Here at ARMATURE, we love having quality conversations. We take every opportunity to learn about quality and we don’t shy away from the big questions: What challenges do you face as a quality professional? What are your proudest quality management moments? What lessons do you have to share with the community? And what does the future of quality management look like? This month, we’re proud to share excerpts from a conversation we had with Vincent Desmond, CEO at the Chartered Quality Institute (CQI). The CQI is a global professional body whose mission is to advance the practice of quality management in all sectors, and with 20,000 members in 100 countries, the organization’s perspective on quality is unparalleled. Read on to hear Vincent’s thoughts on the past, present, and future of quality management.
For starters, can you please provide a quick overview of CQI?
Sure. I suppose the fun thing is that next year we’re going to be 100 years old. We kicked off in 1919, and so we are just planning for our birthday. We’re a UK-based professional body, and a chartered organization, which means that we have a charter from the government to fulfill a specific role. The government recognizes that the quality discipline is a critical factor for the economy and country, and they’ve given us the job of developing the quality management discipline and promoting the discipline and profession overall. One of the things we do is to develop the professional standards for quality professionals, and we have a number of membership grades. Our gold standard is Chartered Quality Professional. That’s really our purpose and heritage. In terms of numbers, we’ve got 20,000 members in about 100 countries. We train around 60,000 people a year on quality management and audit based on our competence framework.
So you really have your finger on the pulse of quality management on a global scale. I’d love to hear your perspective on technology: How has technology changed quality management in the past 20 years, and how will it change the profession in the future?
The past 20 years have been full of dramatic change, both in quality management and in the world in general. Just looking at the past decade, the way I see it is that the big themes have been around product quality and the effects of globalization. We’re now focused on two things: (1) the speed of innovation and change, which is a critical factor in sustaining an organization, and (2) the behavior of business, which the quality industry can help shape. A big question for the profession over the past 20 years, and now, over the next 20 years, is are we going to let the world happen to us, or are we going to start grabbing what’s out there and actually change what we’re doing and the way we’re thinking so we can be a part of it?
Yes, getting the quality part right in an era of rapidly-changing technology is critical.
There are two things. There’s the technology angle, there’s the trust angle, and then there’s sort of the overlap between the two. I was just reading Blackrock, and there’s a piece by Larry Fink on trust, where he’s saying that society is losing trust in organizations because they don’t have a sense of purpose anymore. They’re all about next quarter’s profits and the short term, and they’re not asking themselves if they’re adding value to their customers and stakeholders at large. We just had a major construction company in the UK go down, Carillion, and when you look at how the organization had been operating, from a financial point of view, from a trust point of view, and also from a quality point of view, their projects were just failing, and that caused them a lot of cash problems, and now they’re out of business. So that trust in business is important. I think the quality profession does have a role to play in trust in business, as well as technology.
When it comes to trust, how do you get organizational departments to work together toward common quality goals instead of viewing each other with suspicion, and how do organizations with global suppliers gain more visibility into what’s actually happening up and down the supply chain?
The issue of how quality is perceived within an organization resonates very much in the UK and around the world where we operate. Many of our members have reported feeling undervalued by their organizations and have asked us to reexamine and evolve the quality profession as a result. That led to the development of our Competency Framework, which emphasizes the importance of context and leadership in helping quality professionals and the organizations they serve to find success. It’s important to establish a connection between corporate governance and management so that you can turn strategic, financial, and policy imperatives into a concrete way of working that you can measure and use to make decisions regarding risk and investment in change. Organizations like ASQ and CQI have a role to play in influencing at the policy level to get government and professions to understand one another. It’s about connecting the dots and communicating context, and this is a pet subject of mine.
How about auditing in the era of globalization? When it comes to trust and quality management, how do you negotiate that? Things are just getting more complex, not less.
It’s a good question; I’d be a rich man if I had the answer! That’s an issue in the UK and globally where we have our members. When it comes to outsourcing, it’s cheaper to do it in other countries for various reasons, and organizations need to either accept the risk or take into account that there’s going to be some sort of other overhead to mitigate that risk. We’ve got some generic international systems, like ISO 9001, which are designed to reduce trade barriers and provide confidence. These systems have helped to a certain extent in high-risk industries, such as aerospace, where they recognize there’s a lot of risk in the supply chain. You see this tendency toward the industry sector itself taking control of the governance, accreditation, and certification systems, so therefore the whole audit/supply system. This costs more but you get a lot more confidence as a result. The point is, in my view, you can have as much confidence as you like, but it costs. You have to ask yourself how much risk you are willing to accept, and how much it is going to cost you to mitigate that. I think looking to the future, getting onto the technology piece, the agenda is really quite exciting and a little bit scary in that area because it’s going to mean that the quality profession does different stuff, and the audit profession is going to operate differently.
