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What is ISO?

ISO stands for 'same' in Greek. The International Organization issued the standard for Standardization, an international agency founded in 1946 in Geneva Switzerland, to promote the development of international standards and facilitate the exchange of goods and services worldwide. It is composed of member bodies from over 90 countries. The US is a member through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
The ISO 9000 series was published in 1987 and revised in 1994. Its implementation and certification is being applied to a wide range of operations, industries and services. Even school districts, hospitals, hotels and sports organizations are seeking ISO certification to upgrade their services or products. In many cases, compliance to ISO 9001, 9002 or 9003 is required by customers or government bodies in their purchasing specifications.
ISO 9001 is required for companies that largely design as well as produce and distribute their products or services. ISO 9002 is meant for companies that produce and distribute their products or services. ISO 9003 is required for companies that carry out only final inspection and testing. ISO 14000 is the new Environmental Management Standard (EMS).

Why obtain ISO?

The ISO 9000 series appears to be sweeping the world and is rapidly becoming the most important quality standard. Several companies in over 100 countries have already adopted it, and many more are in the process of doing so. This is mainly because it controls quality, saves money and helps to increase customer confidence in a company.
ISO has an universal appeal and its new model released in 2000 is well suited to IT compared to the 1994 version. Companies today believe that the right kind of interpretation of this model and adherence to the same in letter and spirit enables them to reap the maximum benefits.
Certifications like the ISO are also believed to help improve various processes in a company based on customer needs and thus increase process efficiency. A need to provide quality service to the customer, improve performance and ensure that work processes remain uncluttered, are among the other reasons that prompt companies to opt for an ISO certification.
Solution providers believe that in order to provide significant value to the customer, they need to constantly improve as organizations. This success is contingent on the ability to service customers effectively and efficiently and requires robust processes and rigorous quality standards. Therefore quality certification is just not business driven, but driven by a passion to be the best.
To be the best in the business, solutions providers have to continuously improve and benchmark themselves with the best-in-class quality organization. Certifications are therefore an external validation of quality standards. Most solution providers believe in the need to leverage on these quality certifications as a strength and differentiator to aid sales efforts. They hope to use this as a major benchmark for continual improvements processes.
According to Rajeev Arora of TQ Vision, a certification provider based in Delhi, "A certification to ISO 9001 QMS
increases the customer's confidence in the supplier's quality and delivery commitments. Since ISO 9000 QMS is universally recognized, it helps companies to penetrate new global markets, while also improving their product/service performance."
Ravinder Verma of the Catalyst Group, a consulting organization having experts in Quality, HR, Finance, IT, Management and Industry, feels that an ISO certification optimizes customer relations management and enforces continual improvement of effectiveness of all processes.
"ISO certification helps in standardization of key processes in a company. Once they are defined, ISO encourages organizations to focus on continual improvement. It also increases the customer confidence in the company," asserts Kapil Nakra of Whizlabs, another company that helps organizations to get quality certifications.
Getting an ISO certification
All requirements of ISO are generic and are intended to be applicable to all organizations, regardless of type, size and product provided. Companies need to define, document and implement the requirements of the standard ISO 9001:2008 in order to get certified.
Companies that decide to go for an ISO certification first need to consult an individual quality auditor or a firm of quality consultants who are well versed in ISO matters. They need to seek a detailed orientation for understanding and thereby adequately meeting the requirements of the quality system standards.

he top brass of an organization planning to go in for ISO certification should first identify under what ISO category their organization falls viz: ISO 9001, 9002 or 9003. They need to share the commitment to seeking ISO certification with all levels of management, choose an ISO representative and also decide whether to use a consultant or not. There ought to be some system already in existence either written or oral with regard to adherence to quality of the product produced by the industry/industry, be it a produce or service. The organization then has to review the existing oral/documented Quality System, identify procedural areas for modification, change or deletion, and decide on what needs to be implemented and how to format the ISO 9001 required Quality Manual.
Once that is done, different members of the organization involved in the procedure need to agree on a feasible deadline for a date for inviting the certification body for conducting the necessary audit for getting the ISO certification. They have to then make a documented report on Planning and Implementation of Procedures for ISO Certification.
With the help of the report on Planning and Implementation, they require to identify the appropriate personnel/ departments for working on the procedures required to have a compliant Quality Manual to review and update the QA Manual(s) in order to achieve thoroughness, completeness, cohesion and compliance with the ISO standard.
It is advisable to produce a flow chart to illustrate the interrelation of all the procedures. The company also has to arrange for training the appropriate personnel at all levels of the organization on the procedures, detailed in the Quality Manual, and the quality concepts of ISO 9000 and could use external training for the Internal auditor.

