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How to Select an Auditor     

How can you ensure that the auditor assigned to your company will be adequately trained, technically competent and suitably independent?

by Nigel Withey

After you've spent a great deal of time and energy reviewing and documenting business procedures, preparing a quality manual and assessing your company's quality management system, you've reached the point where you must select an auditor -- which also means selecting a registrar. It's not enough simply to select someone on the strength of an advertisement in a trade magazine or a company's listing in a registrar directory. It's critical that you conduct a thorough evaluation process to find the best auditor to register your quality management system.

There is a reason -- probably many reasons -- why your organization has decided to go through the registration process, whether for ISO 9000, ISO 14001, QS-9000 or AS9000 registration. Your company may be pursuing registration to streamline its processes and increase productivity, to provide better quality products and services to customers, to meet its customers' mandated requirements or to use the registration as a marketing tool. For whatever reason, registering your quality management system can add value to your organization. Therefore, selecting an auditor who also will add value to your organization is key.

An auditor carries out an independent assessment of an organization's quality management system, checking the system's conformity to the relevant standard and ensuring that the company's declared procedures work in practice as well as in theory. For this job, you need someone who knows what to do and understands your business as well. Properly planned and conducted audits provide significant benefits by objectively testing a quality management system's effectiveness and identifying the deficiencies and opportunities for improvement.

The fact that many different companies are capable of registering your organization complicates the auditor selection process. Moreover, registrars routinely assign auditors to projects without first consulting with clients, so how do you, as the customer, select the best auditors for your business? You must assess not only the auditors but the registrars they represent. The following considerations will help you during the evaluation process.

Practical concerns

Qdbullet Cost of the registration process -- When reviewing the costs of various registrars, make sure you compare apples with apples. Be careful of those registrars that don't include expenses in their pre-assessment, initial and continuing assessment fees. Find a registrar that operates on a "no surprises" policy and whose costs fully include all expenses. If costs are not fully inclusive, ask for the auditor's location and anticipated costs.

Remember, too, that the goal for your registration is to add value to your organization, not simply to receive a piece of paper certifying that your company is registered. Make sure when you evaluate costs that you consider whether the registrar and auditor will be long-term partners with your organization and help you build a better business or whether they will take the money and run.

Qdbullet Locations of the auditor/registrar -- Hiring a registrar with an office near the site to be audited is important. If the auditor must travel, expenses for the audit will significantly increase. If you are planning on a multisite registration, costs will be lower if the registrar has auditors near your multiple locations. Furthermore, if your company plans to register divisions located in other countries, it's important to find a registrar that can handle these multinational registrations. This also will significantly decrease travel costs as well as time spent preparing for the audit. Having the same registrar perform all your audits will foster consistency among all your locations. Therefore, if you are a global company, select a local organization with a multinational presence.

Qdbullet Pre-assessments-Auditors can't serve as consultants for the organization they are assessing. However, some registrars offer pre-assessments, which can be very useful. A pre-assessment identifies areas of major concern and exposes the organization to the registrar's -- and thus, its auditors' -- assessment methods. The pre-assessment is, in effect, a dry run of the formal assessment. This is a good way to establish whether your system meets with the standard's requirements and provides confidence for the formal assessment.

Pre-assessments have proven to be enormously beneficial, provided the company acts on the resulting information. In my experience, the success rate for registering companies on the first audit is in the 90 percent to 95 percent range when a pre-assessment is conducted.

Assessing quality value

Qdbullet Accreditation of the registrar -- A number of different accreditations may be earned by a registrar and its auditors. The organization that oversees the competency of registration bodies in the United States is the American National Standards Institute and Registrar Accreditation Board. All registrars serving the United States should obtain accreditation from the ANSI-RAB National Accreditation Program. Registrars gain accreditation after a rigorous  assessment of their practices. The ANSI-RAB audit team witnesses a registrar's assessment and confirms its compliance with the industry's recognized standards.

Although your selected registrar should have the appropriate accreditations in the countries in which it serves, a     registrar need not possess multiple       accreditations. As registrars obtain accreditations, the process involves significant costs that ultimately are borne by their clients -- including your organization. Therefore, more accreditations don't necessarily benefit your organization.

Qdbullet The auditor's training and experience -- Although you actually are selecting a registration organization, how can you ensure that the auditor assigned to your company will be adequately trained, technically competent and suitably independent? First things first: Find out whether the registrar has specific auditors for your industry. Understanding your business's problems and processes is a key factor. Auditors who have had hands-on experience in your industry, whether it's aerospace, chemical, service or otherwise, will have an even greater understanding of your operations and your quality management system.

