Quality Conversations: The QMS Software Buyer’s Perspective

With their ears to the ground and their fingers on the pulse, the ARMATURE sales team is a treasure trove of insights when it comes to understanding today’s quality buyers. Our team spends their days engrossed in conversations with quality leaders, seeking to learn more about their compliance challenges, process nuances, and software needs. We grabbed some time with ARMATURE’s VP of Sales Nathan Lynch and Director of Sales Kiran Ali to talk about the state of quality today—from the perspective of active buyers.

Let’s start with an overview of the people you talk to every day. Where are they in their quality journeys, broadly speaking?

Nathan: We’re hitting most companies in their infancy stage when it comes to a digital solution. Most companies are either using paper-based systems, or they’re working in technologies such as SharePoint, Access, and Excel, and sometimes using those in combination with paper-based systems. These are manual systems that don’t track well, or deliver the type of results they need. There’s no visibility throughout their systems, and most importantly, they don’t really jive with a lot of the standards and regulations, especially ISO. For the most part, the people I’m talking to still leverage very manual systems and want to adopt a more sophisticated digital solution that can track everything and provide great visibility.

Kiran: Many of the organizations we speak to tell us that that there’s still not a lot of support for quality in upper management. So you have very smart quality leaders who want to improve on their paper-based processes or improve their regulatory compliance practices, but they’re hitting a wall when it comes to either adding headcount to their team, or putting a robust system in place, just because their leadership doesn’t fully understand the value of quality. A lot of times, what we’re there to do is help them find ways to talk to upper management and make a case for why quality is so important. The ramifications of becoming non-compliant can be severe: think about how much profit can be lost by a regulator stopping shipment of your product. If you’re a small- to mid-size business, those margins are critical and you don’t want to lose them in paying fines or in having your product stay on the shelf.

Nathan: One of the challenges with most of our customers is trying to come up with a return on investment (ROI) model. The ROI is tricky because it’s not like we can say, “You’re definitely going to have a recall” or “You’re definitely going to have a product issue next year, and to avoid that, you’re going to save this much money.” So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to figure out ways that we can utilize the quality team better by taking some of the paper-based inefficiency off their shoulders. Bringing a digital system in that really allows them to focus on their quality initiatives, such as effectively managing suppliers, will bring them closer to Quality 4.0 than if they were to continue with inefficient Excel and paper-based processes.

Kiran: Quality 4.0 aligns nicely with what ARMATURE does. A lot of the organizations we talk to, like Nate said, use paper-based systems or old databases that keep crashing. The industry is now looking for technology solutions that can take all of the bifurcated sections of the quality process and bring them under one umbrella. That’s where ARMATURE comes into play, because ours is a very holistic solution. It takes not just your document control, but your CAPAs, and your process management, and your communication with suppliers and customers, and it brings everything together so that each piece of the pie is connected to the others. The feedback I’ve had from the market on this point is overwhelmingly positive, because quality leaders see the value in having a system that connects everyone who’s involved in the quality process. That’s a big part of what the Quality 4.0 movement is trying to push forward, so it’s exciting to be right there at the cusp of it. We’re definitely a product that’s in line with the Quality 4.0 vision.

Nathan: Another aspect of Quality 4.0 is that, in the broadest of terms, it takes quality from the back of the house and the back of the line and puts it into every single step of the manufacturing process. So every step of the way, there’s a chance for corrective action, or a chance for a non-conformance to be caught, and it creates a system that allows the entire manufacturing process, from soup to nuts, to be involved in making sure that the product at the end is fully capable of doing what it’s supposed to be doing. The manual-based organizations I talk to get excited about our software because it gives them an opportunity to have a remote login for people on the manufacturing floor. This means that people on site can take an iPad, log in, and follow the customer-defined process that our system enables to log non-conformances and create remediation tasks in real time. Just a few weeks ago, I visited a manufacturing plant down near Knoxville, Tennessee and showed them how our quality management software can help them save 30 to 50 hours per week. That message really resonated with them.

How are people reacting to our data analytics and dashboards? If they’re mostly manual today, I imagine our real-time data analytics and click-through actions would be a game-changer.

Kiran: The dashboards have been really valuable to every person on the quality team, whether it’s the VP of Quality who’s looking at it from a birds-eye view, or whether it’s a Quality Analyst or Document Control Specialist who’s in the weeds. Our dashboards make it easy to keep tabs on everything that’s on your plate. If there’s someone waiting on you for a response, if there’s a process that’s held up because of you, you’ll see it right there on your dashboard, color-coded and ready for action.

Nathan: The dashboards and analytics are especially useful as you get further up in the organization, but one of the main benefits of our software is that once it is configured with your processes, the system manages it for you. What people get excited about is how a Quality Engineer or a Quality Manager can set up a process in such a way that once a non-conformance shows up, a CAPA can be kicked off, triggering a series of automated actions. The system reminds the people that need to take the next action in the sequence so that everything gets done. It’s hands-off: they no longer need to oversee the process because the system is doing that work for them.

quality management dashboard
Sample ARMATURE dashboard

With regards to quality professionals who are not at the executive level, would they be living in our system daily?

