Ross Boyd, founder and CEO of TruQC
, recently joined our podcast series to discuss the growing role of digitalization in the coatings industry. See below for a complete transcript.
Topics include why it matters and how to start; tips to ensure a successful initiative; common questions and feedback from industry users; and much more.
For more information, check out his recent CoatingsPro
article titled "Digitalization for the Coatings Industry
Ben DuBose: Ross, good morning. How are you?
Ross Boyd: Doing well. Thanks for having me, Ben. Appreciate it.
BD: Absolutely. Glad to have you on. I think a good place to start is with your bio. I was reading it beneath your article. For starters, you’re a graduate of the University of Missouri–Columbia. I mention that because so am I. I think this is the first time that we’ve had two Mizzou Tigers on the podcast. Glad to have you from that perspective.
In terms of your professional expertise, everything you’ve done since Mizzou, what’s your background industrially and where your company — because I know you’re sort of process digitalization, compliance software — where does that fit in with the overall coatings ecosystem?
RB: I appreciate it. I started in the coatings industry about 14 years ago. I worked for an industrial coatings contractor based out of St. Louis, Mo. They were looking for a way to better stay compliance with all of the QP, QS, and QN regulations and requirements from SSPC. The thought and the premise behind TruQC was compliance driven from the industrial coatings industry. Like I said, I’ve been in the industry for about 14 years. Ten of those is with TruQC. Started the company about 10 years ago and here we are. I also was the vice president of SSPC board of governors, and I now serve on the AMPP C6 board as well.
BD: I think a good place to launch the discussion — give us an overview of what digitalization is to you and why it can be a little bit broader than just software.
RB: For a lot of people, there’s a couple terms that get confused and mixed up. Digitization is digitizing a form. A PDF document or an Excel document or a Word document. It’s still better than the old-fashioned pen to paper, but typically those documents are kind of rigid. The data is kind of locked within them. You can’t do much with them. They’re nice because you can put them into a server or a folder on your computer instead of a file folder in your office that takes up a bunch of space. But you really can’t gain anything from the knowledge that those reports or those documents house.
Digitalization, on the other hand, is a tool that allows you to unlock all of the potential from all of the data and all of the interactions and all of the effort and work that’s happened within those documents. The ability to actually utilize that information for process improvement or for learning or for predictive analytics or business intelligence is really the difference between digitalization and simply digitizing a form or report.
BD: Within digitalization specifically, what does it mean for the coatings industry? Can you give some examples of how it can benefit different roles of people in our industry?
RB: Absolutely. There’s a QC/QA process. As I’m doing — I’m a contractor in the field or I’m a third-party inspector and I’m taking readings. I’m taking them and I’m comparing them against specifications to make sure that I’m compliant, to make sure that I’m within spec as I’m doing the work. That’s great. There’s value in that documentation, but I look at the document and then I had it to the supervisor or to my owner or the owner’s rep or whomever. They review the information, say, “Yeah, this is good,” and then it kind of goes into a file that’s never looked at again. It’s just kind of lost forever.
The beauty of digitalization is now, three years from now or five years from now, there’s a failure on that exact part. Now there’s a way to say, “How many times on Wednesdays after 5 p.m., when we had DFT [dry film thickness] range with this coating type, did we have a failure?” There’s a way now to unlock the potential and all of the benefit of that data that typical was just cast aside. Now there’s a way we can look at it across time and say, “How often is this happening? When does this happen? Is it a coating issue? Is it an application issue? Is it a condition issue?” There’s a ton of benefit that hasn’t been utilized until now within the coating market.
BD: From your article, I’m reading — and this was, again, published in March in our CoatingsPro web issue, www.coatingspromag.com, “Digitalization of the Coatings Industry.” We’re talking with Ross Boyd, founder and CEO of TruQC. You mentioned, when trying to ensure that your initiative is successful, there’s basically three keys that you need to be looking for in your solutions: field adoption, configurable solutions with a focus on standardization, and expanding with your business. Can you elaborate on those three criteria and what it is that a contractor should potentially be looking for — or really anyone in the coatings industry, for that matter?
RB: I’m going to start with the one that’s most important, and that is adoption. Adoption can be thought of in a bunch of different ways. Traditionally, digitalization has been a top-down-driven initiative. Some executive or some senior management have an ERP database or a CRM database or some sort of accounting software that they need to feed data into so they can get their business intelligence and get the information that they need. Those efforts typically fail because they’re built for those end-users, the top-level users. It’s not built from an operational standpoint. The software that goes along with it doesn’t work the same way the field actually executes their work. So instead of complementing the work and benefiting the operational-level folks, it acts as another task. It’s just another thing I have to do now, is put information into another system or database.
For us, we believe a bottoms-up approach is more valuable and works better. Meeting with the folks, the boots on the ground, the people that actually execute the work. Talk to them about how they do their work. Build and configure a solution so it works the way that they do, so it’s not a hindrance. It actually enables them and works the way that they do so it’s not an extra step. It actually helps them with their steps as they’re doing it now. I think it’s critical to digitalization in the new age. I think that’s the way that you can achieve some success.
