Documents, products, or cars may display ISO certifications or ISO standards.
However, what do these standards entail? Is there a meaning to them? Is it necessary to have them?
Our aim in this article is to provide you with an overview of their functionality, as well as the information you need to make an informed decision for yourself. Our next task will be to provide you with a brief overview of the certification process.
Who or What is ISO?
Founded in 1946 with 25 civil engineers, the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) is a body whose mandate is to develop a consistent set of specifications for different subjects across Europe.
ISO is not an acronym, contrary to popular belief. ISO itself states:
“Because of the different acronyms for the International Organization for Standardization (IOS in English, OIN in French, Organization internationale de normalisation), our founders decided to call the organization ISO. A Greek word meaning equal, ISO is derived from the word ‘isos’. ISO is always ISO, no matter what the country or language.”
It is not uncommon for ISO standards to reflect joint committee work. An ISO/IEC committee, for example, is a joint effort of the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission.
How is ISO Certification relevant today?
Despite their Civil Engineering roots, ISO has evolved since then. The organization currently has almost 30,000 standards covering a wide variety of topics, including quality assurance, food safety, pharmaceuticals, information security and manufacturing standards.
As a result of ISO’s specific requirements, we are able to order a credit card in the UK, France, Spain, and use it with any card reader, or to purchase a car seat in Italy that fits any French vehicle.
The humble shipping container is one of the most instantly recognisable examples of standardisation. The ISO adopted it as its ‘Standard Box’ in 1968, even though it was not developed by the Organization. Vehicle manufactures, shipbuilders, and handling agents could all use the same dimensions thanks to the use of this standard.
Who is ISO suitable for?
To obtain a certification, you must put in time and effort, along with paying for the certification itself and maintaining it on an ongoing basis. There are strict regulatory requirements for obtaining this certification from an accredited certification body. Under 15-person organizations would not normally undergo certification unless there was a specific industry or contractual requirement. Regardless of whether an organization follows the standard’s principles, doing so has benefits.
What does working with an organisation that has an ISO Certification mean?
The ISO certification provides a set of requirements that organizations must follow. A consistent set of outputs will be produced by following processes, procedures, and policies. In addition to addressing issues where those outputs are not expected, they have mechanisms in place to address them.
ISO helps organizations develop policies and procedures, but it doesn’t clarify how to achieve them. This is something to keep in mind.
The ISO 9001 standard requires that a company conform to the standards and be independently audited. All necessary criteria must be met before certification can be granted.
Companies feel more confident about purchasing products or services from companies that have one of these certifications. The accreditation shows a particular standard of decision making, continuous improvement, and quality, which allows suppliers with the same accreditation to be compared fairly.
The certification may give organizations an advantage over non-certified suppliers when competing for work. Certification demonstrates the confidence in a company’s products and services, which is a major benefit.
Is having an ISO certification mandatory?
Not at all. ISO certification is not legally required. Nevertheless, customers may not work with suppliers who lack certification in some industries. As an example, medical devices companies may be expected to hold ISO 13485 certification. Customer trust in the outputs of the supplier cannot be established without a frame of reference.
ISO sounds great, can I just buy a certification?
There is some polarization in the viewpoints on this question. It is possible to find software packages that claim to provide everything you need in one package and a certification within a few days.
You should be cautious when choosing a company that awards ISO certifications. As far as the UK is concerned, the only recognized awarding body is UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service). UKAS registration is required for certification bodies. It is impossible for them to be recognized if their logo does not have the UK tick mark.
It’s not just a matter of ticking a box or hanging a certificate on a wall when you have ISO certification. Rather than seeing it as an individual tool, you should view it as part of a process approach that helps you meet customer needs and grow your business.
Almost as a side note, the best companies with certifications are great companies first. Standards for quality assurance, document control, or management systems will already be in place. Obtaining certification simply validates you have good controls and understand your organization’s operations. The processes, procedures, policies, and procedures you define for a certification must be relevant to your organization and how you operate, as well.