DIGITALIZATION: QUALITY MANAGEMENT IN TRANSITION

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Smart factories, big data, automation – digitalization is fundamentally changing the way in which people are going to be working in the future. But what effects does digitalization in the quality management area have on individual employees? How will a business need to be strategically aligned in the future? And which key competencies are becoming increasingly important?

At the beginning of the year, DGQ conducted an online survey on the topic of “Digital change – where do you stand?” amongst experts from a range of different industries – asking them exactly these questions. The results were then prepared in a clearly structured whitepaper. We spoke with Malte Fiegler, Innovation Manager at DGQ, about the results, changes in the working environment and concrete recommendations for action.

Mr. Fiegler, there’s a lot of talk about digitalization. But just how far have companies actually got in implementing a digitalization strategy?

It seems that digitalization is not just a topic of intense discussion. In the meantime, a lot of companies have been working on plans designed to facilitate a target-oriented implementation. A quarter of the participants in our online study work in organizations where an overall strategy for implementing digitalization topics has already been developed. In addition, around 40 percent of the 623 people surveyed also have strategies for individual areas or departments. One in five of the participants stated that no such measures had yet been developed at their companies.

This shows that the change process within the companies is already in full swing – which is also causing a great deal of uncertainty. Around 50% of those surveyed stated that anxiety and the feeling of being overtaxed are now on the rise within their companies due to the digitalization process. How do you rate this result?

In my opinion, the multitude of changes that we are being exposed to, coupled with a level of uncertainty that tends to be on the high side, almost inevitably triggers the feeling of being overtaxed as well as a sense of anxiety. People worry about what is going to happen in the next few years – including what is going to happen to them and their jobs. There are now countless studies out there, some of which paint dramatic pictures of the future. However, the soundness of these projections is often highly disputable.

bar chart concerning digitalization
Source: DGQ e.V.

Of course, skill requirements are changing and new job descriptions are emerging. However, people are not powerless in the face of this. We all have to intensively concentrate on the ongoing change –we individuals, the companies and last but not least, the political system, in which favorable general conditions need to be ensured. It is quite clear that human beings should be at the center of such considerations, not what is technically feasible. Such a pointed question as “Man or machine?” promotes very strong emotions but leads us in the wrong direction. We should devote less energy to thinking about where machines could replace human beings but rather mutually consider where and how humans and machines can work together in a way that makes sense – how they could complement each other.

So does the “human” factor also need a digitalization strategy?

The answer to this question is definitely “Yes”, whereby such a digitalization strategy would on all accounts also be an educational strategy. In the future, initial training will be less and less capable of meeting the demands of a professional career. Knowledge will become obsolete faster and faster and new technologies, new skills and new competences will be in demand. We need educational concepts that are more strongly aimed at promoting the development of people’s skills. This is the only way to achieve the much-discussed future method of learning parallel to working which will allow us to remain capable of acting in the face of technological change.

In the light of this, let’s now look specifically at the job description of a “quality manager” and digitalization in the quality management area: Which skills are going to develop to become key qualifications in this area?

If we ask the experts themselves, as we did in our online study, which skills and qualifications are particularly important with respect to the ongoing digitalization process, these stated “sound IT knowledge” as being by far the most important aspect.

bar chart about the key digitalization competencies
Source: DGQ e.V.

This means that being able to deal with information technology confidently is a basic requirement. Beyond the required expertise, however, such aspects as flexibility or the ability to cooperate are also classified as key competencies – i.e. social communication skills, resp. the ability to act.

For the QA experts surveyed, specialized applications know-how is also gaining in significance. They regard the “collection, smart analysis and use of data” as being one of the five most important fields of competence. There is a difference between QM and QA and this could become even more pronounced.

What implications does this increasing difference between quality assurance and quality management have with regard to the operational business?

In the quality management area, even more organizational development work will be put into the specific and general quality capability of a company. Through the possibilities offered by the collection of data and its smart evaluation and usage, quality assurance will to an increasing extent develop into a data science. This will allow various quality characteristics to be generated during the production process and deviations to be detected and failures eliminated even as product usage is being monitored.

To conclude, which recommendations for action can you make to master the challenges of digitalization in the quality management area?

Change creates new space. It also presents the opportunity to seriously consider the question of what I am good at, what do or could I enjoy doing and in which direction do I want to develop. It is a question of people themselves retaining the ability to act – and not just their having to react to transformation – lifelong learning is just one of the catchphrases found here. Not so very long ago, professional biographies were much more rigid. A sound knowledge of the industry, new working methods or fresh IT know-how can be easily combined. One can use such developments to one’s advantage.

Companies must keep a close eye on current developments and develop appropriate courses of action that on the one hand correspond to their own traditions and on the other hand allow and promote innovation. It is not just about technology, but also about innovative business models or, as we said, intelligent employee development. When I say intelligence, I also mean not only meeting new challenges and change with new heads. Many companies are currently desperately seeking specialized personnel from outside. In many situations , one should really take a keener look at the inside in view of modern advanced training programs and serious development opportunities.

info graphic competencies in the context of industry 4.0
Source: DGQ e.V.

DOWNLOAD SERVICE: WHITEPAPER “DGQ-MONITOR: DIGITALER WANDEL”

The “DGQ-Monitor: Digitaler Wandel – Schlüsselkompetenzen & Trendthemen” whitepaper (only available in German. English translation: “Digital change – key competencies & trend topics”) summarizes the results of the DGQ online survey in a compact form. Current scientific findings on the changes in the working environment within the context of digitalization and concrete recommendations for action complement this current trend monitor. The whitepaper is available for Download free of charge from the DGQ “Cyber Security” webpage.

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Malte Fiegler, Innovationmanager at DGQ

  • Vita

    Malte Fiegler is a member of DGQ’s Innovation & Transformation team working on organizational processes and teamplayers. As a social scientist, topics that particularly concern him include how companies deal with uncertainty and the future working environment.
    E-Mail: malte.fiegler@dgq.de

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