The other ones are additional points of that. A lot of times, what people get wrong with software is they think it’s static. “I can’t wait until this software is done and we can implement it and then we can just move on with production and move on with our work life.” The reality is, there is no “done.” Compliance requirements change. Standards change. Governing bodies change. When those things happen, you need a solution that can stay agile and adapt with those changes, not be rigid and stuck in the old mold or with “done” or “good enough.” Instead of hoping for “done,” just expect or anticipate that there is no “done,” and the software or compliance solution you use should always be able to evolve and not be rigid.
BD: As far as looking for a partner, when you’re starting this process, what are the questions that someone in the industry should be asking? If there’s a checklist, if you will, what are the items that they should be looking for as they’re making decisions at the start of this journey?
RB: Number one, there’s enough digitalization companies that are around now that you should look for one that’s proven, one that’s had some experience, had some success, that’s done this for a good amount of time and has some experience in the market with some expertise with what you’re doing — I think is number one.
I think you should also look for someone who is focused on digitalization. Someone who’s focused on delivering success to you, whatever you define success as. Somebody that’s driven by that and not looking to sell some sort of ancillary service or ancillary product in addition to this digitalization service. You see that sometimes where people sell or give away a digitalization service just so that they can sell some other service. I think you should look for someone that’s specifically trying to help you with the digital challenge that you’re dealing with at that time.
Thirdly, I think you should look for a partner that doesn’t have a conflict with whatever legacy database or systems that you have in place. Looking for a system that’s agile, that can integrate with your current accounting database or your current ERP solution or your current asset management database. Having someone that’s flexible and easily can adjust to those is something that’s really important. You shouldn’t have to change all of your back-office systems just to achieve the benefit of a tablet or a digitalization solution.
BD: When you have meetings with clients, what’s some of the feedback that you hear from them? For example, if you have someone that’s starting down this path and asking questions of you all, what are the common themes of what they’re looking for and what they need out in the field?
RB: I think the biggest driver is a lot of our customers are looking to eliminate non-value-added work. An example would be, you’re out in the field, you’re doing your production work, you’re completing the project as you’re supposed to do. A digitalized process, a fully digitalized process shouldn’t disrupt that. It shouldn’t be another step. It shouldn’t be a second thing that you have to do or an additional task that you’re not driven by. It should just feed in or work within the way that the work gets done. I think that’s number one: People don’t want a disruption. They don’t want to have to drop everything that they’re currently doing and then relearn a new system or a new process. They want the process to stay the same and the software solution to integrate with that. I think eliminating non-value-added work is maybe the number-one driver that we hear.
Secondarily, it’s how to piecemeal it. When you think of digitalization, you think of this giant task that’s for safety and for QC compliance and for accounting and HR and all these different things. I think it’s important to understand that if you have the right partner and you have the right software, you don’t have to eat the apple in one bite. You can break if off piece by piece and let it organically grow.
A challenge that a lot of people face is they try to do this broad, huge implementation across all of their users, all of their people. Across accounting and HR and all these different groups, which make it really cumbersome and difficult. Most of our clients are looking for a way to start with digitalization in some sort of incremental way. “How do we just do QC so that I can stay QP certified? How can we just do account to make my timesheet and my expense reporting a little easier?” By breaking it up in that way, I think is really what customers are looking for. And maybe they’re challenged to even know that that’s a possibility. We hear that a lot as well.
BD: I’m reading from your bio. You’ve been an active member of SSPC for over 10 years. You’ve been a member of the board of governors for the past four. You’re now on the board for AMPP. When you look at your journey over the past decade-plus, what’s been the biggest change? What’s different in 2021 relative to 2011 when it comes to, I guess for starters, the acceptance of digitalization in the coatings industry? How have the needs or desires evolved over the past decade that you’ve been overseeing this transition?
RB: That’s a great question. I would say the change is huge. When we started in this market, it wasn’t even called digitalization. We were looking to just make it easier, like I keep saying, to eliminate that non-value-added work. How do we just make it easier for these folks in the field who are great at production to get their job done and have such a problem with this documentation? That was what it was driven by. It’s morphed into this digitalization. How do we actually benefit from this data and all these learnings that can be achieved? Especially with the new merged organization — the way that the owners, the big petrochemical owners, the U.S. Navy, the Navy contractors — the way these large organizations have embraced digitalization and made it a requirement now for contractors, manufacturers, and such. It’s a requirement now that those folks integrate or accept and embrace digitalization.
You’re seeing a full-blown change or metamorphosis across the industry to move toward digitalization, and you haven’t really felt it. It just happened the entire time and it’s not been an overt, hit you over the head with it. But I think the owners in this industry are driving it and forcing now in a way that wasn’t as loud previously.
