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Jim Mroz


TL 9000 Outwits the Revolution

A Look at Telecom QMS Activity in 2004

Published: Monday, February 9, 2004 - 23:00

What roles do quality and quality management systems play in a business sector facing revolution? The term isn’t too strong for what’s currently underway in the telecommunications industry. Competitive pressures and customer demands are driving the sector to introduce next-generation network technologies to lower operating costs and support new services. These are designed and sped to market as quickly as possible to offset revenues lost from traditional voice traffic. In addition, fixed, mobile and data services as well as customer demands for new and better products have transformed the telecommunications landscape. More than at any other time in the industry’s innovative history, quality and quality management are critical to its survival.

At the Quality Excellence for Suppliers of Telecommunications Forum’s 2003 Best Practices Conference, Richard Woodruff of Belgacom CAO, 2003 QuEST Forum chair, captured the state of the industry and the forum’s future role in the following comments to attendees:

"We are all in the communications business (strike "tele" from our name), with content becoming as important as connectivity and flexibility. The need to bundle services is integral to preserving customer loyalty. Service providers must be prepared for this paradigm shift by enabling third-party services on an open, standards-based platform. This will allow service providers to lock in customers with seamless solutions directly into the home or work environment, necessitating even more the close collaboration of all parties in our industry and thus redefining the QuEST Forum and the move to its global expansion."

The QuEST Forum, a unique partnership of suppliers and service providers in the telecommunications field, works to foster international standards and continual improvement in the industry. The forum was founded in 1998 with the goal of significantly decreasing the costs incurred by poor quality. The major product of this cooperative effort was TL 9000, a common set of QMS requirement and measurement handbooks/standards designed specifically for the telecom sector. These two standards encompass ISO 9001:2000 and other best practices. In fact, the standard’s emphasis on measurement as integral to an effective QMS demonstrates the QuEST Forum’s commitment to developing plans for the future based on valid information.

With the future in their sights, executive board members continue to guide the forum in its emerging role as the key global force in the telecom sector. The forum’s goal remains the same: to improve the quality of products and services to customers. Its mission is to create a global telecommunications industry QMS, with standardized performance measurements and shared best practices through industry collaboration.

This means the TL 9000 model will continually improve customer satisfaction, even in the presence of increased demand for cutting-edge products and services. Successful delivery will depend on the supply chain performing flawlessly and supporting redesigned processes.

QuEST Forum’s Asia-Pacific reach

During the QuEST Forum’s Hong Kong Regional Conference in November 2003, Steve Welch, QuEST Forum executive board member and senior executive vice president at SBC, challenged that supply chain performance would dominate the customer experience of telecommunications service providers in the following areas:

  • New products
  • New technology
  • Competitive costs
  • Automated services

"Can you measure your performance from your customer’s perspective?" asked Welch. "Can you measure your supplier’s performance? And can you measure your company’s ability to manage its supply chain performance?"

The forum’s answer was "yes," and the means to those measurements are the TL 9000 handbooks. They provide baseline, sector-specific QMS requirements for processes and allow conforming organizations to standardize their management systems and measure QMS-related performance. In fact, in January 2003, the QuEST Forum’s executive board reaffirmed TL 9000 as one of three strategies that will support the forum’s mission.

"The QuEST Forum has just completed five successful years during which we established a strong foundation for telecommunication business excellence through our collaborative development of global quality system requirements and measurements," commented Woodruff in January 2003 when asked to assess the forum’s success. "We’re now poised for a new beginning with a focused strategic plan that will encompass and leverage all our past achievements as well as expand our reach globally and strengthen our contribution to sharing best practices."

What follows is a look at activity surrounding TL 9000, including the ongoing evolution of the handbooks, the growth in 2003 of registration activity globally and recent enhancements to the forum’s Measurements Repository System.

Forum work groups focus on continual improvement

As reported elsewhere (see "New TL 9000 Measurements Handbook Nears Completion," The Informed Outlook, February 2003), the forum reorganized its activities at a January 2003 meeting into four work groups that immediately began working on individual agendas. Of these four, one is responsible for maintaining and enhancing the TL 9000 handbooks and registration scheme, which involves submitting measurement data to the Measurements Repository System.

