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Innovation, standards and the battle for global competitiveness

  • Business continuity
  • Author: Vince Desmond
    CEO, CQI

    The UK Quality Infrastructure (UKQI) - an alliance of four institutions which oversees standardisation, testing, measurement, certification and accreditation in the UK, has stepped up its response to Industry 4.0. Why?

    Because whether we see Industry 4.0 as an industrial revolution or an evolution through our data driven, smart system, machine learning journey, we can’t ignore it. As part of its work on this topic, the UK Accreditation Services (UKAS) is running a survey to find out more about the effect of Industry 4.0 on UK businesses. Their interest is specifically in how organisations are building Industry 4.0 into their strategic planning, innovative thinking, and competitive approach. At the same time, the CQI is also running its own research to develop a working definition of Quality Management 4.0. This will feed into further work on how quality professionals can thrive in a new Industry 4.0 world.    

    Competitiveness is at the heart of UK government policy

    The UK government has also responded to the pandemic and Brexit by replacing its 2017 Industrial Strategy with its recently announced Build Back Better plan for growth. Crucially, both documents focus on skills and innovation as ways to unlock productivity and competitiveness, alongside environmental and social improvement. This aligns closely with quality management for which skills, innovation, and the sustainability agendas are absolutely key. 

    UKQI: innovation for business – value for society 

    The UKQI work on innovation draws on:

    • The 2017 Industrial Strategy 
    • The 2019 BEIS Regulation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution report

    The BEIS report highlights Industry 4.0 challenges for regulatory systems across the globe, as they struggle to keep pace with rapid, complex technological innovation. It also recognises that standards can also face challenges in keeping up with technological innovation, despite being more agile than regulation. 

    The government is aware that other countries are rapidly reforming their regulatory environments to support future innovation. This ‘anticipatory’ approach is becoming more important to secure national competitive advantage in the global economy. So, the new ambition for UK regulation and voluntary standards is to commercialise innovation and to mitigate risk for society, protecting the natural environment and ensuring the safety and security of citizens and communities.

    In March 2021, BEIS, The Better Regulation Executive (BRE) and UKQI road-tested a developing ‘Standards for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Action Plan’. This includes BSI’s ‘Flex Standards’ as a way of co-creating standards with innovators and industry at speed. The organisations are taking a long, hard look at the infrastructure of regulation and standards to ensure it can meet and be adapted to government plans and industry opportunity. The key will be to ensure the system itself is agile and accessible and does not have the opposite effect, making innovation more painful. 

    UKQI and Soft Power

    In addition to chasing competitive, environmental and social benefits through improved regulation and standards, UKQI gives the UK ‘soft power’ opportunities as part of its new Global Britain guise.

    The benefit of standards to global society and the support they provide in developing national quality capability are clear. This is exemplified through the financial and technical support provided by the World Bank’s Quality Infrastructure Investment (QII) Partnership. The Japanese development agency has also provided support to develop quality competence within Africa. And the German development agency, the trade for development fund, has recently completed a project with India to strengthen quality infrastructure. 

    Of course, all of this good work by nation states also builds and strengthens diplomatic and trading relationships. As we move head into the digital age, standards will be one area (dare I say battleground?) where nation states, including the UK, are keen to influence if not lead. 

    Skills and Diversity

    One of the main themes to come out of my recent discussion with BEIS, BRE and UKQI was the need for new blood in standards development. Standards writers sometimes struggle to attract enough new people into this work to maintain the current library of standards. There is also growing concern over how standards and accreditation organisations will bring in the new digital skills and experience we need for Industry 4.0. We know that diversifying the quality profession is a must for the same reasons. 

    Given the opportunity quality professionals have to improve productivity and competitiveness, and environmental and social performance, we have a compelling vocation for people who want to make a difference.  

    Vincent Desmond


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    You can also read more about Industry 4.0 in our Future of work report.