Second, inquire about the registrar's training programs for its auditors. All auditors should go through a comprehensive education and training process. New auditors will observe audits, then conduct them under supervision to ensure proper training. These auditors should then pass a final review by the registrar's internal quality group to certify their capability to carry out audits on the registrar's behalf.

In addition, the registrar should require that individual auditors satisfy the national requirements of the Institute for Quality Assurance or acceptable alternatives and be registered with the International Register of Certified Auditors or ANSI-RAB. The auditor's background also should be verified through the registrar and various auditor certification bodies.

Qdbullet Full-time or subcontracted auditors -- Another important consideration is whether the registrar staffs full-time auditors or hires subcontractors to conduct quality management system audits. Those organizations that staff subcontractors tend to be more expensive and less consistent in their auditing methods. Selecting a registrar that maintains a general policy against using subcontracted auditors is your best bet.

Sometimes, however, registrars will hire subcontractors for their specialist knowledge or language skills. If your audit will require the registrar to bring in a subcontractor, ensure that the registrar has extensive selection criteria for all its external assessors and that you will be informed if a subcontractor is hired.

Qdbullet Continuous improvement -- The purpose of auditing your quality management system is to add value to your organization. You are undergoing a significant evaluation process; doesn't your organization want more than just a certificate to hang on the wall? During your auditor selection process, consider the value that your system's registration will bring. Select a registrar whose auditors will perform continuing assessments of your system for at least two years after the registration date. This will allow your organization to continually improve its processes, increasing productivity and decreasing costs.

Evaluating integrity

Qdbullet Reputation of the auditor's registrar -- You should consider the registrar's reputation as the most important aspect of the auditor selection process. Those registrars with excellent reputations in the industry will be accredited by the necessary organizations. The registrar should be committed to developing a long-term partnership with your organization and helping you build a better business, thus strengthening your competitive   advantage.

How should you evaluate a registrar's reputation? First, look at the organization's history. Select a registrar that has been in the quality standards industry for a significant amount of time and is a leader in   developing industry standards. The longer the registrar has been in business and involved in the industry, the more valuable will be the resources it will bring to your or-ganization.

Second, it's a good idea to obtain several references, from companies within your own industry, that have gone through the auditing process with your potential auditor. These references will provide you with insight on the registration process, how the registrar's auditors operate and any precautions that should be taken.

Third, verify your potential registrar's financial status. You don't want to select a company that might go out of business, thereby rendering your registration obsolete. Reviewing the organization's annual report is a good start and so is ensuring that the registrar has a policy to protect your registration if it does go out of business.

Finally, select an auditor whose registration sign or logo is recognized in your industry. You want to make sure your customers and potential customers recognize the registrar's logo as a symbol for quality products and services. This is especially critical if your primary reason for becoming registered is for marketing purposes. The combination of your organization's and the registrar's logos can be a powerful marketing tool. Check with your registrar about any guidelines to follow when using its logo. Most registrars will encourage you to use their symbols because it provides them with an opportunity to market themselves. Typically, they will allow their logos to appear on your company's letterhead, business cards, and marketing and promotional materials.

Qdbullet Integrity of the auditor and registrar -- You are providing your auditor with the nitty-gritty details of how your organization operates, and you must protect your company's valuable or sensitive data. Therefore, verify that the registrar maintains a nondisclosure policy. Integrity and confidentiality are the two essential aspects of your partnership. Make sure the auditor will abide by the confidentiality agreements established with your organization.

Qdbullet Conflicts of interest -- The industry requires that auditors not serve as consultants for the organizations they are assessing. If a person provides consulting services to an organization, they would then most likely be influenced during the auditing process. Therefore, ensure that your auditor has no conflicts of interest.

In summary

Selecting an auditor is an important decision that should not be taken lightly. Remember, your reputation for quality significantly depends on the reputations of your auditor and registrar. Your auditor should help you to continually improve your operations.

Many quality management system registrars are available, but not many meet the necessary requirements to be a true, value-added registrar. By taking into consideration the key factors discussed above, you can partner with a reputable registrar that not only provides cost-effective services but also employs auditors who are adequately trained, technically competent and suitably independent. Selecting an auditor is an important decision -- take your time to find a quality organization to audit your quality management system.


About the author

Nigel Withey is vice president and general manager of BSI Inc., the North American division of BSI. He is a member of the Institute of Quality Assurance and a fully qualified IRCA lead assessor. He can be reached by fax at (703) 437-9001 or by e-mail at nwithey@qualitydigest.com .


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