The past year has taken a toll on companies that have had to shift gears and innovate in order to remain afloat, serve customers and quickly pivot to meet a changing situation. If ever there was a time when a company’s quality needed to light the way, it was this year. Quality management systems (QMS) proved their worth, helping to ensure the safety of plants, the efficiency of factory lines and supply chains and the promise of defect-free products. It’s never a good time, but this year, companies simply could not afford to tarnish their brand reputation, nor pay the hefty cost of noncompliance or product recalls. This is the time when an agile QMS that can keep pace with changes was needed more than ever.

And so quietly, the QMS took its place as one of the essential workers during COVID-19. Many companies turned to their QMS to more easily conduct remote audits, control and manage documents from anywhere, collaborate and communicate with supply chain partners, identify potential problems before they became a reality and standardize safety practices in the plant.

But as we head out of the pandemic, manufacturers are realizing that there’s even more that can be done to boost quality automation. Technology advances and enterprise-wide digital transformation are enabling a new level of possibilities, as well as requirements. No longer is a QMS simply a compliance scorekeeper, but a value-added solution to strategic business growth. So, based on lessons learned during the pandemic, what should companies be looking for in their next Quality Management System? Consider the following technology innovations available today and in the near future:

Cloud Everything. According to Gartner, “global spending on public cloud services will be up 18.4 percent in 2021 and hit $304.9bn, fueled by the uptick in demand for off-premise services.” When it comes to the need for cloud adaptability, a QMS is no exception. A key consideration for future proofing your system is to ensure that it can be configurable, scalable, secure and easily upgradable. If the cloud solution is simply a hosted version of an on-premise offering, the ability to efficiently integrate advanced infrastructure could be limited. When working off-premise without the ability of IT to easily install, program or configure the system for every enhancement and innovation, the power of an advanced, cloud-native QMS, which offers the highest levels of security and flexibility can come in handy.

Advanced Analytics. Leveraging quality data to predict future outcomes, identify trends and drive continuous improvement are the key benefits of advanced analytics. Given the vast amount of data any QMS collects, it’s important to take this data to a whole new level of usability. Advanced analytics are enabling deeper insights into supplier quality, manufacturing processes, customer complaints and problem resolution. By relying on historical information, manufacturers can identify and become alerted to warning signals and better plan for future issues that can impact business. Advanced analytics has become a key pillar of digital transformation, as well as a strategic element of Quality 4.0.

Deeper Enterprise Integration. With corporate tech stacks continuing to become deeper and automation driving more activities, a QMS must be flexible enough to connect to many other applications for enterprise system integration. Systems also should be able to integrate with suppliers for easier and more efficient collaboration and integration into quality work streams. In addition, the QMS’s analytics should be able to integrate with a company’s Business Intelligence (BI) tools to enable a two-way data exchange and a complete analytics view of quality and corporate data.

Automated Safety Management. One thing that won’t be going away following COVID-19 is the focus on health and safety in the workplace. An advanced QMS should be able to help you analyze and identify job hazards before they occur by putting the right controls into place. Advanced features can help you break down a job into its various operational steps and analyze each step for potential safety hazards and recommend the right preventive measures. They also can help to gather behavioral data to identify unsafe practices or faulty equipment that can impact the health and well-being of employees and help you better manage risk.

AI-Driven Quality. Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms will increasingly become embedded in your QMS to boost quality outcomes, make predictions and prescriptions, test and learn autonomously. Yet, the quality of your data will drive how accurately your AI solution will operate. Built upon existing quality data, along with enterprise-wide data, AI can sort through large amounts of information to arrive at decisions or flag potential problems. AI can be expected to bring QMS to new levels of efficiency and automation.

Future-Proofed Scalability. As companies scrambled to update and reconfigure systems for remote work during the pandemic, many found that their current solutions could not keep pace. A key requirement in a QMS going forward will be scalability so that IT teams can easily add users, and deal with ever-growing amounts of data or geographical expansion, without adding new hardware. And, cloud-native systems will be able to dynamically provide scalability and continuous improvement to your QMS without requiring resource-intensive upgrades.

As many companies can attest, quality management systems played a starring role in enabling business continuity during the pandemic, and they will continue to be essential workers well beyond it. Thanks to advances in technology, the next generation of QMS solutions are prepared to handle today’s quality challenges, as well as whatever lies ahead.