Tell me more about that.
For you guys, in terms of software and how that interacts with the technology future, that’s going to be very different. And we see it happening already. Last year, on my list of interesting things that happened on the technology front, was Walmart exploring blockchain as a way of proving provenance of product. And there’s a lot of talk about distributed ledgers being a way to prove and have total confidence in the supply chain, and the question goes back to who owns those platforms to do those sorts of things. If it’s not about sending people out to check things against standards, which I don’t think will ever completely go away, it’s going to be who owns those platforms for distributed ledger and the like.
I agree that auditing is here to stay. Our web-based tools support auditors by making it easy to capture and communicate quality findings at every touchpoint.
That’s important. From my limited experience with QMS software and how it’s decided upon, implemented, and used, there can be a danger that organizations view this as an IT project rather than a way to shift performance and culture. If you’re going to get the leadership team engaged in this, an IT project for an IT project’s sake is not going to do much for them, but those concepts of performance culture, mitigating risk, and compliance-as-a-defense are important to convey. There’s a lot happening on the technology side. You’ve got IBM developing its quality early warning system, and that dashboard approach where you’ve got a 100% real-time view of the process, that’s going to be new territory for the quality profession. We’re already seeing it in healthcare, command centers that track flow-through to hospitals and are predictive in the sense that ‘this is happening here, so we’re going to need extra beds here’ and that’s all metrics and software and process information that’s readily available.
We have the real-time dashboards as well that show trends and enable click-through actions, so if you’re a decision maker, you can triage issues right there on the spot.
Yes, and what you’re seeing is that quality management software is really becoming a business tool, and it’s also servicing that requirement now for agility. How we think as a profession is going to be focused on agility and innovation because that’s what successful organizations do well. The big challenge for organizations is that operating with agility and innovation introduces so much more risk for them. Take, for example, the Samsung Galaxy that burst into flames: mobile phone companies have to produce new models and innovations all the time, and time-to-market is shorter and shorter, so the safety testing gets squeezed as a result. Same with car makers. There’s that requirement for agility, there’s a technology piece to that, and there’s probably also a shift left for organizations because they realize they can’t afford the cost of making mistakes. Organizations need to shift left into real prevention mode, which means that the whole risk agenda and preventive agenda as we get into agility and rapid change is going to be a really big consideration for the quality profession.
Absolutely. The risk is greater now because technology moves so quickly. A lot of manufacturers are wondering about newer technologies like IoT and machine learning, and how they will impact business. What are your thoughts?
For me, technology is a bit like Brexit. Over here, every organization has got Brexit on its risk register. And there’s a certain amount you can do but really, it’s total uncertainty. And it’s the same with technology—there’s a lot of noise about it, but I’m not sure if professionals and organizations have really grappled with it. The CQI is in awareness-raising mode with the profession, because we know we’ve got some catching up to do with concepts such as Big Data, IoT, and Distributed Ledger. It’s important that we understand what these things are, and what the potential risks and applications of them are. Both on an organizational scale and on an individual one. If you look at Big Data, for example, quality professionals have a contribution to make to that conversation, because they’re all about verifying and validating data. In terms of process and the IoT, how is that going to work and what controls are going to be in place? So there is obviously a role to play, and it’s going to be a different role, and there will be new knowledge required to operate in that environment. My concern is that the profession is hiding under the desk doing what it’s always done and not spending enough time sharpening the saw.
Hopefully this interview will help raise some awareness for you! It’s been a pleasure, Vincent. Thank you for your time.
To learn more about how the Chartered Quality Institute is shaping the future of quality management, visit their website, follow them on Twitter, or connect with them on LinkedIn. If you’re planning to attend ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement this spring, don’t miss the CQI’s talk on Effective 21st Century Quality Leadership, and be sure to stop by our booth and say hello while you’re at it! We’d love to have a quality conversation with you.