Nathan: It depends. Our system is more of a behind-the-scenes system than an in-your-face ERP system. When I came on board, my thought was that this was going to be THE system that quality people live in, and the point of the system is to be exactly opposite that: to schedule workflow, coordinate workflow, configure it, and then let the workflow manage itself through the system with the manager (or Quality Systems Engineer) simply overseeing it and jumping in when needed.

How important is configurability to today’s quality management software buyers?

Kiran: I think there are two ways to look at configurability. Historically, configurability has meant that you have the ability to change dropdowns, titles, headers, and the like, but that ability comes through the service provider. Our interpretation of configurability is much more evolved: our clients can alter the system under setup, and they don’t need to involve us at all for most of the changes they want to make. So when we show the setup tab in demos, we get feedback like “Oh wow! The security settings are really detailed,” or “I can actually do this myself,” or “This seems very easy to use,” so that’s something that helps us stand out from others in the market.

Nathan: The configurability that’s been out there for the past 15 years is all about being able to configure a canned process. So if a vendor has a CAPA module, you can configure that CAPA, but it’s going to be the CAPA. What we offer is the ability to create your own process. Anything. Not just a CAPA, not just a SCAR, not just an audit. And we have the ability within the process to collect whatever data you want. None of that exists with the competition. That’s the big difference between our interpretation of configurability and what everyone else talks about.

What concerns do you encounter most often from quality buyers? Do they worry about how hard it will be to implement a new system (data migration, integration, etc.)?

Kiran: What we like to say is we’ll be as involved as you want us to be, and if you need us to do the heavy lifting to make sure this gets off the ground for you, we’re ready, willing, and able to do it. Or, we can simply show you the way.

We started off as a systems integrator, after all, so we’re in a great position to help.

Nathan: Yes, and it’s important to emphasize, in any conversation about integration, that we have a RESTful Open API. That is a project, a process. We didn’t even launch a product until our API was in place. Just last week, I met with an organization that’s been around for four years. They’re a very progressive cyber security firm, and they’re just starting to build their API. And theirs is a system that really should be integrated with others. So we don’t do a good enough job of taking credit for our API. That’s number one. Number two: When you talk about implementation, I think unfortunately software has a pretty bad reputation for what it takes, how long it takes, how much it costs, and the problems you have down the road. But it doesn’t have to be that way at all. I’ve been working on a few opportunities where we’re talking about launching in less than two weeks, and not worrying about integration up front. Because you can run a CAPA, log non-conformances, and do everything else you need to do without integrating anything. You don’t even need to migrate your data in some cases, because you have it stored somewhere else, and for ISO and CFR purposes, that’s fine—as long as it’s accessible. So if you want to kick off and get started without spending a ton of time or money on integration or migration, it’s doable. We’re doing it. If you want to go fully executable, and bring everything into one system, we can do that too. It will probably take a little longer, but we still can get you live in less than a full quarter.

Excellent. From a development perspective, I know we focus a lot on the user experience. What feedback do you get from buyers? Is our software as easy to use as we think it is?

Kiran: I’ve never talked to anyone who doesn’t think our software is incredibly user friendly. The best quote that I’ve ever heard during a demo was “This is so easy to use, I feel like I’m on Facebook.”

Nathan: One thing that resonates with our customers is that our system is built on a modern open source technology stack, so it has a very similar feel to Google, Amazon, Facebook, and all of the technology that’s currently in our personal lives. Most people go to work and leave all that behind and get into a system that was built in 1992. Because unfortunately, the bigger companies that have built these legacy systems don’t have the ability to go backward and create something new, so they’re stuck in these old systems. ARMATURE, being on the later end of this quality curve, has been able to use modern technology and it really makes a huge difference from a user interface standpoint.

Another thing that’s different about ARMATURE is how we’re asking our customers to help shape our product roadmap. Can you speak to that?

Nathan: Right. Given where we are on our growth curve and our customer acquisition curve, we’re enabling our customers to provide input on our product roadmap. So we’re not a huge company that’s built a product that we’re selling. We’re a small company that has the framework—the armature—of a cool product, a really good product, and we’re still looking to make it better. And at some point, we’ll be the best thing on the market. But it’s going to take all of our customers and all of the people here at ARMATURE, to make that happen.

Describe our ideal customer. Who would be a good fit for us right now?

Kiran: We’re looking for organizations that have an eye toward innovation, and that are open to collaboration—companies with those qualities are the perfect match for ARMATURE.

Nathan: She’s right on. The only thing I’d add is we seem to line up nicely with growth-oriented companies. So we’ve got a really cool initial offering that can get you started for less than you think, while also providing you with the ability to grow with us over time. You can get in on the ground level with a product that will probably cost two to three times what it costs today in a couple of years. So we like the smaller growing companies, or even the big growing companies, but companies that don’t have any problems starting small, really testing us out and maybe giving us three or four of their workflows to start managing. From there, the scope to grow and expand the software applications is abundant.

Love it. Thanks, guys!

Kiran: Any time.

Nathan: Happy to help.

To learn more about how ARMATURE’s quality management software can support your quality initiatives and help drive excellence throughout your organization, schedule a consultation. We’d love to have a quality conversation with you.