Selecting a Registrar

by Stefan Heinloth

Gathering information concerning different
registrars will allow you to determine the
responsiveness and effectiveness of a
registrar's management system.

Organizations establishing a quality system often seek registration to a specific international standard, such as ISO 9001 or ISO 14001. Sooner or later, those organizations will be confronted with the question, "Which registrar should we select as our business partner?"

Your demands for high quality should set a standard for selecting a registrar. Thorough analysis will allow you to identify two distinct classifications of registrars. The first class of registrars consists of those that assess your quality system and determine if it has been implemented as documented. The second group of registrars consists of those that, in addition to determining if a quality system has been implemented as documented, identify potential for improvements that support organizational development.

Market resources

About 60 registrars operate in the United States. Most have been accredited by an accreditation body in accordance with EN 45012. It is important to know that accreditation is granted only for those industrial sectors in which the registrar has proven expertise and experience.

Because you will have a long-term relationship with your registrar, you should know the registrar's strategic plans. Are registration services the registrar's main business or just an addition to the company's profile? Are services of the registrar available, or is there a waiting list? A good way to determine a registrar's quality is to measure its responsiveness to your requests. Why should you select a business partner that doesn't respond efficiently to your needs?

It may be beneficial for you to find out how quickly a registrar is able to adjust to new market needs and qualify for new industrial sectors. Gathering this information will determine the responsiveness and effectiveness of a particular registrar's management system-both important aspects of the registration process.


The quality of a registrar's auditors will have a significant impact on your organization. What information about an auditor's qualifications is provided by the registrar? Can you choose who audits your organization?

When choosing an auditor to assess your management system, two questions should be asked. First, are these auditors managers themselves? That is to say, do they have management experience, including cost responsibility? Second, have the auditors, themselves, ever established a quality system, including the completion of a registration process?

An auditor without this background may cause more harm than good. If auditors focus on requirements from standards that have little or no relevance to your organization, your resources may be tied up in unprofitable areas. Third-party audits should support your desire for continuous improvement.


Often times, it will be difficult to compare the costs of registrars. The lack of clear communication regarding total registration cost is a common problem. Aside from low initial registration costs, relevant subsequent costs are hidden by some registrars. Surveillance costs should be included in a cost estimate. Are there any application, registration, administration or annual fees? Will traveling time be included in the cost estimate?

If your organization operates on weekends, like hotels, hospitals and security services do, be sure to ask about any additional costs for uncommon working hours. For example, QS-9000 requires that registrars audit all shifts of a company's work hours. Because you're looking for a long-term partnership with your registrar, be sure to get a complete picture of all the costs involved.

Questionable offers

According to ISO 9001 Section 4.3, "Contract Review," before submitting a tender, a company has to ensure that it is capable of meeting all requirements therein. Nonetheless, some registrars have offered QS-9000 registration without being accredited. Take the safe approach to registration by making sure the registrar has a valid accreditation.

The guidelines of the EN 45012 accreditation standard require registrars to be independent, objective and neutral in regard to their clients. Consulting services for establishing and registering a quality system by a single organization is not permitted. QS-9000 has clarified this requirement further, stating that consulting and registration by different, but affiliated organizations, is also not acceptable.

External support

In establishing their quality system, many companies receive support from independent consultants. Companies attempting to select a registrar may ask for advice from consultants. In this regard, consultants should present facts and figures objectively, concerning registrars that could support you in your selection process.


Another important issue is the recognition of a certificate, relative to the recognition of the registrar. Today, it may still be sufficient to hold any ISO certificate, but the situation is changing. Some larger corporations are asking for the name of the registrar who issued the certificate. Recognition of a certificate can also be influenced by the presence of registrars in new and evolving market sectors, such as the service industry. A qualified registrar will be able to provide you with references and prior customer feedback. Recognition also occurs on an international level. How does a registrar prove its recognition in foreign countries? Are there partnerships in place?

Finally, a registrar's ability to adjust to changing market needs should be examined. With new standards, such as the ISO 14000 environmental standard, your registrar should be qualified to support you in the future as well as in the present. You might consider asking the registrar if its experts are actively involved in international standardization committees or in major industry focus groups.

The evaluation model

To evaluate a registrar, you'll need a set of criteria. Following the approaches of large, recognized corporations, such as Motorola and Phillips, five general criteria and some subcriteria might include:

1. The registrar's qualifications and experience.
The number of companies registered.
The structure of customer bases.
The registrar's experience in specific industry sectors.
The registrar's qualification requirements for its auditors.
Continued training of auditors.

