ISO stands for “International Organization for Standardization”. The ISO sets standards for everything from plastic pipes to ethical labor practices. These standards often flow up from member organizations like the American Society for Mechanical Engineers, while the ISO tries to harmonize conflicting standards of various member countries.
Why ISO Standards Are So Difficult to Meet
A byproduct of this bureaucratic process is that ISO standards are complex legalistic documents. They’re generally written to allow for a variety of manufacturers or service providers to meet the standard instead of mandating use of a particular supplier. Unfortunately, to meet ISO standards, you have to meet every aspect of the related standards from material specifications to manufacturing specs to product testing. It is common for companies to meet the ISO 9000 quality standards and use ISO certified parts in their subassembly but not meet other ISO standards. For example, relatively few organizations meet the ISO 14000 environmental standards.
Nor does simply using parts from ISO qualified vendors allow you to qualify for ISO certification yourself. ISO certification requires documented processes, qualified testing methods and regular audits. This is why ISO consultants exist to help businesses qualify for ISO certification and ensure that they maintain it.
How to Select an ISO Consultant
The first step is understanding what you need. ISO consultants are generally specialists, whether they’re helping you set up a quality management system to qualify for ISO 90001 or product testing standards for the automotive industry. Use a reliable website to find ISO consultants that specialize in the automotive industry. Use other business directories to find environmental, labor and general material testing experts.
It isn’t enough to pick a name off a list. Vet the potential consultants. How long have they been in business? What certifications do they have? There are too many people who say they’re an ISO consultant but aren’t up to speed on the latest standards. There is also a significant difference in skill sets based on what you need at the time. Getting a new quality management system up and running requires far more process knowledge than auditing an existing QMS and providing tips on how to improve it before your next ISO audit.
There are important questions to be answered such as – What percentage of their clients have achieved that coveted ISO certification? Do they help you set up systems to maintain the certification, or do they require you to bring them in for ongoing training and audits? Ideally, they’ll give you the tools to maintain your ISO compliant programs and procedures. Then you can bring in other ISO consultants to audit the operation if required, especially in advance of the ISO’s on audits. This is similar to having your financial books audited to ensure that there are no issues if the tax authority or Securities and Exchange Commission reviews them.
Suppose you’ve identified several qualified, relevant ISO consultants. They have a great track record of success with their clients. Now is the time to ask about timeline and budget. You may not be able to work with someone who wants to take six months to get your organization in compliance with ISO standards if you need certification to qualify for an upcoming contract. And you may not have the money to pay for a top down process realignment that a consultant wants to do.