So, your organization has decided to obtain an ISO Certification, perhaps to ISO 9001:2015 or ISO 14001:2015. You have already taken the necessary steps to implement the system into your organization, either through your own Quality Manager, hiring a consultant, or are in the process of doing so. Now what? Now is the time to start seeking quotes for accredited certification to ISO 9001 or ISO 14001 or whichever standard you are striving towards. How should you choose a Certifying Body, and more importantly, how do you choose the best Certification Body for your organization?
The process of becoming ISO certified involves an independent or third-party auditor visiting each of your company’s sites and conducting a site audit annually.
When employing a Certification Body, it is essential you make an informed decision as you will be working closely with the CB you choose over an extended period, and trusting their work is essential.
Ensure you are looking for this distinction when you are selecting your CB. Accreditation to ISO/IEC 17021 is the minimum standard you should consider when selecting a CB, without it your certificate cannot be considered valid in the marketplace. Consider accreditation like your government-issued photo ID; while you may have a library card or another piece of photo ID, only the government issued photo ID is accepted when you are travelling or being verified for your identity, as it is regulated and trusted. Accredited certification is the same concept.
Consider your CB’s reputation in the industry when you are selecting your quotes. Referrals from other companies you trust or published customer satisfaction testimonials are a great way to understand the company’s reputation in the industry. Reputable organizations will also have a proven track record and experience in your industry. Consider asking your suppliers who they are currently certified with as you can access a lot of new avenues for future business growth through these connections, and it can aid in linking you to similar companies or even potential clients or business partners. Remember that the reputation of the CB that issues the certification is also reflective of your company, and it is in your best interest to employ a CB that has a strong reputation for success.
Look for a Certification Body that specializes in, or has experience with, auditing your niche of services or goods. Most CB’s who have been in the industry for a number of years have vast prior knowledge of how a certain type of organization is meant to operate. This can save you time during your audits from having to explain the processes to your third-party auditor.
Important Note: Auditors are curious by nature though, so prepare for your audits to have curious questions, meant to help understand your specific interpretation of the standard, not to prove non-compliance with the standard. Auditors are not in the business to ‘catch you’. They should be auditing to establish conformance, not non-conformance. If you feel your auditor is not auditing in this way, speak with your CB to resolve the situation, and they should be more than willing to accommodate your request.
Travel expenses for the auditor(s) are your organization’s responsibility during each audit. This is one expense that you as the client have control over, and it is in your best interest to research beforehand the location of your CB and their auditors in relation to your sites. Having a CB with an auditor who is local to your organization is a huge benefit, as this drastically reduces the travel and accommodation expenses associated with each audit.
The location may also prove to be an issue in flexibility. Scheduling audits with your long-distance CB can be more restricted regarding the dates for audits, and they may not be as flexible regarding date changes if travel arrangements have already been made.
It is important to look for Certification Bodies and auditors whose values align with your organization. As per ISO standards, recertification is required every 3 years and you will have to work with your chosen CB over an extended period of time. For example, scheduling your audit each year may be a lengthy process of communication with multiple departments within your organization, and your CB point of contact, with multiple back and forth conversations.
Research each CB on their company policies and ensure their key business model aligns with what you consider the highest value to meet your needs. You are their client and should be treated exactly as such. Establish open and clear communication with your CB and your auditor in order to fully reap the benefits of the services they provide. The CB you work with can quickly become third-party supports allowing you to improve consistently. While a CB cannot act as a consultancy service, most offer a range of workshops, training and valuable guidance via online resources should you require.
The cost of an ISO Certification should also be considered, but also weighted in comparison to the benefits offered by your chosen CB. Do your due diligence in researching various rates around you and conduct a simple cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the services they’re offering are indeed worth the price they quote. Your cost-benefit analysis should include Accreditation, Reputation, Specialization, Location, Compatibility, and Cost, as well as any other criteria you deem important for your organization.
Ensure you are quoted for both the 3 year certification period costs as well as the initial charges and ask about the services that are included or excluded from the quoted costs.
To the novice quality manager, ISO jargon can be extremely overwhelming. What is an NCR? What do you mean by OFI? Are we certified or accredited? But before you go and pull out your hair, let’s take a moment to go over some of the most frequently used terms and their definitions with regards to ISO and Management System Certification.