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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Guide to ISO Standards and Certification

ISO 9000 and other certifications can help build your company's credibility
By Chris Caggiano

You may have come across one of the following bizarre-looking codes in your business travels: ISO 9002, ISO 14001 and ISO 27003. Each of these arcane codes, formulated by the International Organization for Standardization, represents a different family of quality certifications for companies of all sizes. The ISO 9000 series covers overall organizational quality and efficiency. ISO 14000 addresses environmental management. And ISO 27000 is a new designation that covers information and physical security.

ISO certification doesn't guarantee quality, but rather verifies that companies are following consistent business processes, under the presumption that high-quality products and services will result. Achieving ISO certification costs in the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of your company, and takes up 18 months or more of your time. Benefits include:

1. Greater credibility and marketability
2. Lower operating expenses
3. Increased employee and customer satisfaction


Action Steps
The best contacts and resources to help you get it done

Discover basic requirements of ISO certification
The ISO Web site defines the vocabulary and describes the basics and the requirements of ISO certification. You can also buy documents that will help you get on the road to compliance.
I recommend: Start on the official ISO Web site. You can also find straightforward primers on the ISO process from the ISO 9000 Council.

Get help and get going
There are various organizations through which you can achieve ISO certification and numerous consultants to help you through the process.
I recommend: Look on Quality Network to find an ISO registrar near you. Quality Digest, an ISO trade publication, provides a downloadable list of ISO 9000 consultants.

Find out if your industry has its own certification
Some industries have created sector-specific interpretations of the ISO standards, so you'll want to find out if your industry has its own version of ISO.
I recommend: Check with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for information on the aerospace industry's ISO 9000 interpretation. You'll find pharmaceuticals-specific standards on the Pharmaceutical Quality Group's FAQ. Quality Digest offers automotive-industry information and details on telecom interpretations. Find information about the medical-device industry at NSF International Strategic Registrations Ltd.

Check with your state for ISO help
A number of states offer training, assistance and even funding for small companies looking to get ISO certified, especially those looking to meet the ISO environmental-management standards.
I recommend: States that provide help for companies considering ISO certification include Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

Tips & Tactics
Helpful advice for making the most of this Guide

* Consider becoming compliant rather than fully certified. In other words, you can research and implement the standards without going through the effort and expense of full certification.
* An ISO certificate isn't a one-time thing: You need to renew your certification every three years or so.
* ISO isn't just for manufacturing companies, but for service providers as well.
* Some large organizations might require your company to be ISO certified before doing business with you.

1 comment:

Jean said...

I agree with the benefits but the costs and time that you quoted are not at all necessary.
I have been helping small to medium businesses put in effective and fully integrated ISO systems for the past 10 years and I find it takes between 4-10 months - many are through in 6 months which I think is a good target.
IT DOES NOT NEED TO COST BIG MONEY EITHER.
Go look at www.enviro-action.com to find out about straightforward online training and coaching to help your business become certified with an effective and sustainable system that will only cost 4 figures not 6 and even less if you use the home study courses.
The site also gives case studies and testimonials from businesses that have used this training to achieve their ISO systems and found that they have saved money and grown their businesses as a result.
The trick is to keep it simple and take it in small steady steps.