Don't miss on auditing

The organization needs to conduct internal quality audits at pre-agreed intervals to verify compliance with quality procedures. It is the main 'Make sure you are still doing it and not relaxing' requirement of ISO. The organization has to initiate corrective actions on any deviation/defaults found and conduct periodical Management Review Meetings to review the performance of the quality system and review the Internal Quality Audit, the corrective action and preventive action process. These meetings can be used as the driving force for continuous improvement/quality planning.
Now is the time to bring in the 'Registrar of the Certifying Body' to conduct the certification audit. The certification audit, which is a very detailed audit procedure, goes in depth right from auditing the management team to the line team. All the clauses are thoroughly checked as to whether the employees have understood the concepts well.
In the next phase of auditing, surveillance would be carried out every year after the certification is completed. This is done to check whether the company is following the procedures and systems as documented and is there any sort of improvement in the entire process. The final phase is the re-certification audit, which is done after three years of certification audit, and the auditing would be the same as in the case of certification audit.
Certifying bodies like TUV Rheinland, TUV Sutherland, KPMG, BVQI, could help obtain certification. After selecting the certifying body, the company has to give information to the certifying body about its nature if business, number of employees and its geographical presence. Depending on the size of the organization, an ISO certification can be obtained three to 18 months after the process has begun.
An ISO certificate is issued for a period of three years, after which it has to be renewed. The certifying body conducts periodic audits every six, nine or 12 months during this time, depending upon the size and operations of the organization to make sure that they are adhering to the ISO certification standards.

Befitting from ISO certification

Certifications like the ISO undoubtedly turn out to be beneficial to companies that opt for them. These could be both tangible and intangible benefits. "The tangible benefit is that customers are not calling us like they used to for not attending to their requests. The intangible benefit is that it has eased the tense work atmosphere that used to exist in the office. The market perception of the company certainly goes up and people feel our company is more professional and so more reliable," says V Anand, Director, Raksha Technologies, Chennai.
"ISO certifications have yielded rich dividends in terms of tangible and intangible benefits. They have prompted people to come together and unite in a quest to provide excellence. People are committed to make improvements in processes, standards and work methods," feels Upinder Zutshi, CEO, Infinite Computer Solutions, Bangalore. He also added that the tangible benefits are measurable process improvements, which have translated into productivity gains and significant time and cost savings by the virtue of attaining lower defect rates and lesser rework.
"Quality is a given for us and we have our metrics on tangibles like effort variance/schedule variance/productivity/customer satisfaction/repeat orders/post release defect density etc plotted every quarter. We have trends, which can be attributed to the composite influence of all the process initiatives in this company," says Upinder. He explains that his is one of the fastest growing IT companies, with revenues in excess of USD 100 million in just 6 years since inception.
One of the key elements of Infinite's success and growth story has been its ability to satisfy customers with superior quality of service, which has ensured steady growth, repeat business and positive customer referrals.
Indicating that the non-tangible results of an ISO certification were evident from the existing and prospective customers who considered them as a quality conscious and serious player, Saket Kapur, MD, Green Vision, New Delhi says, "Certain businesses, which required ISO as pre-qualification became accessible. Our written down procedures and processes brought in more accountability with the working staff. It is very difficult to assign the increased business solely on account of ISO certification, but yes it was necessary step to gain elevation in business."
Of a similar opinion is Mukundh B, Director, Mukesh Infoserve of Chennai. "In terms of business, we have grown at 100% after procuring ISO. The contribution of ISO to this is towards managing the growth when the volume increases. When we tell customers that we are an ISO certified organization, they are confident of the process we follow. This puts as in a rank above others," says Mukundh.
Currently contemplating on an ISO certification is another solution provider, Chennai–based Futurenet Technologies. The company's MD, L Ashok notes, "An ISO will provide us with a tangible benefit of greater customer satisfaction. As far as our intangible benefits are concerned, we hope to gain greater business form our existing customers, since they would have a higher satisfaction level."
This would also enable it to get more customer references. Ashok admits that it would be difficult to quantify how much of growth increase the certification would prompt, but is nonetheless confident that increase it will.
"The tangible benefits of opting for an ISO certification are that our process and systems have improved wherein there is a certain maturity level built in for each and every function that undergoes ISO audit. As far as intangible benefits are concerned, the ISO certification gives us a good brand value in terms of old and new customers, prospective employees and also to employees currently working with the company," emphasizes Moses Lawrence, Director, Computer Factory, Chennai. The company's ROI after having gone in for ISO certification is at 10%.
Go, get the ISO
Players who are planning to go for a certification say that they are putting in all efforts to comply with the quality requirements of such a certification, so that they stand to gain in terms of customer mind share.
Undoubtedly therefore, a company upon certification agrees to adhere to the codes of quality. This is while committing to ontinuously manage and maintain its systems in accordance with the certification best practices and standards.
This is based on the belief that ultimately certification is an assurance that the organization's systems and procedures are more reliable and customer-oriented. It also is an indication of distinctions that are sustained through rigorous assessments, strict implementation strategies and continual enterprise-wide audits.
In the long run, it appears that certified companies enjoy enhanced customer and partner confidence, resulting in a competitive edge over non-certified companies. This translates into a very positive impact on their bottom line.

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