The International Standards Organization, which maintains the ISO 9000 'family', is made up of standards bodies from over 150 countries across the world. As a non-governmental organisation, operated from Geneva in Switzerland, it prides itself on bridging the gap between the public and private sectors and has its only tightly controlled procedures for adapting the ISO standards.
Offering Organisations a Reliable Structure and Set of Requirements for the Operation of a Quality Management System (QMS)
ISO 9001-2008 was originally based on the UK Standard, BS 5750. Its membership of the ISO 9000 family group has propelled it to a proverbial meteoric rise on a global scale. It is predicted that ISO 9001-2008’s growth will continue, albeit at a slower rate than its hay day pace, as long as organisations recognise its benefits and, like modern day evangelists, communicate its effect and spread the word.
The original ISO 9001:1987 has already been updated over the years. In 1994, we saw the first set of minor changes but the standard was given a major overhaul in 2000. It was updated again in November 2008, hence its new official title: ISO 9001-2008. The most recent changes, collectively, are viewed as a more minor ‘amendment’ to the standard, whereas a more serious ‘revision’ is expected in about 2015.
So why is ISO 9001-2008 still relevant today and what is its future, given that there are undeniable resource issues for any business contemplating its acquisition and maintenance and new competitors or detractors, in the form of other standards, keep appearing?
The Requirement for an Effective QMS Has Increased
Over the past 21 years, the requirement for businesses to monitor and ensure the effectiveness of their procedures has not diminished and the pressure to raise customer satisfaction, reduce complaints and increase performance is more acute than ever. Dissatisfied customers are increasingly likely to demand good quality and value, express disgruntlement, require an explanation and vote with their feet or wallets when an organisation fails to meet their expectations.
Whether or not a profit making business, reputation is key to any organisation and the likelihood of exposure and adverse publicity is greater than ever when the customer has been let down.
With the growth of new ways of trading and raising a profile — in particular, the internet — and the onset of the current economic climate, it is essential for organisations to maintain a sharp competitive edge, create new opportunities for themselves, increase efficiency and reduce costs.
An organisation that wishes to have a great marketing story to tell, keep its good name and appeal to customers, must be able to prove that it follows a set of recognised procedures, monitors and reviews its activities, keeps proper records, puts right any defects and strives for continuous improvement – and, of course, display the famous logo. In addition, as a customer, an organisation needs to demand the same from its own suppliers and ensure consistency of the supply chain.
ISO 9001-2008 still provides this constant framework, enabling organisations that have been independently audited and certified to conform to its requirements to send the world a message that everyone will instantly recognise and understand.
The periodic adaptations of the standard ensure that it keeps pace with the development of economic, environmental and social demands so that it remains relevant over time.
To start with, ISO 9001 was taken up mainly by manufacturers but it is now associated with a much wider range of sectors, from which organisations of all types and sizes can be included in its embrace. In fact, service providers these days are more eager than most to acquire the ISO 9001 badge. It might be suggested that some marketplaces would benefit from specific standards, tailored to their sectors.
However, a ‘one fits all’ approach ensures consistency of practice and understanding, creates clarity and means that everyone can make valid comparisons and know what they are dealing with.
ISO 9001-2008 Offers Many Benefits for Public Authorities and Organisations
Although once associated more with the private sector, public organisations are increasingly likely to restrict suppliers to those that operate to ISO 9001 or an equivalent QMS and public authorities are also appreciating the value of achieving ISO 9001 certification themselves. Compliance with the standard not only clarifies an authority’s internal procedures but assists alignment with the private sector and helps to enhance a reputation that needs constant polishing in the face of increasing responsibilities, demands, complexities and expectations from all sides.
If there are defects or room for improvement in ISO 9001-2008, these need to be — and can be — aired, discussed and rectified. Opportunities for reviewing changes and difficulties and amending the standard are of course provided on a regular and structured basis, as happened in 2008. Instead of simply seeing the achievement of ISO 9001-2008 as a slavish tick in the box, organisations could even contribute to the process of ensuring the adaptation, relevance and growth of the standard by taking a greater interest in its application and highlighting any shortcomings. In other words, those of us who have achieved ISO 9001 can help to ensure its continuing relevance as the standard will only decline if we allow it to do so.
There is No Need to Chose Between a QMS and an EMS
The growth of ISO 14001:2004, the Environmental Management standard, might now appear to be overshadowing ISO 9001 but the two standards can go hand in hand. The 2008 amendments have refreshed the Quality Management standard and helped preserve its relevance by the introduction of terminology in alignment with other standards, in particular ISO 14001:2004.
In certain sectors, there is perhaps more pressure on organisations to demonstrate their commitment to the environment than to prove that they operate a basic QMS. The achievement of an Environmental Management System (EMS) might seem more appropriate, ‘modern’ or even glamorous in the face of new legislation, current opinion, evidence or media interest concerning climate change but there is really no need to make a choice at all. Organisations can achieve the two standards together and avoid much duplication of effort, whilst those with one certification already will have a useful framework in place to accommodate the other.
When ISO 9001:1987 came out and was then updated in 1994, there was a buzz during the 1990s as businesses rushed to achieve certification. Perhaps, as might be expected, the initial euphoria has dwindled slightly and other ideas have come to the fore. ISO 9001-2008 still holds its own, however, and will stand the test of time if organisations of all types and size continue to realise, welcome and value its benefits. The periodic revisions of the standard will help to ensure its relevance and a necessary partnership with other systems. It will be interesting to see where we find ISO 9001-2008 in around 2015 as it is given another major overhaul and nears the end of its third decade.
What About You?
Please contact us at Touchstone Renard if you would like to discuss the possibility of achieving ISO 9001-2008 and / or ISO 14001:2004 for your business.
If you are already certified under ISO 9001:2000, we would be delighted to hear from you if you need help in updating or maintaining your Quality Management System or would like to discuss achieving or maintaining ISO 14001:2004.
- Phil Austin, Touchstone Renard Limited, London office: 120 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5EA, United Kingdom.
- Tel: +44 (0)207 101 0788.