The effects of COVID-19 have been felt around the world. From the front lines of the medical field to the lines at the grocery store, the effects have been far-reaching and visible.

While working from home has become increasingly common, it is not always possible. Consider how manufacturing teams need to be on the shop floor in order to enable production. Not only that, others rely on that shop floor data. In many cases, access to operational data, particularly real-time data, is not available off-site.

It goes without saying that this, like so many aspects of the pandemic, is a problem. Having information located out of reach is just as bad as not having the information at all.

While manufacturers may have been interested in access to real-time data in the past, the current crisis has made the need for remote access much more apparent. “Things are hitting them between the eyes,” says Jason Chester—InfinityQS Director of Global Channel Programs. “It takes an event like the coronavirus crisis to expose those operational weak points.”

Previously, it would be the most natural thing in the world for a production site manager to just go to the shop floor and discuss an issue with an operator, he points out, or perhaps call everyone into a conference room and hand out papers.

“All of a sudden, going onto the shop floor, getting information on the shop floor from an operator is hugely problematic,” Chester says. “That change in environment has exposed the difficulty of what might have been easy to do. The nature of the crisis exposed a lot of different things at the same time.”

During any of the multitude of webcam meetings lately, it is likely that your team is discussing what is happening to the production process. But is it possible to analyze data in real-time? If not, the ability to make the best decisions is lacking. It isn’t productive to labor over out-of-date information.

Keep in mind that remote work just means anywhere not next to the line, Chester notes. Some manufacturers have their quality teams embedded on the shop floor, ready to access information in 30 seconds rather than being even a five-minute walk away. While this is ideal, it is not always feasible. During these unusual times, more thought must be given to quality teams that aren’t immediately accessible.

But no matter where you are located—whether working at another plant, at home, or simply a few minutes away—knowing when quality problems crop is always essential. This is where alarms may sound to let us know what’s going wrong, at least in a typical environment.

Being informed no matter where you are is clearly the best approach. Would you like to receive an alert as soon as a production issue happens? Or would you rather be surprised and find out about it 20 minutes later? The answer is clear. And even better, wouldn’t it be helpful to know about an issue before it crops up? As Chester explains, getting in front of the timeline can provide enormous advantages to manufacturers in today’s competitive environment.

Of course, just because this was the desired approach doesn’t mean it was always possible. Previously this type of remote access to real-time data would have been wishful thinking for many manufacturers.

“The enticement towards cloud technology is rapidly changing,” says Chester. “Even two or three years ago, there were misconceptions about the cloud. I think that is starting to change quite significantly now. As a society, we’re becoming very used to our data being in the cloud, with online banking, Dropbox, Gmail.”

With this increasingly familiarity with cloud-based solutions and the ease at which you can get started—minutes after signing up for Netflix, you can be watching a show—there is less hesitation about the technology.

Today it’s possible to have access to cloud-based solutions with information stored in a secure cloud environment, available anytime and anywhere. And of course, on any device.

Having this type of unified data repository means that everyone can access necessary information. This means that you now have the tools – wherever you are – to seek out continuous improvement opportunities.

Say you’re a quality manager working from home. This doesn’t mean you aren’t plugged in and ready to fix production line problems. Rather, just from your couch, you would be able to work with an operator through any online meeting tool to discuss process changes. This discussion could improve efficiency as well as the business overall. Standing over someone’s shoulder to peer at the production data is not required.

In other words, if you are using a cloud-based quality system, you can decide what to do about your data from anywhere in the world. Rather than missing deadlines and going over on costs, you can feel more confident that the work is being done well and on-time.

For those manufacturers who aren’t using a cloud-based system, the challenges of the pandemic may be one reason to give this type of system a try. As Chester points out, manufacturers are experiencing a confluence of factors. Rather than the usual disruptions of supply chain issues, reduced demand logistical issues, or machine breakdowns, it’s everything at once.