When Release 2.5, the first edition of the two handbooks, was published in 1999, TL 9000 was lauded for its help in reducing costs while improving product quality. "The introduction and use of TL 9000 by our supply chain as the required quality management system allowed Verizon and other service providers to reduce their annual budgets for supplier management," notes Brendan Pelan, QuEST Forum project director for 2003 and TL 9000 implementation leader for Verizon’s corporate sourcing. The standard’s strength has been recognized--particularly in Asia, where its rapid adoption led to the forum’s expansion of global operations.

The Integrated Global Quality Requirements and Measurements work group, which is responsible for revisions to the TL 9000 handbooks, continues to be responsive to demands for additional product categories and measurements. The present editions of TL 9000 consist of:

  • TL 9000, Quality Management System Requirements Handbook, Release 3.0
  • TL 9000, Quality Management System Measurements Handbook, Release 3.5.

Release 3.5 of the measurements handbook was published in March 2003 without a revised edition of the requirements handbook. The next release of both TL 9000 handbooks is being developed. Current drafts for the next editions include elements provided by European In Process Quality Measurements and Reliability, and Quality Measurement System Users, a European user group. The current release of the measurements handbook was heavily influenced by the Instituto Argentino de Normalizacion of Argentina (specifically for service-provider product categories) and the National Electronic Systems Assistance Center of North America (for expanded system outage and software measurements).

TL 9000-registered organizations are required to send their QMS measurements data to a central repository, where sector trends are made available to QuEST Forum members and TL 9000 registrants. The number of registrations to TL 9000 continues to more than double annually, and more than 1,000 data submissions are made monthly. The submissions are now evenly split between North America and all other regions.

As Table 1 shows, TL 9000’s strength is demonstrated by robust growth in locations covered by registrations. Some 897 locations in more than 30 countries and regions were covered by TL 9000 certificates as of Jan. 19, 2004. More than one location can be included in the scope of a TL 9000-conforming QMS and thus covered by a single certificate of registration. The QuEST Forum certified these locations as being covered by registrations conducted by registrars qualified by the Forum.

The TL 9000 growth rate in 2003, particularly during the last quarter, was significant, considering that the forum reported only 777 registered locations as of Oct. 6, 2003. This represents an increase of 117 (15.1 percent) in less than three months. The surge can be attributed in part to telecom organizations previously registered to ISO 9001/2:1994 that decided to use the latest releases of the TL 9000 handbooks to make the transition to ISO 9001:2000. (Release 3.0 of the QMS Requirements Handbook includes ISO 9001:2000.) In addition, the latest report includes locations from four countries that hadn’t previously reported registered locations.

In addition to directing the work group to continually improve the handbooks, the forum’s executive board assigned a new strategy to the IGQ work group: Develop a product portfolio roadmap.

MRS enhancements progress

Benefits of the QuEST Forum and TL 9000 to the global telecom sector continue to accumulate. These include continual improvement of services, enhanced customer-supplier relationships, increasingly efficient management of external audits and site visits, uniform cost- and performance-based measurements, overall cost reduction, and increased competitiveness. In addition to these, each forum member can view TL 9000 industry trend data, contribute to TL 9000’s development and take part in unique networking opportunities.

One aspect of TL 9000 that separates the telecom sector’s QMS registration scheme from others is the Measurements Repository System. The repository contains electronically submitted QMS measurement data from TL 9000 registrants. These organizations are required to take monthly QMS process measurements as specified in the TL 9000 QMS Measurements Handbook and report them to the repository. The measurements are organized under four categories of organizational processes: hardware, software, services or all types of processes. The repository is maintained at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Registered organizations have been submitting measurements data to the repository since the first registrations to TL 9000 in January 2000. The data are analyzed and used to gauge performance levels of a TL 9000-registered organization in comparison with all similar organizations (e.g., service providers) submitting data to the MRS.

The MRS began to generate industry-average trend reports in May 2000, and these have proven valuable by allowing organizations to assess their progress as a result of TL 9000 registration and continual improvement efforts. In April 2003, the QuEST Forum executive board agreed to establish a project team for the MRS to make enhancements to its infrastructure as the result of the following:

  • A review of MRS feedback on the QuEST Forum annual membership survey
  • An evaluation of the existing repository system’s efficiency and its ability to process the rising volume of data inputs
  • The recognized need to bring new Internet-enablement technology to the MRS to align its capabilities with user expectations

The enhancements were designed to deal with the success of both TL 9000 and the MRS within the telecom sector as well as the pace of technological advancement, which has made submitting data and generating indices easier for MRS users. This required that the MRS adapt to the latest technological innovations, even though it was launched less than three years prior.

