On July 8, 2021, Managing Editor Michelle Bangert of Quality Magazine published the 2021 findings of the Quality State of the Profession Survey—an industry analysis outlining where the quality management industry is today, more than 12 months since the start of a global pandemic—and where it’s heading tomorrow.
Conducted in conjunction with Clear Seas Research, this year’s survey outlines the challenges global organizations are facing to continue to harmonize unruly supply chains, normalize operations by enhancing the quality journey, and allow for complex digital transformation initiatives to be carried out without compromising quality or negatively impacting risk management initiatives.
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic cannot be understated. Since March 2020, when this event was announced, it has propelled businesses in nearly every industry imaginable to reassess risk and quality management topics with a new impetus and sense of urgency.
Even the most dominant and market-leading brands and household names have faced pressures from stakeholders concerned about ensuring future profitability by more accurately anticipating future trends in supply chain quality management and developing the ability to respond to changes in real-time, thanks to more accurate and analytically precise quality management systems (QMS).
It could be argued that quality management, quality control, and quality assurance roles are more critical across business divisions than they have ever been before. The reputation destroying effects of negative quality public relations events has been well illustrated. Even companies that have not traditionally had to worry about public perception are taking a renewed focus on quality to reduce costs, limit risks, and maximize production potential.
As the English philosopher John Ruskin is famous for saying, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent efforts.” And while the best-laid plans of mice and men, may in fact, often go astray, QMS systems are a key technological advancement that by the power of analytical prowess, deep learning algorithms, and advanced artificial intelligence data modeling provide the means to capitalize on opportunities and more easily avoid pitfalls.
This article explores the central findings of the 2021 Quality State of the Profession Survey and highlights the immense opportunities next-generation quality management systems offer for competitive organizations interested in reaching new levels of success.
Quality Management 2021: Challenges and Opportunities
The global COVID-19 pandemic dramatically disrupted global supply chains and manufacturing processes, causing myriad challenges regarding sourcing materials, logistics provisioning, production, and quality management along the entire global chain.
It has never been more clear how intricately connected, or fragile the modern business landscape is. In the blink of an eye, a crisis, now more than 12 months in progress, has revealed many weaknesses in traditional quality management approaches while also underscoring the immense opportunity to be gained from implementing electronic quality management systems (EQMS).
Overwhelmingly, the respondents involved with Quality Management’s 2021 State of the Profession Survey identify as quality managers, and 75% belong to business divisions connected to manufacturing while 66% belong to operations teams. On average, quality professionals are seasoned workers and respondents to this year’s survey had 23 years of experience, though 28% had spent 30 years or more in their respective industries.
The most well-represented industries for quality professionals according to this survey are:
- Motor Vehicle Production
- Miscellaneous Manufacturing
- Medical Equipment and Supplies
- Fabricated Metal Products
- Electrical Equipment, Appliances, and Components
- Transportation Equipment
- Energy Industry
- Computer and Electronics
When asked to discuss the most important factors impacting the success of their quality management initiatives, 48% highlighted the incredible impact COVID-19 restrictions and compliance challenges have caused as their central concern. Following that, 45% cited a skilled labor shortage in their industry, and 40% found that maintaining and adhering to quality compliance initiatives were the main challenges they faced at work.
This last point really emphasizes why enhancing quality management practices has become such a central element for many companies looking to improve their return on investment (ROI). Many organizations have learned painful lessons in the last year around why it is much more cost-effective and sustainable to make quality a priority today rather than wait until making front-page news for the wrong reasons at some point down the line after becoming embroiled in controversy.
When asked about the role technological innovations was playing in their work, quality managers cited their organization’s levels of commitment to working with:
- Cloud services/computing
- Additive manufacturing/3D printing
- Integrating smart, connected machines and manufacturing assets with the broader enterprise
- APIs (application programming interface)
- Artificial Intelligence/Predictive data analytics
- Augmented/Virtual reality
At the top of that list, 60% of respondents outlined their organizations were working with automation practices, though in contrast, only 7% had implemented augmented or virtual reality into their everyday operations. While 53% said they were using cloud services and computing platforms, only 13% had begun to harness the power of predictive data analytics.
These disparities paint a picture of the emerging digital divide that is beginning to become more apparent as the world’s market-leading firms further embrace Industry 4.0 while those dragging their heels to implement new technologies run the risk of becoming obsolete and collapsing under the weight of pressure bearing down upon them.
Despite the incredible opportunities with implementing new technologies, only 33% of survey respondents confirmed their willingness to be early adopters. Many more are willing to sit back and watch how things develop.
This pragmatism may be well served, or it could further exacerbate the immense divide the pandemic is having between organizations that can adapt and grow and those that are faltering to change quickly enough.
Digital transformation has been a key aspect of supply chain management and quality assurance practices since long before the start of the pandemic. Nonetheless, in the last 12 to 16 months, organizations worldwide have been involved in dramatic efforts to move operations online, which created many unexpected challenges for even highly competitive successful global brands.
Simply adopting new technologies without understanding how new additions might work with or against existing systems is quite foolish indeed. That is why it is vital for organizations wishing to bolster their quality control efforts to partner with experts who can help refine more situation-specific quality management practices and systems.
As challenging as it may be for organizations to roll out highly technological change initiatives across their business divisions, it is important to emphasize the incredible opportunities next-generation quality management systems offer both to the teams responsible for them and the organizations they serve.
Quality is the Key: Your Agile and Resilient Organization Starts Here
While it may be unsurprising to learn that more than 20% of survey respondents found that the COVID-19 pandemic was likely to continue to negatively impact their quality management efforts, behind the challenges lay a great deal of opportunity.
The sense of urgency driving quality management in 2021 creates the perfect foundation for ushering in new levels of transparency and accountability. The unknown is always a challenging factor for quality management professionals to overcome. While it may be challenging to predict the future, it’s becoming easier and easier to plan for the uncertain by refining business success by embracing data-driven decision-making.
Chaos and uncertainty are sure to wreak havoc on many manufacturing processes and supply chains. Harmonization is possible by implementing more responsive data modeling capabilities driven by next-generation cloud-native quality management systems driven by industry-leading analytic power and enhanced with an agile framework designed to serve your business today while also growing to the challenges of tomorrow.
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