Supply chain disruptions, raw material shortages, plant shutdowns and shipping delays continue to reverberate across industries and manufacturers are looking to digital transformation as the way out. They understand its potential to help better manage these challenges to ultimately boost productivity and efficiency, drive growth, and re-emerge from the pandemic stronger and more competitive than ever.
In fact, adoption of digital technologies has accelerated by three to seven years in just months, and according to an IDG Research survey, 59 percent of IT decision makers surveyed say that pressures stemming from the pandemic are accelerating their digital transformation efforts.
At the same time, quality initiatives are gaining significant momentum and for good reason. Unlike the many uncontrollable aspects of the pandemic, one thing manufacturers realize they can control is quality. The benefits of quality management are compelling — enabling organizations to improve their offerings, optimize processes, reduce costly recalls, streamline audits and reporting, and improve batch and process manufacturing workflows.
Can’t Have One Without the Other
The benefits of automated quality management systems also are achieved through digital transformation, enabling improved customer satisfaction and a better brand experience. While both have become essential strategic business initiatives in their own right, they have also become increasingly intertwined, neither really possible without the other. In fact, quality management can be a form of digital transformation. Consider the following examples:
- Cloud-based quality management systems enable companies to guide continuous improvement efforts, define process standards, achieve compliance, and drive other quality initiatives from anywhe
- Advanced analytics are used to uncover process inefficiencies, drive actionable decision making, identify trends and track quality improvement.
- Machine learning is increasingly being used to identify product defects on the manufacturing line before they become costly product recalls.
Conversely, quality management initiatives are undoubtedly accelerating and improving the digital transformation process. If an organization is pursuing a shift to the cloud, for example, QMS systems are used to ensure processes are optimized, risks are analyzed, and compliance obligations are met and that this is all done with minimal disruption. While all innovation requires some amount of disruption, and the digital transformation process is inherently disruptive in a positive sense, quality initiatives can come into play. Quality management systems can be used, among other benefits, to train employees on new systems; enable greater collaboration across IT, finance, supply chain and production departments through the ubiquitous access to data; and ensure continuous improvement and measure success of the new technologies.
There are several best practices to consider when taking a quality approach to digital transformation.
- Embrace a digital-first mindset. Evaluate all aspects of your business in terms of their digital value. Did you develop your own technology solutions to manage your workforce, cut costs or improve the customer experience? Perhaps that same solution can be customized for other areas of your business. Engage representatives from across the organization to identify the hidden digital gems, and then boldly imagine how they can be monetized.
- Establish a design-thinking mindset. Design thinking takes a people-centric focus to come up with new ways of addressing a problem. Before pursuing any transformation, gather all key stakeholders – from end-users to key staff, business unit heads and management – to discuss needs, frustrations, and goals, and brainstorm digital solutions. Digital transformation is a significant step forward that can be disruptive, and it requires incremental steps before any full-blown implementation.
- Ensure effective change management. Change can be difficult. Regardless of who does the implementation, the initiative needs to be communicated from the C-suite and address the fears, concerns, and reservations of everyone.
- Create a data-driven organization. Most digital transformation initiatives today center around data, and a true digital transformer is one that allows the data to take the lead and applies analytics to identify hidden insights. Knowing where the data resides, how it may need to be augmented and how to apply analytics and AI are the first crucial steps to digital transformation success.
The pandemic painted a crystal-clear picture of the critical connections between the people, processes, and technologies that accelerate automation, enhance performance and drive growth. Quality management provides the foundation to produce those powerful insights and improve essential processes for organizations embarking on the path toward digital transformation.
Perhaps instead of asking whether quality drives digital transformation or the other way around, we should be asking how to leverage and align digital technologies and quality initiatives to help you achieve your strategic goals faster.