To remain the valuable business system that it currently is, ISO 9001 needs to continue to evolve, ensuring that organizations of all sizes, complexities, and locations see a clear connection between their strategic objectives and their quality management system (QMS). It is not just about meeting the requirements of a standard to get certification; ISO 9001 must be embedded in everything that the organization does.
In 2000, there were far-reaching changes made to ISO 9001, the international QMS standard. These changes were based on an extensive International Organization for Standardization (ISO) user survey but were also made at a time of widespread criticism of the standard and the third-party certification industry. The resulting changes proved to be a defining moment, resulting in a clear “before and after.” Prior to 2000, ISO 9001 was purely a conformity assessment standard; however, following the changes, which were rooted in key quality management principles, the standard became not only this but also a framework for managing and assessing organizations against accepted management best practices.
In fact, given that now more than one million organizations in more than 150 countries use the standard to manage their key value-creating processes, it’s arguably the most influential piece of business management literature ever written.
The changes not only raised the bar for the companies using the standard but also for the third-party certification industry that conducts the independent assessments.
Assessor competence defines the certification industry. Assessors not only need to understand the industries they work in and the businesses they assess but also must be able to apply this knowledge in a way that unlocks the intrinsic value in the assessment process. They must be able to speak both the language of the shop floor and that of the boardroom.
Independence and transparency are of pivotal importance to the certification industry; as providers of certification, we add value through structured and measured questioning, known as Socratic questioning. This provides assurance to our clients, their customers, and the larger group of stakeholders in society. This is not the same as consultancy which strives to add value through the provision of expert advice.
Transparent and credible governance of certification bodies through the accreditation process should remain at the heart of independent assessment and certification. It is central to stakeholder confidence by ensuring the competence of assessors and the impartiality of the decision-making process are maintained.
The speed and growth of ISO 9001 certification, coupled with the evolution of management systems standards, have also required changes in the accreditation process—changes that are reflected in today’s accreditation system.
ISO/IEC 17021:2011 is the standard for certification bodies. It ensures that the regional or country-specific accreditation bodies, such as the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) and ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB), assess the certification industry against a consistent standard. ISO/IEC 17021 has also extended the competence requirements to encompass all staff engaged in the certification process. For these reasons the standard offers tangible, consistent benefits that translate into increased trust and confidence for all stakeholder groups.
When ISO 9001:2000 was revised, one of the key changes was more generic language to extend its use into service activities as well as manufacturing. This change, particularly in industries that are highly concentrated and where there is a high degree of specialization, has meant that customized versions of the ISO 9001 standard have become more attractive. Rather than point to any deficiencies in ISO 9001, sector-specific versions for the automotive, food, and aerospace industries are a testament to the management principles that underpin the standard, supported by its acknowledged capability to solve quality problems.
The revision process for ISO 9001 is just beginning and will be subject to a number of different influences, including the latest ISO user’s survey and the inevitable tension in the voting phase between those who want radical change vs. a more evolutionary approach. Given the minimal nature of the changes in 2008, there needs to be some meaningful change. Otherwise, come 2015, the standard will not have significantly changed in 15 years. This could mean that it lags so far behind today’s modern business practice that its relevance could be called into question.
With the existing agreement on the common structure and text for future revisions on all ISO management systems standards, there is room for speculation about likely changes for the next version of ISO 9001. For instance, acknowledging the fundamental purpose of all management systems standards, currently numbering in excess of 40, is to prevent things from going wrong. Therefore, if prevention is to become the defining purpose of an ISO 9001 management system, this must inevitably lead to the consideration of risk; not a risk management system that focuses solely on risk, but the systematic control of risk through the management system, which is subtly different.
Another area links into the changes in modern organizational design. One of the changes in the modern business world has been the breaking down of traditional organizational boundaries from vertically integrated companies to whole industries characterized by outsourcing, thereby creating “demand networks” commonly referred to as supply chains. The collaborative, interdependent nature of the way in which these relationships are managed should be addressed in the new version of the standard.
Finally, the common text and structure must define the need for an organization to consider changes relative to both its external and internal environment. This will focus the organization and its certification body on aligning its quality objectives within its overall strategic goals.
There have been numerous independent studies over the years demonstrating the benefits of implementing ISO 9001; one such study was published in a peer-reviewed academic journal from Harvard Business School. The article encapsulates some of the key organizational benefits for ISO 9001 certification, stating: “ISO adopters have higher rates of corporate survival, sales, and employment growth.”
The ISO 9001:2000 update was the most significant evolutionary step to date. Internal and external QMS stakeholders await the direction the next ISO 9001 update will take.
Robust and relevant services, products that inspire confidence and drive organizational resilience, and competitive advantage and growth are the real values in independent assessment. With that goal in mind, the certification industry, through innovation, independence, training, and the technical expertise of assessors, represents a valuable service to the business world and society, both today and into the future.