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by Dirk Dusharme

This year’s ISO 9001:2000 Transition Survey provides both surprises and encouragement. Despite predictions from quality publications (ours included) that organizations and registrars would not have the time or resources to complete the transition before the Dec. 14 deadline, registrations are much further along than most believed. Information provided by the registrars to Quality Digest and others indicates that only about 25 percent of registered companies have completed the transition. However, this year’s survey shows that number to be about 53 percent. The survey also shows that both transitioners and first-time registrants feel the registration process added value to their organizations.

Because views on the value of the registration process vary depending on whether you’re registering to the standard for the first time, are currently transitioning or have already completed the transition, we divided our survey results accordingly.

Registration percentages

More than 43 percent of all survey respondents report that they’ve finished the transition to ISO 9001:2000, 38 percent are in the process, 5 percent don’t plan on transitioning and about 13 percent have never been registered to an ISO 9000 standard and are registering to ISO 9001:2000 for the first time.

To get a feel for how the transition process is going, we subtracted respondents who are first-time registrants and those who don’t plan to transition. After doing so, the portion of companies that have completed the transition jumped up to 53 percent--about twice as many as previously thought--and the percentage of companies in transition climbed to 46 percent. The reason for the discrepancy from earlier reports is that Quality Digest and other registration trackers depend upon data supplied by the registrars. Apparently, many registrars haven’t had the time to completely update their registration information, and, as a result, previous estimates based on such data were inaccurate. However, because this survey was sent to all Canadian and U.S. registrants, we believe the results to be the most accurate reading of the state of registration possible.

As high as these percentages are, 38 percent of about 60,000 organizations--about 22,800 companies--have yet to transition. The majority of these organizations are handled by about a dozen registrars that have fewer than six months remaining to perform audits and complete the process. Although more possible than first thought, it remains to be seen how many organizations will make it on time.

The results also reveal that 5 percent--about 3,000 organizations--aren’t planning on making the transition. Although 5 percent may seem small, it’s a substantial amount of business in the highly competitive registration world. More on this later.

Perceptions of the registration process

In general, the overall value of the registration process is most positively perceived among those who have already completed registration, both first-time registrants and those that transitioned. Those who are in the process of transitioning were more reserved in their responses.

More than 50 percent of those who have completed the transition process agree that the transition was easy, compared to one-quarter of those still transitioning and one-third registered to ISO 9000 for the first time.

The cost of transition seems to be an issue mostly for those registering for the first time. About 44 percent of first-timers think registration is expensive, compared to the 22 percent that transitioned and the 33 percent that are still in the transition process.

There’s a certain sense to this: The cost of registering for the first time tends to be more expensive than simply transitioning. Our survey shows that first-time registrants are much more likely to use consultants. They may also require more time from both consultants and registrars before they iron out all nonconformities. Organizations that already have experience with the standards are less likely to use consultants and, given prior knowledge of the standards, will be less likely to have problems with implementation. All this translates directly into dollars.

One of the most outstanding survey results was the perceived value of registration. More than 70 percent of first-time registrants agree or strongly agree that the quality of their products or services has improved as a result of registration, with 19 percent strongly agreeing that this is the case.

For those who have transitioned, about 30 to 40 percent agree or strongly agree that the new standard has improved products and services, and about one-quarter disagree or strongly disagree.

Without further investigation, this begs at least a couple of knee-jerk reactions. The first is that registration to ISO 9001:2000 provides noticeable value to organizations that previously have not had a quality management system in place. Registrars and consultants have, of course, argued this point for years. But ISO 9001:2000--with its more holistic approach to an organization’s quality management system and stronger emphasis on processes--can be seen to provide much more value than ISO 9000:1994’s purely prescriptive approach. It could be argued that with ISO 9001:2000, organizations must have fine-tuned processes, and this can only help to provide value.