The core project team--overseen by executive board sponsor George Dowell, senior vice president of Verizon corporate sourcing, and led by Brendan Pelan--made significant progress in developing, completing and implementing the needed enhancements to the MRS during the second half of 2003. The team has set a great example of sharing and adopting best practices and worked hard to deliver on its commitments, which were spelled out in a project plan. Comprised of developers and project managers from UTD and Cap Gemini/Ernst & Young, the team takes its direction from a cross-functional group of QuEST Forum subject matter experts. The project plan proceeded according to schedule, and the enhancements were completed in December 2003.

One of the enhancements the team undertook was to develop a new registration repository system statistics package. Launched in October 2003, it’s now available for all MRS users. The RRS statistics package can generate automated reports for system users. Among the value-adding benefits that these reports offer, an organization can now:

  • See the number and type of organizations registered in a particular product category
  • Identify what product categories an organization is registered to
  • See the number of certified TL 9000 registrations within any country in the world. The term "TL 9000-certified," according to the terminology page on the TL 9000 RRS statistics Web site, indicates that "the TL 9000 registration record in the RRS for this entity has been certified compliant to TL 9000 requirements by an auditor."
  • Use a listing of registrars accredited for TL 9000 to identify the ones experienced with the standard in different global regions. The organization can also generate reports indicating which registrars have experience in a specific product category and which organizations they support in those categories.
  • Identify registered QuEST Forum member organizations and their contact information
  • Generate current graphs showing trends for registrations issued and certified, the numbers of data submissions and product categories reported, and, in terms of general registration and data submission, identify certified vs. registered submissions

To examine the statistics package, click here.

The project team also completed enhancements to the MRS base infrastructure in 2003. A trend report Web site was developed, and the team agreed to the language used as part of its initial launch. "We had to finalize the trend-report smoothing algorithms and define the mechanics for assembling best-in-class, worst-in-class and industry average data," reported Pelan. "We reached agreement on a security concept so that our new system is able to ensure data anonymity to an even greater degree than the existing one. And we completed a testing strategy and associated test plans. These were all critical components for meeting our 2003 commitments. Finally, measurements for how telecom organizations will measure success-and the objectives for these measurements-were defined and accepted."

According to Pelan, an organization using the MRS can now look forward to even more value-adding benefits from the system, including:

  • Web input and XML automated options for data submissions. This will allow users to transfer data between the MRS database servers and their computer systems automatically.
  • Improved data confirmation content and dramatically improved system response times
  • More robust data validation
  • Credible best-in-class, worst-in-class and industry average measurement data, and speedier publishing turnaround of this information for forum members
  • Web access to trend data, presented in multiple languages
  • Additional online tools that will allow registrars to efficiently prepare for and conduct TL 9000 audits and proactively support their clients

Successful demonstrations of the project’s progress were provided at a number of QuEST Forum events, including the Best Practices Conference in Schaumburg, Illinois, in September 2003, and a forum executive board meeting in December 2003. Demonstrations of the completed enhancements were given at the January 2004 meetings of the QuEST Forum and executive board in Long Beach, California.

The enhancements are designed to add significant value for all MRS users, including service providers, suppliers, forum liaison members and the global telecom industry. Besides addressing previously identified user issues, the enhancements will dramatically improve the quality of the forum’s trend reports and establish the infrastructure necessary to support the QuEST Forum’s planned future growth. One of several ways the project team plans to measure the value of the enhancements will be a series of user surveys soliciting feedback on several aspects of the improved system. The first survey was conducted in January 2004.

As the continual improvement of TL 9000 and its measurements processes make clear, the future is both planned and bright for the QuEST Forum as a global force in the telecommunications industry. It’s expected that, by extension, the forum and TL 9000 will turn its members and TL 9000-registered companies into global competitors.

The QuEST Forum Fifth Annual Best Practices Conference will be held Sept. 21 and 22, in Richardson, Texas. For more information about the QuEST Forum, visit its Web site at questforum.asq.org.


About The Author

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Jim Mroz

Jim Mroz is the senior editor of The Informed Outlook, a monthly newsletter providing news focused on the evolution and business uses of management systems. For more on The Informed Outlook, visit www.informintl.com/outlook.