The Quality, Reliability and Statistical Engineering Professional in the 21st Century


  • Douglas Montgomery

Quality, reliability and statistical engineering (QRSE) professionals have been widely recognized over the last 25 years as major contributors to growth in business productivity and product quality. The widespread adoption of Six Sigma as a business improvement strategy has played an important role in this. This editorial tries to identify some of the important emerging trends in this field that should play an important role in the continued development of this profession over the next few years.

1 Big data

Many of the major problems that confront society today, from national security, to health, to law enforcement, and commerce, involve what has come to be called big data. We are flooded with a virtual tsunami of data. Sources include administrative data such as tax records and surveys, mobile technology such as embedded sensors, social media, and electronic medical records, commercial data such as credit card purchases, online searches, and radio-frequency identification information. Big data will fundamentally change the way that much of the world's commercial enterprise has done. Society can experience significant gains from this, through better weather forecasting, improved health care, and more effective business strategies. This could be a revolution in our understanding of human behavior that parallels the industrial revolution of the 19th century. The QRSE professional should be a leader in how big data is evaluated and analyzed. However, only a small fraction of this data is designed data—most of it is observational. New tools of data analysis and inference are required to effectively use big data. These tools are an interface between computer science and statistics and include data mining technologies at a minimum. QRSE education programs must recognize this and modify curricula accordingly. Practitioners need to find opportunities to upgrade and enhance their skills.

2 Product design

Quality, reliability and statistical engineering professionals have for the most part been focused on operational systems improvement. This is the traditional focus of Six Sigma. Real performance gains in the future will require us to move upstream in the product realization process, where products and service systems are defined. Designed experiments will play a major role in this. Choice experiments to determine customer preferences are an important way to operationalize the voice of the customer. Because more products are designed and developed with computer models, experimental techniques for exercising these computer models will continue to be an extremely important area of application. Designing and developing products and processes that are robust to uncontrollable factors will continue to be prominent. QRSE professionals should be leaders in these activities. Education programs in design of experiments must reflect these trends.

3 Health care

Evidence-based medicine will be a key aspect of health care in the 21st century. Risk-adjusted evaluation of individual health care providers, hospitals, and health care programs will become standard. Surveillance and monitoring of the population for disease outbreaks such as flu is already widespread in many parts of the world. Treatment protocols for patients will be customized at the individual level. These applications need to be led by QRSE professionals working jointly with medical and other professionals. There is a lot of new methodology that needs to be developed, offering fertile ground for researchers.

These are only a few of the many developments where the QRSE professional can play a leading role. To fully participate in this dynamic environment, we need to broaden the toolkit that these individuals are exposed to during their education, and to build strong working relationships with other professionals including computer science, economics, engineering, the health sciences, and environmental sciences. This is a great time to be a QRSE professional!