Next, the value of ISO 9001:2000 over the 1994 version is probably significant. The fact that 30 to 40 percent of respondents who went through the transition process agree or strongly agree that it improved products or services seems to indicate that the new standard is more than simply rehashing the 1994 version. If the 2000 version were really no different from the 1994 version, we would expect these percentages to be smaller. Of course, another interpretation is that revisiting your QMS for whatever reason, even through a surveillance audit, provides value.

Respondents who have completed registration also overwhelmingly agree that the process has led them to make improvements that resulted in their organizations functioning better. Almost 90 percent of first-time registrants agree or strongly agree that their organizations function better as a result of registration, with 29 percent strongly agreeing with this. More surprising is that 70 percent of those who completed the transition from the older standard also indicate that their organizations function better.

Conclusion: Although respondents report that they get both external (i.e., better products and services) and internal value from the standard, the real value of ISO 9001:2000 is perceived to be internal.

Overall, all three groups agree that the registration process is beneficial to the organization. As with the other perceived-value questions, the most positive responses came from first-time registrants. More than 90 percent agree or strongly agree that the process was beneficial to their organization, with 38 percent reporting that they strongly agree.

If you read Quality Digest’s first three registrar customer satisfaction surveys (July 1999, July 2000 and July 2001), you might remember that the issue of helpfulness is a tender spot for registrars, which are caught between rules that prohibit consulting and the need to assist clients. That said, registrars earned good scores for proactively leading the way without actually telling clients what to do. As this survey shows, registrars have learned how to provide useful information to clients without crossing the line into consulting.

Nearly three-quarters of those from organizations that are registered to ISO 9001:2000, both first-timers and those that transitioned, agree that their registrar had provided “helpful guidance” during the registration process.

More than 75 percent of respondents who transitioned from the old standard agree that their registrar was proactive in helping them make the transition. Only 49 percent of those in the process of transitioning report that their registrar is being proactive.

Only between 25 and 30 percent of companies transitioning from the 1994 standard used a consultant to help with registration, compared to 66 percent for first-time registrants. This isn’t too surprising, as it’s likely that organizations that have already gone through registration feel comfortable proceeding without a consultant. First-time registrants, being unfamiliar with the process, are perhaps more likely to use a consultant.

When asked whether they felt there had been enough time allotted by either ISO or their organization to make the transition, 80 percent of the respondents who had finished the transition indicate that there had been. It’s no big surprise that this percentage dropped to about 50 percent for those that are still in the process of transitioning.

Some companies aren’t making the switch

Five percent of the organizations that are currently registered to ISO 9000 or a related standard don’t plan to transition to ISO 9001:2000, according to the survey. The majority of these companies--about 60 percent--report that they’re moving to a different standard. The remainder report that they’re not transitioning because they received no value from ISO 9000 or because of the cost or complexity of registration.

Of those that are switching to a different standard, 46 percent report that they’re switching to ISO/TS 16949, the new automotive standard. For QS-9000-registered companies, this makes a lot of sense. First, the deadline for becoming registered to ISO/TS 16949 is as far away as 2006, providing extra time; second, there will be no need to become registered to ISO 9001:2000 because the new automotive standard includes ISO 9001:2000; and third, for organizations that are already registered to QS-9000, their registration remains valid until the 2006 deadline.

Methodology

This year’s survey was faxed to 37,506 fax numbers pulled from the U.S. and Canadian listings in Quality Digest’s Online Database of North American Registered Companies. Of those, 29,325 faxes were successfully sent. Of those, 1,510 online surveys were completed, a response rate of 5 percent.

The online survey was designed using SurveyGold from Golden Hills Software Inc. Responses were collected by Golden Hills Software and downloaded to Quality Digest at the survey’s conclusion.

Data analysis was done by Quality Digest. The choice of data to extract was based on conversations with registrars and our knowledge of topics that interest our readers.

About the author

Dirk Dusharme is Quality Digest’s technology editor. Letters to the editor regarding this article can be e-mailed to letters@qualitydigest.com.