Defining quality, and delivering it consistently

Article
October 8, 2020
‘Quality’ is a difficult word to define, particularly in business, as so many factors contribute to it and it has a different meaning for different stakeholders, from customers to partners to employees. Alongside innovation, quality has always been part of Axis DNA and the company works hard to ensure it is delivered at every level – not only in products and solutions, but throughout business relationships, training, technical support and customer service. Here we explore some of the ways in which we constantly strive for quality, and learn from any issues.

When any business talks about quality, thoughts immediately turn to the end product or service. Not only whether it delivers what it promises to, but does so reliably and consistently over time. But there are many other factors that contribute. For Axis, the perception of quality lies in every experience and interaction a partner or customer has in their relationship with the business. The quality of Axis products and solutions is simply one aspect.

The foundation for quality: people plus process

Quality needs to be embedded in the culture of an organization, and therefore depends on the people you employ. Not only in terms of their experience and skills, but in mindset, attitude and approach. How a company finds and selects its talent, therefore, is the foundation for delivering quality through the entire value chain.

Having a quality approach as a natural instinct and attitude in people is essential, as improving quality is a never-ending process. Indeed, in fast-moving sectors such as ours, standing still is moving backwards, and quality needs to constantly improve even to maintain the same perception as in previous years.

Challenges in volume and complexity

For instance, ensuring quality when producing products in higher volumes is naturally more difficult than in lower numbers; and as the technical complexity of product increases, this inevitably leads to more opportunities for quality to fall. Constant vigilance is critical, as is innovation in quality assurance processes.

For example, when Axis first developed thermal cameras, the final assembly and focus setting of cameras was a manual job, handled by highly-skilled employees. When manufacturing volumes of thermal cameras increased, however, it quickly became clear that manually setting focus was unfeasible, and we developed an automated process that could set focus as accurately as a human.

Many of the products that Axis is developing today have a much higher degree of complexity than products over past decades. We have many products with moving parts and multiple sensors that need to be aligned with high precision, while increasingly rigorous environmental considerations and regulations add further challenges. In addition, as with any manufacturer of technology products and solutions, Axis has a complex global supply chain, and it’s essential that any standards set for quality within Axis itself are reflected within all the company’s suppliers.

Equally, for many customers the interaction and service delivered by Axis partners around the world is another central element to the perception of quality. It is for this reason that since 2005 the Axis Communications Academy has delivered high-quality classroom-based and online training to our partner community, not only in relation to our products and solutions, but to the security and surveillance sector as a whole.

Responding to issues

Quality

One of the key measures of quality is the return rate (simply the number of products that are returned by customers due to a shortfall in performance). Despite the increasing complexity and precision of products, it’s gratifying that Axis has managed to consistently reduce the return rate over time. But while it remains an important indicator of any problems, it is open to improvement itself.

It would be naïve and complacent to assume that there would never be any issues. Indeed, the opportunity to demonstrate the quality of an organization often comes during tougher times rather than the good, when a company’s response to customers and partners, employees and local communities, speaks volumes about its values. It is in these moments that bonds of trust can be strengthened or irreversibly damaged.

When issues arise, the important thing is that the organization not only responds to them effectively, but learns from them in order to put processes and systems in place that ensure they’re much less likely to happen in the future.

One result of learning from issues has been a much more detailed tracking of product return rates. Whereas previously Axis has looked at rates across the entire product portfolio, now the company checks individual product models being returned against individual production weeks at different production sites to more effectively and quickly narrow down and resolve product issues.

Internal improvement initiatives

With regard to solving issues that do arise, Axis is taking a data-driven approach, mining data in order to investigate issues, and providing quality diagnostics through data collection from products in use. Data analytics also relates to software as well as hardware. The data analyzed from more than 20,000 devices connected to Axis health monitoring services often leads to software improvement and deployment with no need to directly involve the customer.

Critically, increased traceability of components to batch level is now in place for individual products. For a specific product, Axis can identify what batch a component has originated from, helping to narrow down any reported problem and analyze the issue more quickly. In addition - and almost uniquely in the security sector - Axis can also see what critical production equipment has been used for a specific product. Again, this insight allows Axis to much more quickly solve issues at their root and quickly recall and update affected products.

Enhancing existing products and delivering security

Axis products are designed to last for many years, and during this lifetime new technology is developed which can enhance existing products. For instance, innovation in delivering power in products have led to much greater reliability in new products. In 2019, Axis ran a project with the sole purpose to go through all of its existing power designs in order to see if there were any weaknesses, and to see if there were enhancements to reduce any risk of failure. The project led to a number of cases where existing products could be improved, work which was then undertaken.

As cybersecurity risks grow over time, a significant part of perceived quality lies in the security of products and solutions. Axis has adopted many processes throughout its supply chain to ensure that products are secure, and once products are delivered to customers, Axis also provides ongoing support and tools to help facilitate ongoing cybersecurity best practices, including Axis Device Manager, firmware updates, and vulnerability notifications.

Never stopping in the pursuit of satisfaction

Ultimately, the feedback received from partners and customers is the measure of how well a company is delivering a quality experience throughout their interactions, whether using a product, taking training or seeking support. While Axis receives consistently positive feedback about the quality of products and technical support, this does ever lead to complacency. And while many measures have been put in place to constantly improve quality, we’re constantly looking for new ideas, systems and processes.

Feedback and suggestions are always welcome, so please do get in touch if you have thoughts about how we can continue the focus on improved quality.

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