2. Recognition of the certificate.
Cooperation agreements with other registrars.
The certificate's value, and how it's perceived in the market.
Recognition by existing and potential customers.

3. The registration process.
Does the registrar have structured approach tailored to your needs?
The contract's design.
Service and support.
The quality of informational material.
The registrar's objectivity, neutrality and independence.
The consistency of the audit team.
The combination of quality and environmental audits available.

4. The time spent for registration.
Lead time.
The time required for the initial on-site audit.
Time expenditures for surveillance.

5. Registration costs.
Initial registration costs.
Surveillance costs.
Annual fees.
Traveling costs.
> Other fees (e.g., application, registration, administration, etc.).

Each of these five general criteria may be evaluated with a set of measurable subcriteria. This evaluation model is structured in four steps:

Select your evaluation criteria.
Rank your evaluation criteria by assigning weighing factors.
Design an evaluation list to compare registrars.
Gather data and evaluate registrars.

Step 1: Organizations are able to tailor the evaluation model to their individual needs by selecting appropriate criteria. Select about three subcriteria for each of the five general-criteria sets. You may use the list above, or define other measurable subcriteria yourself.

Step 2: Using a table such as figure 1, rank the five general criteria by assigning weighing factors. The following approach can be used to rank the criteria.

Based on the direct comparison of two criteria at a time, you decide:
If criterion A is more important than criterion B, assign 2 points to A.
If both criteria are of equal importance, assign 1 point to A.
If criterion A is less important than criterion B, assign 0 points to A.

Here's an example of a possible outcome. Criterion 1, "Qualification and experience of the registrar," is regarded as equally important as criterion 2, "Recognition of the certificate." Therefore, we assign 1 point for criterion 1 (see circle in Figure 1).

Using this system, you will do every comparison twice. Compare criterion 1 to criterion 2, and record your result as shown in the example circled above. In the next row you will compare criterion 2 to criterion 1 a second time. Both evaluations should correspond to each other.

Add all the point values for each row, recording them in the Sum column. Add all the sums together, recording the value in the Total box.

To assign percentages to the general criteria, first divide 100 by the Total Sum-20 in this case. Then multiply each sum by this value. Each percentage value is used as a weighing factor for each evaluation criteria. The total of all percentages should add up to 100 percent.

Step 3: Create a table such as the one in figure 2 by listing the five general criteria, and adding the measurable subcriteria you selected in step 1. Include the calculated weighing-factor percentage from step 2 in each criterion. Then add two columns for each registrar you want to evaluate-one column for the score and one column for the sum. These columns will be used in step 4.

Step 4: Gather data from different registrars, and evaluate each registrar according to your criteria, using a scale from one to 10. Use the following scoring system.

10 points = excellent performance
8 points = good performance
6 points = satisfactory performance
4 points = performance below expectations
2 points = weak performance
0 points = no performance

For example, registrar A and registrar B are evaluated in the criterion 1, "Qualification and experience of the registrar," focusing on the subcriterion, "Number of companies registered." Registrar A has registered 2,450 companies' quality systems. Registrar B has registered 620 companies' quality systems. Based on that, you may decide to give registrar A "8" points and registrar B "6" points.

Multiply each score by the weighing-factor percentage calculated in step 2 and recorded in the third column of Figure 2. Record the results for each registrar in the Sum column.

Figure 2 shows the comparison between registrar A and registrar B, using the weighing-factors calculated in step 2. Registrar A has more points than registrar B and is, therefore, more qualified.

To ease the process of gathering and analyzing information, you may send your list of criteria to registrars asking for information about your criteria.


This evaluation model can help you select a registrar. Your perception of evaluation criteria is transformed into a systematic approach, with a measurable outcome. The evaluation model is as specific as the criteria you include in it, and can include numerous registrars.

Similar approaches have been used by numerous organizations to select their business partners far beyond the scope of registration. A planned, systematic approach to analyzing information for making business decisions is an important element in every quality system. The real challenge is to design a system that makes use of decision-making techniques.

About the author

Stefan Heinloth is president of DQS, the German American Registrar for Management Systems Inc. He has a German engineering degree for aviation and space technology and an MBA. Since 1994, he has been an EOQ auditor for DQS, which specializes in continuous improvement techniques and quality management in service industries.