The past several years have seen dramatic shifts in the IT industry. It was not very long ago when web accessible “On Demand” software and virtualized in-house servers were considered cutting edge technology. Today, there is a whole new set of technology start-ups focused on innovating new delivery models to capitalize on the fully realized Cloud Computing offerings that are now main stream. These market evolutions have precipitated changes in business models and business process from industries as wide-ranging as healthcare, manufacturing, government, professional services, among many others. Given this backdrop of impending change, this article is intended to be a tool to help quality and IT professionals better understand what the Cloud is and how it can improve quality management processes across their organizations.
Defining the “Cloud”
According to Wikipedia:
Cloud Computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet).
Wikipedia also provides the below diagram as a framework for better understanding the Cloud:
It is clear from this diagram that the Cloud comes with its own new vocabulary. “Application”, “Platform”, and “Infrastructure” are all terms that will become familiar over time. It is also important to note that all three of these stacks in the architecture can also be considered service offerings. As one might expect, these new offerings come with a new set of acronyms to learn as well as new companies that offer them. This is a constantly evolving market space but current descriptions can be found in the below list.
- SaaS (Software as a Service) are applications for end users and delivered via the web. Examples of this would include: Salesforce and QAD CEBOS
- PaaS (Platform as a Service) are services designed to improve the development and launch of SaaS applications. Examples of this would include: Google Apps and Windows Azure
- IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) are the servers, storage, networking, and operating systems that PaaS and SaaS run on. A well-known example of this is Amazon
Another aspect of the Cloud that is garnering attention as of late is access to Cloud services and how this access is controlled. Controlling access to the Cloud is in turn driving a few more terms that will become more prevalent in the Cloud marketplace and should be understood: Public, Private, Hybrid, and Shared Clouds. These terms generally refer to how Cloud services are accessed and can apply to multi-Cloud scenarios.
To explain this in more detail, different organizations have different needs for control and access to their data, applications, and infrastructure. These differences happen for many reasons but are primarily for security and regulatory requirements. To meet these differing requirements, the following access models have been established.
- Public Clouds are true shared services with access directly from the web
- Private Clouds are home grown Clouds, where a large organization builds their own Cloud and keeps it behind the corporate firewall
- Hybrid Clouds are a combination of public and private Clouds that share services
- Shared Clouds are Private Clouds that are shared between several organizations but not accessible to the public via the web
What does the Cloud mean for Quality Management Software?
With a basic understanding of the Cloud established, it is time to move on to Quality Management Software (QMS) and understanding how the Cloud can change the game in this market place. Although Quality Management Software has many different definitions by many different stakeholders for these purposes it can be defined as: “Software that automates the business processes and workflows needed to ensure an organization has a robust and compliant quality management system in place.”
Depending on the industry and application, the needed functionality may differ but generally involves automating the workflows for the following business processes:
- Document Management
- FMEA / APQP
- Non-Conformances/Corrective and Preventive Actions
- Audit Management
- Supplier Management
Clearly the Cloud has an implication here, and the benefits are actually multi-faceted. Using a Cloud model allows for benefits on both the IT as well as Quality side.
IT Benefits of Cloud based Quality Management Software
The IT benefits around Cloud based Quality Management Software are in-line with the benefits companies have enjoyed by moving other enterprise applications to the Cloud. First and foremost is the change in pricing model. It moves the costs associated with software from a large upfront licensing fee to an ongoing service contract. For many organizations this can make the actual purchasing process fit more easily within budgetary constraints. Moving to Cloud based Quality Management Software can also help take pressure off of an already taxed IT organization. Many companies have made reductions to the in-house IT staff, which often results in there being more projects in the backlog than can be delivered by the organization. By moving to a SaaS model, internal IT requirements are greatly reduced and in some cases completely removed.
Quality Benefits of Cloud-based Quality Management Software
Beyond just removing budgetary and IT barriers, moving to a Cloud based Quality Management System can also change the way a quality department operates. Many manufacturing companies today are outsourcing manufacturing operations to suppliers and opening new facilities in new geographies. By having a web-based application, bringing new sites and suppliers up on to the system becomes much quicker and easier. Additionally, quality is more and more becoming a collaborative process. Engineering, Manufacturing, and the Supply Chain all impact a company’s ability to deliver a quality product and should be participating in the quality management processes. By moving to a SaaS solution it becomes easier to build and maintain processes that incorporate collaboration across multiple roles and departments.
Any company not staying at the cutting edge of technology innovation runs the risk of being leap-frogged by the competition. This is especially true when it comes to a technology as disruptive as Cloud computing, with the potential of changing both business models and business processes. It will be to great benefit of quality professionals to educate themselves on their own company’s internal roadmap for leveraging Cloud computing and then using this roadmap to help build out a strategy for deploying and maintaining Quality Management Software over time.
For companies that have already deployed Quality Management Software, look and see if your company is moving towards the Cloud. If the answer is “yes” then work with your Quality Management Software vendor, there is most likely a migration path to SaaS. If the answer is “no” find out why and evaluate whether there is value in being the guinea pig. If your company does not yet have a Quality Management System and is evaluating one, the ability of a vendor to deliver their solution as a SaaS offering should certainly be on the short list of key capabilities for evaluation.