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Digital transformation and quality management – What are the relationships?

Digital transformation is a term increasingly used in everyday life. But how is it connected with quality management?

By Galina Robertsone, Quality Manager for the Baltics region at HAVI Logistics

Digital transformation is a hot topic and buzzword nowadays. Everybody speaks and writes about it, yet nobody can precisely explain the phenomenon. It occupies the minds of researchers and practitioners all over the world. Digital transformation changes how we do our daily routines, communicate, go shopping, and even enjoy objects of art – everything is possible in the digital world.

For the business environment, digital transformation provides new ways of product design and development, interaction with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders, decision-making, and improvement of internal processes. It also changes organisation structures and contributes to the evolution of new business models and whole new digitally connected ecosystems.

Quality management covers the entire organisation and all its processes. It significantly impacts customer satisfaction and the organisation's performance in terms of its effectiveness and efficiency.

Digital transformation and quality management contribute to the continuous improvement of products and services, processes, relationships, culture and organisational climate, leadership and decision-making. This leads to enhanced customer satisfaction and sustainable development of the organisation.

How are these two concepts interrelated? What are the future trends? And what is the role of quality management professionals? These questions are waiting to be answered.

Fundamental change

Digital transformation can be defined as a fundamental change that transforms all organisational activities in all aspects, such as product design and development, production, sales, service provision and aftersales, by the creation of a digitally enabled environment with new digital communication channels, transformation and exchange of data using digital technology.

The role of digital transformation in the creation of value for customers and better customer experience is tremendous. With the introduction of 3D technologies, customers and suppliers can participate in product development across countries and continents.

Now customers can access data and monitor production and aftersales processes in real time and change settings, if necessary, via mobile and interactive applications. Internet-based platforms allow the inclusion of existing, prospective, and potential customers in pre-sales and post-sales activities, which helps organisations to know the customers and their needs better – and ahead of competitors.

In terms of quality control and quality assurance, digital technologies reduce the impact of human factors in the detection and prevention of errors and non-conformities. For quality management, predictive analytics, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), image and product-recognition applications and tools are undoubtedly beneficial. Internet of Things (IoT)-based technologies allow performance monitoring and control in real-time. Product traceability, which is crucial for some industries, such as food and pharmaceutical, is enhanced with the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) and other digital technologies.

When analysing the interrelations between digital transformation and quality management, it can be concluded that both concepts affect the same areas of the organisation. Being a process by nature, digital transformation enhances the revision, optimisation and standardisation of business processes and procedures.

Strategic approach

Successful digital transformation needs a strategic approach and a commitment from top management, for example, leadership; it shall be incorporated into the organisation's vision. It also requires an organisation’s quality and continuous improvement culture to implement the changes.

Quality management practitioners play an increasingly important role in digital transformation by involving and educating people and often leading the transformation process. Digital transformation is impossible without true transformation of people’s mindset, relationships and continuous improvement culture.

Digital transformation contributes to the formation of new relationships with customers and suppliers, and within the organisation. It asks for the complete involvement of all employees, enhancing collaboration between departments. New forms of work, such as remote and hybrid, also promote the formation of new types of teams, such as cross-functional, agile and autonomous. Leading such teams requires a new set of skills and abilities and the emergence of new roles, with Chief Data Officer (CDO) as an example.

The decision-making process is now supported by enormous data, AI, and predictive and prescriptive analytics. This increases the importance of data quality and data protection. The focus of quality management shifts away from ensuring evidence, such as reports and key performance indicators for the decision-making, towards managing risks, data quality and data security.

Digitalisation and digital transformation are driven by the need to satisfy growing customer demands, thus ensuring their satisfaction, increasing efficiency and improving performance – the areas traditionally taken care of by quality management practices. However, digitalisation efforts are often focused on improving internal processes first, not being directly driven by customers.

In summary

Leadership and culture, engagement of people and process approach are essential for digital transformation and may have a significant impact on the transformational process itself. Digital transformation is driven by continuous improvement; however, there may be other drivers than a customer focus.

Digital transformation undoubtedly changes how decisions are made, and has an impact on the relationship with internal and external stakeholders, creating new business models and ecosystems. Quality professionals' roles and required skills are also changing as quality management processes are being digitalised. However, quality professionals play an increasingly important role as advocates and implementers of continuous improvement and quality culture.

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