feel like TV shows have gotten better, consumer products are better, my kid's toys are cooler, and technology is smarter and sleeker than ever.
For business systems, this tends to hold true in some instances. I think demand in the B2B world is slightly more reserved than consumer demand, so you don't see the adoption curves go quite as steep. However, Enterprise systems have taken a leap; it was only 15 years ago we were all on client-based systems. Now, it's all Web-based, and all integrated at some level. A few industries are still catching up, but for the most part, enterprise systems are beginning to come into their own.
In the case of Quality Management Software (QMS), we're in a slightly smaller subset. At the top level you have the all encompassing Enterprise Software. Drill down and you get into Compliance and Governance Software (GRC). Drill down further and you get to Manufacturing Operations; within that subset you will typically find Quality Management Software. A small, but powerful subset, as the actions of Quality Management can flow up throughout the company. Poor Quality affects manufacturing, affects unit cost, affects consumer demand, increases risk, etc.
Quality Management Systems have come a long way since the client-server days. I thought I would take a quick look at the top 5 best innovations in Quality Management Software - those features and technologies that have turned the industry on its head, and those features that most organizations should not do without.
1. Flexible Workflow: This concept not only drove Quality Management, but paved the way for all Business Process Automation. Flexible Workflow enables organizations to literally "direct" the path the process follows; it provides the business rules to move records through the various phases of the process, ensuring all relevant parties have "touched" the record.
Over the years, workflow-enabled QMS have evolved, but the pioneers of the technology have remained true to the purpose - let the business process dictate the workflow. The most flexible and intuitive systems are designed with the business user in mind, and build out the workflow rules to govern the business process.
2. Configuration: Prior to the mid-90's, software was a developers dream gig. Custom development meant that you would have to have a developer on staff to make the changes to the software that were needed. The evolution of configurable software changed all that. Configurations (not customizations), meant that you didn't need to re-write any code to make changes to the software; the changes were made through settings and rules. Take the analogy of an electrical circuit. In a custom developed solution, to turn of the light, you would hire an electrician to re-route the wires and manually disconnect the electricity from the light. In a configurable scenario, you flip the light switch from "On" to "Off." That's essentially what configurability meant - you are turning on features, turning off others, and using these setting to change the software without programming the code. This meant that the business users, not developers, were adapting the system to meet the company needs. Putting the power of the software in the hands of the business user was a huge innovation, and still is preferred today over custom developed solutions.
3. The Modular Application Approach: If you've ever purchased software, you know that most companies break out the different applications or processes into sections, or "modules." This enables the organization to create focused "mini applications" within their Quality Management System that adhere to the best practices for each process. Prior to this, you were limited to the level of detail you could put into the QMS, simply because the workflow needed to serve many different processes. With modules, you are now able to apply best practices to a single discipline, such as Audits, within a single location. Audits can be separate from Corrective Action, Document Control, Training, Change Management and similar functions.
The modular approach allows the best practices within a Quality function to really stand out, and further enhances the user's ability to configure the system to match their business processes exactly.
4. Risk-Based Tools: As Quality Management Systems evolved over the years, they became more advanced. Deeper workflow, more intelligence, better best practices and greater visibility all enhanced the level of data coming into the system. But as this data flooded in, filtering and organizing the data became an issue. Organizations needed a systematic way to objectively evaluate and make informed decisions. Risk Management and Risk Assessment provided this objective formula. Around the middle of the past decade, software organizations began implementing risk filtering to help companies pull out the critical issues within the data and focus on those issues first. This has brought forth a new way of thinking about Quality, and is continuing to evolve today.
5. Integrated Quality Management Hub: Quality is everyone's responsibility. We've heard that one before, but how many are executing on that message? Quality Management Systems always had limited visibility, typically siloed within their own environment. With the advent of integration, more and more business systems are talking to each other and communicating about the data going through the systems. Having more corporate visibility into Quality has enabled other areas of the organization - Design, Production, Corporate - to participate in the Quality Management System, and take more responsibility for Quality activities within the organization.
You could argue other points to this end, but I think that without these 5 elements, we wouldn't be where we are today. When you are looking at the QMS you have implemented, or are planning to implement, ask yourself if these 5 elements are in the product. If not, then it might be time to start the search for the "next best thing."