Modern manufacturers collect mountains of data every day. But how much of that data is ever studied, beyond the small percentage that raises red flags?

The newest quality software trends point to predictive data, and the ability to roll reams of information together into meaningful bundles. These solutions are also increasingly cloud-based, viewed on a browser and offered as a service product rather than on on-site, dedicated servers.

Predicting problems before they exist, or seeing previously invisible improvements to manufacturing processes is the ideal use of the new capabilities, as opposed to data signaling more problems to chase, explains InfinityQS Chief Operating Officer Doug Fair.

“Companies tend to only act upon the problematic data—that is—the data that falls out of spec,” he says. “So in that regard, we help companies to do that, we can automate the alarming, automate emails and alerts. We can do all of that automation that helps to support the problem solving. But that trend of more data, it’s not necessarily helping significantly from a quality standpoint. It’s great to fix problems. But what happens is, and these are just my estimates, but only 2 percent of the data collected today by companies gets looked at.

“And the 2 percent of the data is the data that’s connected to a problem. The other 98 percent of the data, for all intents and purposes, is ignored. It generally gets stored in a database somewhere just in case sometime in the next few years or months a client or customer asks, ‘can we look at our data?’”

Fair says the ignored 98 percent of data is the true goldmine. He encourages companies to dig into the in-spec data, summarize it and find previously unseen systematic problems.

To learn more about the latest trends in connected, cloud-based software, Quality spoke more with Fair, along with Randy Harris, ENG product manager for DISCUS Software Company.

Quality Magazine: Where are you seeing the greatest opportunities for improvement that were previously overlooked?

DOUGLAS FAIR: In the supply chain. The supply chain includes not just looking at vendor and supplier data, but it also needs to look at quality across the company’s plants that they have. We work with companies that might have a particular kind of manufacturing to do at one plant, and they pass those products along to another plant which has another value-add operation, and then another plant and so forth. And we also work with clients who do all their product manufacturing in a single plant—multiple processes—a very diverse set of processes that do the manufacturing in a single plant.

I think the greatest opportunity for improving quality—the last bastion for improving quality—is supply chain. It’s from the suppler all the way to the retail shelves, if that’s where you do business, and everything in between.

For a smaller operator with one or two plants, how can they benefit?

FAIR: One of the reasons cloud-based systems are probably equally important to small organizations as they are to large organizations is, as they’re growing, they don’t necessarily have a ton of money to throw around towards IT systems or to IT support. So a cloud-based service is a monthly thing, you pay it monthly like a cable bill and you don’t have to worry with the database system and the routers and all that stuff, all that stuff is managed by the software service company. The only thing the smaller company needs to worry with is its internet access and a computer. I shouldn’t even say a computer, just a device. Our software will run on any device, even a cellphone. Just a link and internet access, that’s it.

So it’s brilliant for smaller organizations, because they have easy access, and it’s inexpensive to do so because they don’t have to invest in infrastructure to support an IT system. And smaller organizations, as they grow, they want to compete with the medium-sized and large-sized organizations. And to do so, as I mentioned earlier, the ultimate differentiator these days in any marketplace is quality. So they’ve got to be on par or better with quality as compared with the mid-sized and larger organizations. And this is a great way to do it.

What are the security concerns with cloud-based systems?

RANDY HARRIS: What I have found is really counterintuitive. With many of the smaller businesses, they think that they’re more secure if they keep their computer behind their firewall in their building. And frankly our system, and a lot of other’s systems, will allow people to do that, because they’re really concerned when they’re dealing with sensitive data. Lots of our customers are in the aerospace industry, but what you find is that the level of cyber security protection is really much better at some of these hosted services. Particularly, now we actually use Amazon Web Services. They take care of all the security updates, and you can use various techniques to protect the data and protect the log in, so I try and convince people that it’s actually a safer system to install it in the cloud.

A recent survey stated that 75 percent of manufacturers still manually collect data by hand. What is STOPPING someone from ADOPTING AN automated data collection process? It seems like some are collecting more data than they know what do with and some aren’t collecting it at all.

HARRIS: So there is a real fear among everybody that if we’re doing pen and paper, we’re doing it wrong, right? So it’s not hard to convince them to look at it. But there’s two aspects to this. Number one, this is usually a hugely daunting task to go completely digital. Because one of the major problems is when you’re doing things on pencil and paper, you can do whatever the heck you want in a non-structured environment. And as soon as you start to do this inside a piece of software, and you want to capture the data for analysis, you have to field it. And that provides a certain amount of structure, and then all of the planning and inspection has to be transformed into a much more structured enterprise.

So that in-and-of itself can be good, because any time you look at a business process, and you look to structure it, you get a lot more consistency across the board; you can pick out some of the things that you don’t really think you should be doing because you’re looking at your stuff a little bit more detailed.

So the people who we work with who have successfully gone along this path, they have a couple attributes. They have a leader who is visionary, who understands this and can inherently see the value. Secondly, they are very process-minded. Particularly in the aerospace industry, they’re trying to really improve their planning of front-end engineering processes so they can reduce the amount of mistakes that are happening on the floor.

Those companies that are spending a lot of time in their processes make this transition a little bit simpler. Mostly it’s because those processes have a lot of rigor and structure to them, because that’s what they’ve been working on.

How are the software companies themselves changing their focus? How have these trends changed your company and what you focus on?

FAIR: We’ve changed a lot of what we focus on based on our client’s needs. One of the things we’re doing is, we’re expanding the role of quality. We believe that quality is not just for the shop floor; it’s not just for the quality professionals. It’s about the COOs. It’s about the regional directors of operations. It’s about the managers and others who are on the line to generate business results for the corporations. And these are the people who truly need this kind of access to transformative information. And so we’re expanding it beyond … the shop floor, but we’re providing information that’s critical to the people who just want to run the business.

What are your crystal ball predictions?

HARRIS: Quality software will be fully integrated with ERP systems, that there’s going to be a marriage between the deployment of the instructions, or the publishing of instructions and the acceptance of the data. So that this separation between manufacturing instruction and the quality plan is going to go away, because they’re going to be supplied really at the same time and with the same vehicle.