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IT Plays a Crucial Role in Continuous-Improvement Efforts

If you’ve worked in IT awhile, you’ve probably been introduced to projects involving continuous improvement (CI), business process re-engineering (BPR) or total quality management (TQM). Many of these quality initiatives can be traced back to Japan. Decades ago, Japanese products had a reputation for poor quality. Flash-forward to the 1970s and products from Japanese manufacturers such as Sony, Toyota and Honda had become—and continue to be—quality leaders.

In his Harvard Business Review blog post, “It’s Time to Rethink Continuous Improvement”, Ron Ashkenas theorizes that through a culture of analytical and systematic change, improvements were started that made it possible for Japan to dominate key manufacturing industries like automobiles, telecommunications and consumer electronics. Today, CI in its different forms and instances is generally considered an essential thread in the fabric of business worldwide.

CI, BPR and TQM are just some of the approaches designed to take “what is” and make it better—in increments or through dramatic change. “Three Popular Quality-Improvement Approaches” (below) outlines other well-known approaches you may have encountered.

Understanding where IT intersects CI is important because it is an indicator of the number of people that might be involved and the money you can expect to spend on a project. To make sense of these initiatives and to understand the role of IT, it’s helpful to think of the situations as having big CI or little CI. First, we’ll focus on big CI because it gets most of the attention.


Big CI

Big CI occurs when IT is leveraged to help bring about major change and improvement in some aspect of the business. In this role, IT is an important enabler of change. IT can have an even more vital role when it brings exciting new technology to the endeavor. For this reason, it’s important to have a flexible IT department or service provider that’s willing and able to implement new technology solutions.

Cloud solutions are expected to have a significant impact on big CI. Most come with fast provisioning and dynamic change capabilities. These features allow big CI initiatives to have rapid start up and dynamic flexibility to scale up and scale down resources. Cloud solutions can be a cost-effective option because they leverage virtualization, making better use of physical resources. This lower cost point encourages technology to be used in situations where it was previously not economically viable.


Joseph Gulla is the general manager and IT leader of Alazar Press, a publisher of award-winning children’s books. Joe is a frequent contributor to IBM Destination z (the community where all things mainframe converge) and writes weekly for the IT Trendz blog where he explores a wide range of topics that interconnect with IBM Z.

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