So, What is ISO 9001 Actually All About?

Jan 8, 2013 | general, ISO 9001

ISO 9001 is the International Standard for Quality Management Systems. It encourages a business to establish internal processes and disciplines to ensure that products and services it delivers satisfy the needs of its customers. The standard focuses on requirements which are generic to all businesses so can be used across all industries and types of business.

And What is ISO9001 Certification? What Are The Requirements?

ISO 9001 Certification follows assessment by independent certification bodies who should be accredited in the UK by a government body, UKAS, the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. The certification process is a competitive commercial activity and hence there are around 120 certification bodies in the UK, the largest being significant International Businesses such as British Standards, Lloyd’s Register, SGS, Bureau Veritas etc.

To gain certification against ISO 9001 a company must establish a “documented management system”, a systematic approach to the management of the company composed of sufficient documented procedures to ensure that critical activities are completed successfully, and which address a small number of (6 in total) mandatory requirements given in the ISO standard itself.  ISO 9001 also introduces the concept of “process management”, where “the process” is the set of activities which are necessary to ensure that customers consistently receive satisfactory products or services. It also encourages the continual improvement of these processes to ensure that business performance continues to develop, and for instance, costs or wastage are gradually removed to improve business efficiency.

So If My Company Adopts ISO 9001, What Do I Gain ?

In many markets, a company simply can’t trade unless they hold a certificate. The independent certification scheme is now well established and has been running for over 30 years. There are well over 500,000 individual ISO 9001 management system approvals worldwide. It’s a common standard.

So, to have received such worldwide acceptance, the process must be giving some advantages to those who adopt it! The numbers speak for themselves. Modern businesses have a whole raft of legislation and requirements they have to meet, so they are unlikely to voluntarily adopt further requirements unless it gives them some clear business advantages. Here are some:-

1) Gaining ISO 9001 certification works as a market differentiator. However, as it is now so well adopted, its value as a differentiator may have diminished a little, but, nevertheless, it is now seen as a basic requirement to enter many markets. Indeed, it is an essential for many procurement processes.

2) For newer businesses, certification against ISO 9001 gives credibility, and confirms the maturity of the organisation. Gaining certification without the basic controls a company needs is very unlikely. The “system” cannot be beaten nor compliance faked! Procurement organisations and potential customers know that if a company holds an accredited ISO 9001 certificate, certain requirements are in place. This reduces the risk they accept when introducing a new supplier into their supply chain, and hence gives additional confidence to potential customers.

3) In some businesses, independent third party certification of a company’s management system can be a valuable tool in addressing the concerns of stakeholders such as directors and shareholders who don’t have day to day operational involvement in the company. It can also help to provide the additional transparency needed to be certain of correct corporate governance.

4) The standard encourages the development of effective internal processes, a requirement for all business. But the external independent certification drives the disciplines necessary to make sure that such processes are not only clearly defined, but they are also regularly reviewed, effectively controlled, and clearly communicated throughout the areas concerned. Having staff that all know what they are supposed to be doing, and who are doing it consistently has to be of assistance to any company.

5) ISO 9001, and the equivalents covering other aspects such as Information Security, Environmental Management etc are moving toward a “specific risk”- based approach, which gives additional confidence to a company and its stakeholders, assuring them that their significant common risks have been addressed. Certification majoring on key risk factors increases the overall value of the standard to the company.

And The Bottom Line – What Does ISO9001 Cost?

The costs of adopting ISO 9001 vary according to the size of the organisation, the number and complexity of its internal processes, quantity of locations and number of employees. Systems can be generated internally, but most companies will choose to employ an external consultant to establish the original system, allowing them to gain expert level assistance without taking precious management time needed to climb a very steep learning curve alone.

A typical 20 person, office based organisation operating from a single location shouldn’t need more than 10 days of a consultants time to define and document a suitable system.

When it comes to certification, the duration of a certification visit depends on guidelines defined by the government body, UKAS. The certification process is usually composed of two phases, the first which looks mostly at how the company have addressed the standards documented requirements, and the second that focuses on its implementation.

Our typical 20 person, office-based activity would probably require one or two days of audit time for the stage 1 visit and two to three days for the stage 2. Each certification body has its own pricing policies, but typically costs are around £750 per day, so certification of our 20 person office based business would probably cost between £2250 and £3750 (plus VAT and expenses, 2012/13 prices).

So, What Can We Do For Your Business?

We have over twenty years experience of writing management systems and assisting companies to gain independent third party certification. We are recognised, associate consultants to two of the world’s largest certification bodies, BSi and LRQA and have worked with many of the others who are active in the UK. We have written systems and documents for some of the UK’s largest companies, and we’ve written systems for companies with only one employee working from a single room.

If we had to describe ourselves in one word it would be “Pragmatic”. We seek to make the complexities of certification simple, and the systems businesses have to follow practical. Business is about satisfying customers and making money, not reading lengthy documents and complex process diagrams. We aim to give you concise documentation, and systems with sufficient controls to manage your business, not strangle it. And we understand certification, so will guide you through the process and help you get a good deal on the costs.

We’re always happy to talk, whatever stage you’re at.  0115 932 3770, or via our contact page.


Written by Colin Brown of ISO Consultants


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