By way of introduction, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an independent global organization made up of various committees and subcommittees. Collectively, they develop a broad range of voluntary standards that apply to nearly every industry — from food safety to computers, and agriculture to health care — and everyday life. Organizations that apply the standards in their business practices are able to give their customers the assurance that their products and services are safe, reliable and of good quality.
The ISO was founded on the idea of answering a fundamental question: “what’s the best way of doing this?”1 The ISO standards consist of requirements, specifications and guidelines that businesses follow to:
Many of the ISO standards include a certification option. This is a highly recognized and respected credential that can significantly strengthen a company’s position in its industry.
The ISO officially began in 1947. The organization has clearly been busy as there are over 20,000 standards that define essential requirements for improving the products, services and business practices in every industry. Most standards are grouped into categories, called families, based on their purpose or industry. The following are a few of the more well-known ISO standards that companies can implement to gain a competitive advantage.
ISO 9001 – Quality Management
ISO 9001 defines the criteria for quality management systems, which mostly applies to companies involved with regulated products or services and their efforts to design and manufacture quality into products. By definition, a quality management system[R1] is a formalized system that documents processes, procedures and responsibilities for achieving quality policies and objectives.2
Compliance with the ISO 9001 indicates a company:
ISO 27001 – Information Technology
Cyberattacks are currently the biggest threat to every company in every industry. Out of necessity, companies need to be alert and proactive with all things cybersecurity. The ISO 27001 standard is grouped with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and applies to information technology (IT).
The ISO/IEC 27001 standard contains guidelines specific to data privacy and security. It encompasses the implementation, management and continuous improvement of an organization’s information security management system (ISMS). The policies and procedures of the ISO/IEC 27001 standard follow a risk-based approach to information security, including all legal, physical and technical controls involved in the organization’s information risk management practices.
Compliance with ISO/IEC 27001 indicates an organization has implemented an ISMS that enables the company to:
The standards in the ISO/IEC 27001 family are designed to cover a wide range of technology areas, including:
ISO 14001 – Environmental Management
This standard is intended for organizations to set up, improve or maintain an environmental management system to conform with established environmental policies and requirements. The requirements of the standard can be incorporated into any environmental management system. The extent of a company’s policies for implementing ISO 14001 are determined by several factors, including the organization’s:
ISO standards are designed to help companies create a road map to achieve and maintain the objectives outlined in the specific standard. In addition to ensuring consistent delivery of safe and quality products and services, the standards also include measures for companies to pursue continuous improvement. An effective ISO procedure involves following a set of processes called the Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) cycle.4
Plan Do Check Act Cycle
The PDCA cycle is an iterative approach for achieving a particular objective, such as the successful completion of an ISO certification. The model involves specific tasks that need to be planned, tested and analyzed for effectiveness.
Compliance with ISO standards requires creating processes, procedures and standards for your key business initiatives as well as establishing a culture of continuous improvement. By implementing the standards and policies in your organization, you set benchmarks that your staff must meet, which includes completing ISO training.
For instance, the ISO 27001 standard enforces strict policies for the protection of confidential data. Employees will need to receive training on company cybersecurity policies, including:
According to ISO certification guidelines, employees are required to receive ISO training on a regular basis, usually quarterly, biannually or annually.
There are many advantages to earning an ISO certification. For example, a byproduct of having formalized processes and procedures is increased productivity. Staff have more clarity with the company’s vision, strategies and their individual responsibilities. Also, business units are less likely to have competing priorities, resulting in higher efficiency. Other benefits include:
Earning an ISO certification is an enormous commitment that requires buy-in and participation from every person at all levels in the organization, especially executive management. Auditors pay particular attention to evaluating how well personnel are trained and how they apply the standard’s guidelines throughout the workday.
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