In Office Automation July-August edition: “when quality is customer oriented”

Business case: how the Italian company Tiesse invests in the Quality and Assurance System to enable continuous improvement in design, production and also in the pre and post sales services, by Ruggero Vota

How the Italian company Tiesse invests in the Quality and Assurance System to enable continuous improvement in design, production and also in the pre and post sales services.

Product quality is one of the key factors that contributes to qualify excellent Italian products, and not only those that fall in the ‘food & style’ category. Fighting the international competition in our country and conquering foreign markets with their business is also the story of many mechanical, plant engineering, automation and many more companies. Made in Italy is, however, also ICT, to a smaller extent compared to other sectors, and it is precisely on quality that Italian companies in this market generally focus to assert their specific characteristics.

Quality design, manufacturing and services are the fundamentals that have accompanied the history of Tiesse, an Italian company that since 1998 produces routers and M2M devices in Italy, and that over time has become a leader in the corporate networking sector with solutions for broadband routing and IoT applications. “Also thanks to our quality system, we were the first company in Italy to supply equipment for professional use with both wired and mobile connectivity to telco operators”, says Luciano Lucrezia, Tiesse Technical Director. The company's growth in recent years in terms of sales and market share has enabled it to invest even more time and resources in its Quality System, already ISO 9001 and CSQ IQNET certified since 2001, thus enabling that continuous improvement process that gives concrete support to the business and leads to a 'customer oriented' quality. The Tiesse in-house ‘Qualità & Assurance’ department has as its main task to introduce 'control' flows and procedures and, therefore, to conceive and design new test environments. All aimed at seeking to improve the quality not only of products but of the entire chain leading to the sale of routers and M2M devices and service to customers, including several telco carriers and major European system integrators. Particular emphasis is in fact also placed on the organisation of pre- and post-sales support activities, where the training of internal technical staff and external partners is followed with particular attention and commitment.

In the Quality & Assurance area there are four macro-activities on which Tiesse has concentrated its investments in recent years.


Product quality control laboratory

The 'Quality Control Laboratory' is situated in the headquarters of Tiesse in Ivrea in order to verify and test the firmware and software releases that will be subsequently loaded, during production, on all router and M2M device families. Currently there are fourteen areas within the laboratory: some are specifically designed and configured according to specific customer requests to test the 'custom' products made by Tiesse in a simulation environment as close as possible to the one in which the devices will be used, others are designed to test the current software releases in order to validate their releases, while the remainder are dedicated to throughput tests to verify general product performance in the networking environment. There is also an area which reproduces the diagnostic environment used by Tiesse in its production facilities at the end of the processing cycle. By the end of this year it is planned to expand the area dedicated to benchmark tests, which will see the latest models of competing products installed in this area; this activity will be developed in collaboration with professors and students of the Polytechnic of Turin. In this area, Tiesse products will be compared with those of competitors to study their performance in various networking environments, but also their usability. As system support for the tests performed, Tiesse has chosen an open source system due to the possibilities to customise the functionalities which, among other things, are implemented directly by its R&D department.

Pre/post-sales technical support

In the event of a technical support request in both pre-sales as well as on a Tiesse device already installed in the field, customers can already easily and quickly find the right contacts on the company's website (www.tiesse.com) on the dedicated page, where they can also find the product user documentation. Tiesse has a support group consisting of front-end operators and also of a back office group divided into product, architecture and network technology specialists. Not to mention, moreover, the Tiesse field technicians, while a number of partners located throughout the country supplement and fully represent the company which considers the relationship with the customer to be the central focus of its business.

Tiesse is planning several improvements in this area, with a dual objective. On the one hand, implementation of a structured escalation mechanism that relies on a specific section of the troubleticketing system, specifically designed to manage field issues. On the other, creation, already envisaged in the three-year business plan, of a call center with dedicated hotline that will enable, where necessary, 'rapid' escalation to second level technicians who will also have a direct link with the R&D department.

All with a view to reducing customer waiting time. Last but not least, given the increase in the customer base, implementation of a new CRM system is under definition.

Human resources

Human resources For Tiesse human resources are fundamental: continuous training and qualification of its personnel is a vital element for the company's success and development. To facilitate identification of the areas in which in-depth training is required, the Quality & Assurance department has for some time had a 'skills verification' system in place for every individual company resource. The first results of this activity have already generated new training programmes, while the future calendar of courses and seminars has been expanded. In this area, moreover, verification of the skills of the support group in relation to the seven layers of the ISO/OSI stack has been of particular importance. Analysis of the 'skills matrix' has led to the planning of courses and seminars with various levels of detail, for both external partners as well as internal staff.

Specific Product Quality Management activities

In order to meet the Made in Italy quality standards, the following activities are subject to rationalisation and continuous improvement:

- ‘incoming inspection’ procedures for hardware supplies, with particular attention to AQLs (Acceptable Quality Level);

- end of line controls, with OOB (Out Of Box) verification of each production batch made in plants and verification of the correct composition, also by weighing, of each unit produced;

- management and analysis of 'non-conformities' in supplies and internal processes;

- management of specific customer configurations through a shared inventory system;

- procedures for ad hoc production according to specific customer requirements.

TTiesse aims to protect the investments of its customers in their network configurations, while providing a 'cost-effective' migration to new technologically advanced solutions, such as Smart Grid Networks that enhance the interconnection between user and device.

"Without a constantly evolving and customer-oriented Quality and Assurance System, all this would not be possible", concludes Luciano Lucrezia.