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January 2010

Quality First - What ISO 9001:2000 Accreditation Means For You

by Clive Hickman, European Insight Manager at SmartWorld

With a wide selection of suppliers available in a global market, it becomes difficult for businesses to assess an organisation's dedication to quality without substantial resource investment. How can you be sure you're dealing with a company who is dedicated to quality? And how can businesses accurately and subjectively gauge their own improvements in quality?

These questions are both solved by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), whose work building and refining cross-industry standards for quality and consistency has helped to establish a clear indication of an organisation's dedication to quality in its business processes and procedures.

Through the establishment of the ISO 9001:2000 Quality Management Standard, designed to be used in a wide range of production and service industries, all 9001:2008 certified organisations must:

  • Maintain a set of formal quality management procedures that cover key business processes, forming the foundation of a Quality Management System
  • Monitor and review business processes and the Quality Management System for effectiveness,
  • Maintain adequate record keeping,
  • Check business output for defects and take corrective action as necessary, and
  • Ensure continuous improvement in business processes

These requirements are checked through a rigorous programme of regular internal and external auditing of procedures, processes and quality management documentation. Certification is not conducted by ISO itself, but by accredited organisations who conduct complete re-certification audits every three years, with follow-up visits every six months. The audit schedule must be strictly adhered to, in order to retain certification.

The standard itself is under constant revision, a reflection of ISO's pursuit of continuous improvement, to maintain the highest levels of quality and relevance. Changes to the standard have seen a requirement for increased involvement by upper senior executives (to improve the integration of quality processes into business practice), and the addition of performance metrics, to give a score-based measurement of improvement to process and procedure effectiveness. The auditing process also shifted focus, moving from a 'tick box' style of compliance auditing to an in-depth, probing form of assessment centred on gauging the effectiveness of the process.

The role of certification should not be understated, with many vendors and governments requiring it to conduct business in global markets. But certification is more than just a key to opens market doors. By accepting the challenges of ISO certification and pursuing a quality-centric mind-set, businesses also gain the following:

  • Improvements to internal work procedures reducing errors and therefore re-work,
  • Fulfilment of customer requirements - aiding loyalty and reputation,
  • Enhanced motivation and staff morale - through clearer definitions of business quality objectives,
  • Cost savings - including preferential insurance premiums, and
  • Competitive advantage, leading to
  • Increased profitability

Businesses worldwide are becoming aware of the importance of quality in their business processes, with the number of accreditations nearly doubling from 497,919 in 2003, to 951,486 in 2007, averaging an expansion of over 150,000 accreditations each year for the period.

Furthermore, awareness of ISO 9000 certification is growing with the general public. A survey conducted in the UK found that over a quarter of survey respondents knew of the ISO 9000 standard, with survey analysts adding "The results...suggest positive attitudes towards ISO 9000 and companies certified to the standard. People tend to perceive products and services associated with ISO 9000 as being of higher quality."

SmartWorld also keenly understands the importance quality in relation to its business and its clients. Our own 'Quality First' philosophy is both lead and supported by ISO 9001:2000 accreditation. This means that SmartWorld systems, processes and products are continuously reviewed and improved to ensure quality service and results for our customers.

SmartWorld's recent recertification by Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance Limited is a clear illustration of our dedication to being at the forefront of providing outstanding service to our clients, just as SmartWorld helps clients to provide the same outstanding service to their customers.

To find out more about ISO, ISO standards, or accreditation, please visit the International Organisation for Standardisation website.