January 9, 2018
A Quality System is a Necessity. It Doesn’t Have to be Priced Like a Luxury.
A Look Back
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” This is a story about the InfinityQS®
quality journey. We’ve come a long way, from humble beginnings. We began by filling a need we saw in the marketplace; we see a need again—to provide a flexible and more affordable enterprise-wide solution—and we’ve moved quickly to fill it.
We recognize there is no end to this journey. But the path we’ve taken has been, and continues to be, our own. And it’s been very interesting and exciting so far.
About thirty years ago, when we started building our first quality software product, Microsoft Windows was just coming to the forefront. Manufacturing quality at the time consisted of “islands of information.” In other words, organizations focused on quality one machine at a time, or even just one aspect of a piece of equipment at a time.
At InfinityQS, we purposely took a broader view, looking at all the possibilities of statistical process control (SPC) and its feature set—data collection, statistical analysis, and reporting—and thinking about how we could use it across any type of manufacturing operation. We believed that if we could put something together that leveraged this feature set, then we could deliver something to customers that would be highly beneficial to them.
Most of the competition at that time was designing SPC software for one PC and one piece of equipment. You can see how, if you’re forward-thinking and leaning toward the big picture view, you could get pretty excited about the possibilities. And we were.
When we came out of the gate with ProFicient™, we had a core database behind it. It wasn’t tied to a single machine; instead it was connected to multiple machines, collecting and standardizing data from across the site.
From an analytics perspective, it supported all
the manufacturing processes at the site. We considered this coming out of the gate pretty strong. It was heady stuff for our little company.
When a manufacturer looks at software to monitor their processes, they focus on many things, but two things in particular are very important: real-time predictive analysis
regarding a specific operation or piece of equipment—which will help them keep that operation or that machine in-spec and in control; and comparative analysis
—across a single site, and (even better) across the enterprise.
We noticed right away that we were dealing with manufacturing organizations that had a lot of sites. Generally speaking, they would implement their quality solution site by site (and, unfortunately, some still do so today—but that’s a tale for another time). The obvious disadvantage to this approach was that they were missing opportunities for improvement. While they could optimize operations in a single facility, they were unable to do so enterprise-wide.
Back in 1998, shortly before we relocated from El Segundo, CA to Fairfax, VA, we took a step back and took a hard look at how we viewed manufacturing across the enterprise, and what an organization can glean from that wider perspective. This led us to the next step on our journey, our first cloud-based offering.
We were developing a more “global” view of the manufacturing world. So, with ProFicient in hand, we looked to the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. Let’s face it, a growing number of modern manufacturers have facilities everywhere, not just in their hometown or their home state. We needed to start thinking about how we could leverage the software we had on a global scale.
The result was ProFicient on Demand (PoD), a cloud-based version of ProFicient. This made it possible for our customers to utilize our software across the enterprise.
The Cost of Doing Business?
So, it’s pretty clear that we’re adept at adjusting to the changing marketplace. We see a need, and we try to fill it. That’s important. It’s one of the things that separates us from our competitors. Another thing that separates us is we are willing to think outside the box. Case in point…
The problem with quality systems, in my opinion, is they’re too high priced. I think most of us can agree that quality systems are a necessity in today’s manufacturing world. A quality system is a necessity, yet it’s priced like a luxury.
On-premises software can be a very costly item to own. It’s easy to see why the cost can be prohibitive for many companies: You need servers, a database, and a variety of systems to support this endeavor. Let’s say you buy 500 seats at $1500 a seat—ouch. Then you need a maintenance agreement: more money. And, let’s not forget regular updates to the software and all that that entails. And that doesn’t even take into account things like increased production for the holidays. You tack on 10 or 20 seats for the increase in employees to boost your production; what happens when the rush is over and you would like to return to the original number of seats? You eat that money. Is all this just the cost of doing business? Really?
Change is Coming
We see quality software more as a utility. Like water, or electricity. It should be something that the customer can afford…and easily scale, based upon their needs. Think about it, when you need more light, you just flip a switch and add light. When you’re through with it, you just switch it off.
We think that quality software should be just as flexible. When you need extra seats, just turn them on; and when you’re done just shut them off. Pay for what you use.
This is the key to the next step in our journey.
It’s one of the reasons why we created Enact®, our latest quality solution—it’s a native cloud SaaS solution that we think is a game changer. Basically, we brought all of our manufacturing quality experience to bear—collected over the last 30 or so years—to create this unique solution.
Enact Fills a Need
ProFicient will continue to be a world class quality solution. No question about it. We’ll continue to make changes to it, always making it better. But Enact is a new way of looking at quality software.
About three years ago, we took another step back (we do that a lot), scanned the manufacturing landscape, and said to ourselves, “Is there an opportunity here to use our wealth of experience creating software and implementing systems to re-think what a quality solution can do for our customers? Can we create a solution that better meets their needs?” And the answer was a resounding yes
Enact is not
ProFicient. Expectations about manufacturing quality have changed over the years. Technology has changed (everything is mobile now…who saw that coming?); and how you deliver software has changed. The marketplace is always in a state of flux. So, with all these factors in mind, how do we create a solution that truly meets our customers’ growing and changing needs?
Before I continue, let me make something clear: we didn’t develop a cloud-native solution just because we wanted to do something in the cloud. We developed a cloud-native solution because it was the right way to provide the functionality and flexibility the customer needs and wants in a cost-effective and affordable way.
This product really alters the quality solution landscape.
Self-Serve and Self-Help
One of the things I love about Enact is that in many ways it’s self-serve. When a customer needs to increase the number of people in their facility using the software, they do it on their own. They have control over it. When they need to cut back, they do that on their own, too. And they’re only charged for what they use. And we think the customers will love that.
In terms of help and support…we’ll always have formal training sessions for those customers who need or want them. But there’s so much more. Enact has the most powerful and in-depth help system you’ll ever see. Videos, step-by-step instructions, and a whole library of information they can always access. It’s empowering for the customer, and keeps the cost of the system down.
Graphic by Design
Enact is different in every way. It’s visually engaging, it’s easy to use, and it’s intuitive. Enact utilizes role-based design, including dashboards and notifications. And, perhaps best of all, Enact puts process models into the hands of the users. Process models illustrate how materials are transformed through operations to create an end-product and where data collections are performed to verify quality.
Traditional quality systems simply collect data, leaving manufacturers to figure out what to pay attention to, how to analyze the data—and what to do with that analysis. Enact cuts through the heaps of data to deliver tailored, strategic insights that empower manufacturers and enable them to change and improve their processes and product quality.
It’s pretty cool stuff. I think Mr. Emerson would be proud of the path we’ve taken to get to Enact. But there’s more; the journey continues.
We intend to continually improve Enact. It’s intended to be a “living” product. The updates will be regularly scheduled. What I mean by that is we will have quarterly updates; some updates may have more in them than others, but they will be performed like clockwork. They’ll be based on the needs of our customers. And the help system is updated at the same time, so when there are questions about what’s new or changed, that information is all at their fingertips.
And the beautiful thing is the customers don’t have to do anything; no upgrades, no interrupting operations to accommodate major changes to the software. They just login to the system and the updates are there. And when we tack on new functionality they have the option of, again in a self-serve manner, selecting and turning on what they want and need. And they pay for what they use.
So what’s in our Enact path? What are we working on that will be coming out somewhere down the road? Well, in short, we will continue to improve and strengthen Enact with a robust extended roadmap of functionality—built with an eye toward helping our customers improve manufacturing quality and processes.
So the journey continues. And the journey will not end. We at InfinityQS intend to keep moving forward with energy and enthusiasm. As Emerson said, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”