Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Standards & Benchmarks
Marketing - Insight
`Quality' by certification
R. C. Acharya
Just as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, quality is what consumers perceive a measure of what they expect from the goods/services purchased. There is no absolute standard for quality, and even the so-called standards laid down by the various institutions ISI, BS, DIN, ASME, and so on are only specific requirements for a given level of performance.
How quality perceptions change is best illustrated in the automobile sector. The Ambassador and Premier were considered quality cars till the Indian buyer was introduced to Maruti-Suzuki and a host of other models.
The new cars are not only more fuel efficient but require much lower maintenance.
The paint is generally longer lasting and the body seldom corrodes even after years of exposure to the elements.
The perception of quality has gone up and also varies. While the middleclass may consider the value-for-money Maruti 800 as a quality product, the affluent see quality in, say, a Mercedes E 220 or a BMW.
Elimination of manufacturing defects that is, `getting it first time right' is another important aspect of quality. Over the years, a number of concepts have spawned to achieve the quality objective TQM, Quality Circles and zero defect campaigns are but a few. Juran, Deming and Crosby have over the years emerged the gurus of `quality'.
However, the underlying need to first define what is quality that is, what is expected of the product or service remains.
And when this is clearly identified, the means for achieving it can be spelt out and necessary technical or managerial inputs organised.
Of late, there is a clamour for getting ISO 9000 certification. However, ISO 9000 deals only with systems standards, their characteristics and what elements should be incorporated in a quality assurance model.
This certification should by no means be a goal in itself and certainly not a benchmark.
It should only be regarded as a first step towards the ultimate `total quality' concept that is already prevailing in some countries.
It is only an assurance to any prospective buyer that the manufacturer has a system in place to ensure that the product is being manufactured to the standards specified by the purchaser.
For instance, while one customer may want minimal surface protection just one coat of primer and two coats of paint for his product.
Whereas yet another may insist on not only pickling the steel sheet prior to manufacture but also stove enamelling at the primary stage with three finishing coats of expensive enamel paint.
An ISO 9000 certification means that a system exists through which the customer's requirements would be met. It does not in any way address the technical aspects for material and products.
ISO 9001 enunciates the model for Quality Management in cases where quality is required right from design and development through to the final installation and servicing.
ISO 9002 covers only production and installation, ISO 9003 the final inspection and tests, and ISO 9004 deals with certain aspects of internal quality management and lays down corresponding guidelines.
The Indian Standards Institution has published its own equivalent the IS 14000 series.
However, if a manufacturer is unable to procure and use the raw material as specified by the designer, or does not have the equipment or technique to manufacture the goods to the standards desired by the purchaser, merely obtaining the ISO 9000 series certification will not necessarily make it more acceptable to the customer.
In short, it does not guarantee that a supplier will be able to deliver a product for a precise purpose.
In fact, a large number of firms in the US that have the required technical and managerial capability are doing well even without ISO certification.
Quality guru Phillip B. Crosby on a recent visit to India said, "Quality is free. It's not a gift, but it is free.
What cost money are the un-quality things all the actions that involve not doing jobs right the first time."
(The author is former Member Mechanical Railway Board. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org)
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