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The quality function, a driving force in the digital transformation of companies

Grégory Bressolles

Professor of Marketing

Head of the "Business in a Connected World" Chair

Kedge Business School

Frédéric Ponsignon* (photo)

Associate Professor of Operations Management

Kedge Business School

*Faculty member of the Business Science Institute.


Article originally published on The Conversation France.

The results of a study conducted by KEDGE Business School on behalf of the French Association for Standardization (Afnor) show that the QSE (Quality, Safety and Environment) function has the legitimacy and the necessary skills to accompany the company's digital transformation process.

Indeed, the expertise of QSE management professionals in change management (gathering needs, supporting employees, evaluating performance and continuous improvement), and its unique positioning, both global and transverse within the company, make the QSE function a major potential contributor to the digital transformation process.

This contribution concerns the development of the digital transformation process, its management and its sustainability.

Taking a step back

First of all, when it comes to developing the strategy for the transformation process, the QSE function can help identify the priority and critical aspects of the transformation, analyze the risks and opportunities related to the transformation, evaluate the potential impacts, both positive and negative, of the transformation on the company, as well as represent the voice of the external and internal customer.

The cross-functional position of the QSE manager allows him/her to step back and ask the right questions during the planning of the transformation process and to anticipate the structural and organizational consequences.

A QSE manager in the study conducted by KEDGE testifies to this:

"All cross-functional projects are often driven by quality. Digitalization is a cross-functional project that impacts all of the company's processes. It seems natural that quality should make digitalization a strategic axis, at a higher managerial level. Quality allows us to determine and direct our digitalization needs".

A conductor's role

The digitalization process also gives QSE management the opportunity to demonstrate its ability to lead change, and in particular a major transformation program such as digital transformation. It is essential that the QSE function is not seen as a hindrance to projects but as a facilitator. On the contrary, QSE management can play the role of orchestrator of the process.

The QSE can take advantage of its global and transversal vision of the organization in order to encourage the implementation of a collaborative and inclusive approach. Its involvement can help mitigate human and cultural factors of resistance to change, which are often the main obstacles to the success of digital transformation. This allows us to promote the co-construction of a transformation process that is shared and accepted by all employees.

This principle is illustrated by the implementation of a social network at Ponticelli, a company specializing in industrial services. This initiative was launched in 2015 by the quality manager and led to the creation of a collaborative platform to encourage experience sharing and internal benchmarking. In particular, the network provides easy access to the document system, integrates discussion threads (in the sense of a social network), facilitates work groups by providing them with reserved spaces and quick and efficient access to video conferencing.

Continuous improvement

To ensure that the digital transformation is a permanent process of continuous improvement, QSE management must play an alert role in the event of a risk or proven problem caused by a digital tool. It can then make a diagnosis and define actions with the department(s) concerned by integrating experience sharing tools.

As we have seen, QSE management is ideally placed to capitalize on the knowledge linked to the transformation of the organization and to ensure the coherence of the management system following changes and developments in terms of organization, process management, measurement, risk control, etc.

Thus, the QSE function can contribute to the use of digital tools facilitating the simplified management of the dissemination and processing of data collected, the constitution of a documentary database of incidents, and the formalization of solutions that have been found by other employees.

Finally, QSE management can contribute to the sustainability of the digital transformation process by creating and revising procedures and operating modes for digitalized processes, as well as by putting in place appropriate procedures to train employees in the use of digital tools.

A privileged interlocutor for the CDO

Our study also shows that one of the success factors of digital transformation is the collaboration between the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) - or the Information Systems Department (ISD) - and the QSE management throughout the process. It seems essential that the dual skills of "digital" and "business" be present in digitalization projects.

The QSE function (which guarantees business expertise, functional and cross-functional vision, and change management skills) and the CDO (which provides digital and technical expertise, and is in charge of managing the evolution of the information system) can play this role and have much to gain by working together.

The effectiveness of this pairing is illustrated in the case of the syrup manufacturing company Routin. In 2017, in response to regulatory constraints, customer requests (sending additional data in product sheets) and internal weaknesses (complicated item deletion, time-consuming data validation...), the QSE manager piloted a new project in close collaboration with a designated referent at the software publisher. The new tool developed has resulted in a time-saving tool for users and increased data reliability.

Of course, it goes without saying that the QSE function does not carry out the company's transformation project alone. However, its recognized ability to lead teams in a change management perspective and its methodological "tools" are important levers at all stages of the digital project, from the launch to the feedback, including the resolution of problems inherent in any major change. It is up to companies to realize this so as not to miss out on the many opportunities offered by digital transformation.

Article translated from French with


Read also...

Les articles de Frédéric Ponsignon sur The Conversation France.

Frédéric Ponsignon's articles & books.


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