The Future of Quality Management Systems:
Ding Dong, the database is dead!


Is this article for me?

It’s worth spending 6 minutes reading this article if any of the following apply:

  • Your company is already using an eQMS or plans to in the future.
  • You are looking to future-proof your quality management system
  • You’re interested in Lean & Six Sigma.
  • You believe continuous improvement is a culture, and want it to work in your organization
  • You want to reduce the headache of managing your processes.
  • Suspect that your team spends too much time on non-value-added activities…

The history of eQMS

The eQMS (Enterprise Quality Management System or Electronic Quality Management System) was developed to replace Excel spreadsheets, paper forms, and disparate tools that were created to handle quality management processes, especially after the advent of systems like ISO 9000. The ability to document processes, create standards, manage records, and implement continuous improvement moved to the computer.

These softwares haven’t changed for decades.

eQMS systems grew out of the databases like ERP that were created in the 1960s to live on clunky PCs with dot matrix printers. They were designed to capture process data, create rigid controls, analyse trends, and create reports. But they haven’t changed much since then, apart from having refreshed designs and moving to the cloud. 

But the rest of the world has changed a lot.

We now have mobile phones with better computing capabilities than those PCs. We all use software all the time – from instant messaging to e-commerce, and cameras on our phones. And post-COVID, the world started learning how to work remotely and asynchronously. A lot of the software we use works like magic. But almost no one would describe their eQMS as magical.


So where do eQMS fail?

Have you ever wondered why you are not getting enough out of your eQMS or the quality module of your ERP? Have you ever felt they are just glorified databases? Have you ever been stuck in a long, tedious, or expensive implementation of one of these systems? Then you probably know all of the problems already….

1. They don’t help you get the work done – which means your quality team spends up to 4 hours a day following up in emails, meetings, and phone calls.

2. They don’t create accountability – which means you have to spend more time defining who does what next and forget about building a quality-first culture

3. They are inflexible – which means you have to create all your workflows in the beginning and it’s really hard to change them over time

4. They are opaque – which means that it’s hard to see where the actual work is getting done or how much progress is being made

5. They’re inaccessible to 90% of teams (outside quality) – which means it’s hard for you to get visibility into processes that require other teams (think CAPA)

6. They’re hard to use – which means it takes forever to implement and you have to provide additional (and painful) training for every new process


Why did it fail? Collaborative processes don’t fit in a database

The fact is that, in spite of having an eQMS, 93% of quality teams report that most of their actual work is done over email, phone calls, and in meetings. This results in enormous amounts of wasted time and errors as people transfer data between different systems and wade through an inbox from hell every morning.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying your team isn’t working, I’m saying that they are spending up to 7 hours a day working stuff like this:

  • Emailing
  • Following up and coordinating with other teams
  • Entering data into different systems
  • Sitting in meetings and trying to get approvals

That leaves around an hour to focus on the core value-added processes, including:

  • Identifying defects/NCs
  • Completing root cause analyses
  • Implementing corrective actions
  • Conducting internal audits

This isn’t your fault.  This happens because quality processes are highly collaborative and it’s hard to get the right people in the right place, focusing on what matters. Quality processes are also different from other processes because: 

  • They require context and creativity, concepts that are inherently human.
  • They can’t be automated. (You can’t automate a root cause analysis or the definition and implementation of corrective actions.)

Quality processes are what we call collaborative processes…


What’s so special about collaborative processes?