BD: You mentioned that a lot of the larger asset owners are basically requiring it. Of course, there’s a trickle-down effect to all of the coatings industry: contractors, suppliers, all the various niches. Within the coatings industry service providers, is there a difference between the large and the smaller companies. You were talking about the large asset owners that have that requirement in place now. Is it something in the industry itself where the larger companies are moving faster than your mom-and-pop shops? Or is it standard across the board?
RB: I think you’re seeing both sides. The mom-and-pops can utilize digitalization to just be more efficient. By cutting down on that non-value-added work. By making it easier to not redundantly enter your timesheet information or redundantly enter your expense report information from a piece of paper into an Excel document into an account software into a payroll software. Those are four steps. Digitalization would flatten that and make it very simple across. For a smaller company, these benefits, when they don’t have a lot of folks and a lot of resources and personnel, could be major wins for a small price. I think for mom and pop, there’s a ton of efficiency that can be gained.
For a large asset owner, they see the value of the data. Traditionally, when a contractor or a third party or even internal resource would fill out one of those field documents, an inspection report or something like that, you’d see them throwing it out and then they hand it to an admin, the admin goes in and pumps it into a database. They manually enter it into the system. Now with digitalization, these companies are waking to the fact that it’s not necessary to go through all these steps. The data can be provided in a way that’s meaningful to them, that they can consume the way that they want. And you’re seeing them ask that of their inspection companies and their contractors. It’s more of an overt, “Hey, can you get me the data this way?” I think it’s definitely a competitive advantage for the contractors or inspection firms or coating manufacturers that can say, “Yeah, no problem.”
BD: I think that makes sense. I want to switch gears a little bit and do some rapid-fire personal questions. We do these with each of our podcast guests on the CoatingsPro Interview Series to try and give our listeners a little bit more insight into who our guests are and to learn more about them. I’ll start you with — and this can be an answer from your life or it can be within the industry — Who’s someone that’s been a mentor to you on your journey?
RB: I’ve been really lucky. When I started in the coating market, I didn’t have any coatings experience. I didn’t think I would have — I never thought this was going to be a career. I’m not going to answer the question the way that you want, unfortunately. There’s a few names that come to mind that have helped me along the way. Don Thomas with Thomas Industrial Coatings was the impetus for this idea and kind of what drove it. Del Doyle was the one from NACE, former NACE president, that said, “You got something here.” Ken Trimber, Steve Cogswell. I hate naming names. Robin Frye. There’s been a bunch of folks that have really helped me in my journey, and I don’t think I’d be here without their help during this process. Unbelievably grateful to all those folks and many, many more that I’ve forgotten along the way.
BD: I think that’s good. No problem at all. Especially with you, your niche is unique. I think with you, it definitely makes sense to spotlight those that helped you get started, since again, you’re not exactly from a very traditional coatings background. I think those that saw the value early on — it’s important to spotlight and name some of those that saw the value in this, because certainly in 2021, it’s definitely a trend. I’ll go to the other extreme. What’s something that is a pet peeve?
RB: I think pet peeve might not be the right word. I think it’s just resistance to change or fear of change is something that you can see in this market. This is a small group, a relatively small group, small industry. I think the resistance to change is loosening, but it’s still kind of there. I would say the biggest pet peeve are folks that just want to keep doing things the same way that we’ve been doing them forever, whether or not it’s the right thing to do. I think that’s my biggest pet peeve.
BD: Finally, when Ross Boyd is not talking coatings and is not talking digitalization, what’s one of your hobbies? What’s something that you might do tonight or this weekend?
RB: I’ve got two little boys. I’ve got a 9-year-old, Brenn, and a 6-year-old, Beckham. I love going to their sporting events: hockey, basketball, baseball, practices, games, anything I can do with those guys in my spare time is what I’m doing. I absolutely love hanging out with the boys.
BD: That definitely sounds pretty fun. I’m a huge sports guy myself, so I can definitely relate to that. Finishing up here with Ross Boyd, founder and CEO of TruQC. Ross, before we wrap up the podcast, is there, first off, anything that you wanted to convey that we have not already discussed to our audience as far as digitalization and the coatings industry? Secondary, for anyone listening that’s curious to learn more about you or your company, what’s the best way that they can potentially access more information from you guys?
RB: I wanted to think you again for having me on here. Definitely appreciative of yourself and CoatingsPro for giving me the opportunity to chat. If anybody wants to get a hold of us, it’s www.truqc.com. They can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re not sure where you fit in this digitalization journey and you just want to talk to someone, I think that’s really where we specialize as well. There’s no cost to give us a call and chat about what your situation is, what you’re looking to do, or maybe what opportunities might be there for you. Happy to talk anytime anyone wants. Please feel free to reach out anytime.
BD: The website is www.truqcapp.com, correct?
RB: Yes, or just www.truqc.com. Either one works.
BD: Okay. That sounds good.