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Mike Richman

Quality Insider

Field Report: Infusion 2011

The InfinityQS user conference is a great place to hear case studies and learn how software can help improve quality

Published: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 - 11:01

As with enlightenment, there are many paths to quality improvement. Trade shows, seminars, and live video demos are all effective ways to keep on top of the latest developments in the industry. User conferences are another great option, particularly a well-designed, information-packed event like the one hosted by InfinityQS earlier this month.

Infusion 2011—the fifth Infusion that InfinityQS has held—occurred at the swanky JW Marriott in San Francisco, Oct. 16–19. It was my pleasure to attend this event, where I learned a great deal about software, data, supply-chain management, and how it all fits together holistically for a forward-thinking, quality-centric organization.

After a fun-filled day of touring the city on Sunday, attendees at Infusion 2011 got down to business Monday morning, Oct. 17. There were three fascinating sessions running back-to-back-to-back that carried me and a few hundred fellow quality professionals through many of the broad issues found in today's increasingly fast-paced and globally interconnected economy. These three very different presentations set the tone for the rest of the conference and provided the necessary background for later deep dives into practical applications.

First up was an opening session featuring Mike Lyle, president and CEO of InfinityQS, and Chris Kearsley, the company's vice president and director of programming and development (figure 1). Lyle and Kearsley laid out a vision of excellence that revolves around collaboration, as suppliers and manufacturers share goals, tools, and data in a never-ending quest to improve processes.


Figure 1: InfinityQS CEO Michael Lyle presenting at Infusion 2011

Next up was the keynote address, presented by Douglas Montgomery, regents' professor of industrial engineering and statistics and foundation professor of engineering at Arizona State University. Montgomery gave an exceptional presentation titled "Modern Experimental Design Methods and Their Impact on Quality Improvement," which provided an engaging overview of the history and importance of design of experiments (DOE) within the context of industrial statistical process control (SPC). This fast-moving, one-hour session zipped from descriptions of personalities such as R. A. Fisher and George Box to mini case studies involving Google and Montgomery's own winemaking business. All of this demonstrated the criticality of DOE, an important foundational notion as we began to explore the practical uses of SPC and how to really use data to improve an organization.

After a quick break, we were ready to fly—with exotic destinations like China, Venezuela, and Germany (not to mention Oshkosh, Wisconsin) on the itinerary, despite the fact that we never left the hotel. We were transported to those distant lands by session speaker Matt Tweedy and his fellow application engineers, in a terrific case-study presentation titled "Quality Goes Global: Worldwide Data Consolidation and Analysis" (figure 2).

During the session, Tweedy played the part of quality manager at Classic Cases, a fictional company that manufactures cell phone cases. His colleagues stood in as various suppliers in the aforementioned locales. During the next two hours, we in the audience came to understand the unique issues facing each of these very different suppliers, and watched as the Classic Cases manager used a variety of real-time, interactive SPC software tools to find solutions and improve quality. This was one of the simplest, clearest, and best case studies I've seen, and the lengthy audience feedback during the subsequent Q&A session (which even ran into the time allocated for lunch, an almost unheard-of circumstance at an event such as this) proved that other attendees got as much out of it as I did.

Figure 2: The "Quality Goes Global," supply-chain case study visits Venezuela.

After lunch, and for the two days to follow, the conference moved onto intensive, concurrently running tracks focusing on "Tools and Techniques," "Hands On" training, and various "Best Practices." These workshops really allowed  attendees to see the latest developments in the software, and encouraged them to use the tools at hand to their fullest possible potential. Of course, the information-sharing is far from a one-way street. As Mike Lyle pointed out in the opening session, InfinityQS' team receives as much, if not more, information than they disseminate at these events. All those great ideas from users are then passed along to the organization's development team, where they find their way into new generations of software.

That type of interactivity is what an event like this is really all about. For users, it's an outstanding opportunity to have your voice heard, to get hours of face time with an important partner on the continuous journey of improvement, and to effect change in a key vehicle used on that journey. For organizations such as InfinityQS, a successful user conference like Infusion 2011 offers the extraordinarily rare opportunity to engage not only with the voice of the customer, but also with the sight and feel of that user, too. It's really great to see the partnership at work, and to realize that the seeds planted during these few days will bloom into great improvements made at hundreds of organizations in the future.

Looking forward to seeing you soon out in the field!

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Mike Richman