What Is ISO Certification and Why Is It Important?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 14, 2021 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated September 14, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

In today’s international marketplace, organizations want to be known for adhering to quality assurance and manufacturing standards. International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification establishes credibility and trust within consumers, stakeholders and other business partners. ISO certification guarantees the entity meets global standards for business, especially in trade situations. In this article, we discuss what ISO is, why it’s important and how to earn ISO certification.

What is ISO?

ISO is a non-governmental organization that determines specifications for products, services and systems for quality and efficiency. Standards set forth by this organization are valuable to international trade as they have strict requirements that goods must meet. Their ultimate goal is to improve industrial welfare worldwide increasing the levels of safety and security for all.

It takes dedication and research to create a well-rounded standard. Experts in a particular subject area gather together to discuss ways of further improvement. At the end of these discussions, a voting process brings the organization to a consensus. The full process takes about three years on average. For the organization to create standards, the following four situations need to occur:

  • A need in the market

  • A gathering of global experts

  • Development through a multi-stakeholder process

  • All parties reach a consensus

History and accomplishments

In the mid-1900s, international delegates met in London to create a new standardization for international cooperation and organization. The result of these meetings led to the formation of the ISO. Their efforts became so prevalent over the decades that they now have almost 23,000 published standards throughout 164 countries. Now, companies earn ISO certifications to prove their quality standards to the world.

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Why are ISO certifications important?

Obtained from third parties, ISO certifications act as a company's proof that they abide by the standards set forth by the International Organization for Standardization. They instill confidence in clients and other stakeholders that a company conducts itself efficiently and to a high standard. ISO certifications also prove a company's commitment to important business objectives such as customer satisfaction and production. Some public and private sector entities even request that a company has ISO certification before conducting any business with them. There are four common types of ISO certifications:

ISO 9000

One of the most common certifications is the ISO 9000. This grouping of quality management systems (QMS) are standards that help companies meet the needs of both customers and stakeholders. It acts as the most basic form of what the ISO set out to accomplish.

ISO 9001

Companies choose the ISO 9001 to establish product conformance to standardized requirements. In this case, the product also refers to services, materials, hardware and software. This certification stands as proof more for the product a company supplies rather than the entity itself.

ISO 13485

ISO 13485 is a sector-specific certification for the automotive industry. It outlines standards automotive manufacturers and distributors must uphold for quality and efficiency. These standards are especially useful in the international shipping of vehicles.

ISO 14001

Known as an Environmental Management System (EMS), the ISO 14001 deals with a company's impact on the environment. Entities with this certification control their impact on both flora and fauna through their general activities. This type of certification is more prevalent now due to consumer opinions on corporate impact on the environment.

Other types

As the need for standardization grows, so do the circumstances in which to apply them. The scope of the ISO has broadened to include multiple areas that third-parties certify companies through. These additional certifications include OHSAS 18001, AS9100, ISO ITAR, Lean Manufacturing and R2 certification.

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How to get ISO certified

Most companies that seek ISO certifications are those that mass produce and ship globally. They deal with trade agreements and laws in a variety of countries, making the certification of global standards nearly a requirement. As such, the ISO 9001 is one of the most sought after certifications. There are specific requirements a company must meet before contacting a certifying body, however. The following steps explain how an entity can earn an ISO 9001 certification along with an official audit:

1. Develop a quality management system

The first step in earning an ISO certification is to develop a quality management system unique to the business. Identify core business processes, study them and determine where to make improvements. Work with managers and teams at all levels and document their processes. Then, using the standards set by the ISO, develop a QMS that works most effectively. Create a document outlining the new process and distribute it to all levels of the business.

2. Implement the new quality management system

The next step is to initiate the new QMS and monitor its progress. Ensure that procedures at all levels are performed as outlined by the new documentation. If the new system requires new processes, make sure teams are trained with new methodologies in mind. It often helps to create a reporting system so that managers and individual team members can submit issues as they arise. Review and address these issues as needed.

3. Conduct an external audit

After some time has passed and with all problems addressed, schedule an audit with a certified body. An expert auditor assesses the new QMS at all levels, looks for potential problems and determines if it meets ISO standards. During this time, they may need access to formal documentation, comparing it to the actual work conducted.

4. Register the quality management system

If the company passes inspection, they register their QMS for certification. They gather all of the documentation and submit it to the certifying party for review. Once documentation passes review, the company earns its certification. Standards often change over time, however. To maintain certification, the QMS requires auditing every three years. Upon passing, the company also earns re-certification after each audit.

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