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The Qualicopter-Two Freedoms, Three Trends, and the Future of Quality. Are you ready?John Carter, Area Europe Quality Director, Ferrero

As a senior leader in the food industry, managing food safety and quality, I often tell people in our function that we have the best job in the world because we have two gifts: the freedom to move and the freedom to think.

The first gift

Let me explain: the first gift is mobility - in our quality assurance roles, we are free to go anywhere in our supply chains within our networks and ask anyone anything.

Think about it: we are accountable for compliance and excellence as food is grown, procured, manufactured, and distributed in perfect condition, and we maintain that sense of ownership through the chain to the moment a consumer eats our product.

The Qualicopter

We are the only faction with this unique overview and perspective. We can fly above farms and fisheries; we fly above factories and warehouses, trucks and stores, and delivery networks. Nevertheless, we can also land and then dive into the detail of a specific issue. Anywhere, anytime, the quality folks have a responsibility to identify and eliminate the root cause of problems, to make the world a safer, better place in the name of continuous improvement.

This is the behavior that I call the “Qualicopter.”

The second gift

The second gift is what I call ‘freedom to think’. It may not seem like it when you are firefighting and troubleshooting, but as a rule, quality staffs are not under the same relentless pressure to make the numbers, compared to other parts of the business.

The criteria for a decision— the absence of a contaminant for example—is changing as equipment and methods become more sensitive

Quality has an opportunity and therefore an obligation to see the big picture and think.

As you travel with your Qualicopter above an organization, above the network, you can what is happening. Moreover, with this information, you will be able to inspire and catalyze real changes for improvements.

Why did I start by telling you about these two gifts? Well, right now we are in the middle of a paradigm shift. The technological revolution is radically changing and enabling the two aspects of freedoms. I see three key trends.

Analytical Capability

The first is linked to analytical capability. The future of testing, as we know it, is being shaped by the “hunt for zero” and “whole genome sequencing”. In the hunt for zero, we see components being identified at ever-lower levels of detectability, so the criteria for a decision—the absence of a contaminant for example—is changing as equipment and methods become more sensitive.

The other development, whole-genome sequencing, is exciting indeed; whether we are looking at ‘foreign’ DNA in a raw material; or a library of pathogens, which can link a food safety outbreak to the environmental swabs from a particular factory. The possibilities and ramifications are manifold, both of these developments are forcing us to rethink our approach to data.

Interconnectedness

The second trend concerns interconnectedness. For manufacturers, in an industrial setting, this is the so-called Internet of Things or Industry 4.0—the idea that all the millions of sensors in our supply chains can be interrogated continuously to provide true, real-time information on the status of our operations.

As systems become integrated, it is exciting to see them move towards standardization of traceability and transparency, using the power of blockchain for example.

The third trend is also about being connected; this time it also applies to us all, as consumers and human beings. The link between social media and consumer behavior is already having a major impact on the way we do business, but from a quality perspective, we are only just starting to see the change. Old-fashioned, lagging indicators like consumer complaints will become redundant in a world of real-time consumer feedback, but to manage this, artificial intelligence will be required. Today, a major global food manufacturer may receive a few million consumers contact a year and it is just about possible to manage that number with human beings in call centers. The future will bring billions of contacts; a radical transformation of the industry is about to happen.

Everything

If we bring the three trends together under the umbrella of ‘Big Data’, you could say that soon, we will have the ability to know “Everything”.

Everything about our raw materials.

Everything about how we make and distribute our food.

Everything about how billions of human consumers enjoy (or complain about) the food we make.

The quality assurance professionals in the food industry tomorrow will continue to be able to use the two freedoms – with the Qualicopter. But the future will be enabled by a flood of Big Data which will require tools and intelligence (human and non-human) to manage. If quality is the responsibility of everyone in the organization, then quality leaders will need to be innovative and inspirational to guide them. With true data being made available to more and more stakeholders, quality culture and governance become ever more important. You can go anywhere. You have the obligation to think. Your leadership is the key.

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