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ISO standards in a new world of work

  • Change management
  • Author: Alexander Woods
    Policy Manager, CQI

    ISO standards are popular with quality professionals, and for good reason. They provide a common structure, language, and system for organisations across the globe. This supports the development of national and international trade, reducing technical and communication barriers and production costs. Standards also protect workers and consumers. But existing standards have limitations. It’s not easy to see trends in their use. And new technologies, values, and ways of working are challenging established models of standardisation, accreditation and certification.

    It might seem that the appetite for certification to ISO standards has decreased in recent years. However, in September 2020, ISO reported a worldwide total of 1,357,241 valid certificates against 12 Type-A (requirements) management systems standards. This is only a small increase in percentage terms (3.8%) on the 2018 figure, whereas in 2017, ISO reported a small decrease of 1%.

    While this information may be an interesting snapshot of accredited certification (and you can read our commentary on the ISO survey of Management System Standard Certifications), it’s difficult to draw conclusions about overall trends in the appetite for ISO standards certification.

    In the 2020 survey report, all ISO standards saw the number of certificates increase, but only one (ISO 45001) in significant numbers. Certification bodies don’t have to submit information on the number of certificates they issue to their accreditation body. Several major certification bodies in Korea, Japan, Turkey, the UK and the US, countries that typically report high numbers of certificates, chose not to. So, we can probably assume these numbers do not reflect the total number of valid certificates to ISO management systems standards.

    ISO has also changed the data they collect, which further complicates our understanding of changes in certification over time. Rather than counting the number of sites covered by a valid certificate (which may give a somewhat inflated figure), from the 2017 survey ISO started to count the number of valid certificates themselves. Unsurprisingly, this led to a dramatic drop in the number of certificates which were reported. While the new measure is a much more effective indicator of the use of ISO standard certification, it makes analysis of long-term trends unreliable, at best.

    There are, however, bigger challenges facing standards makers. Current approaches to governance, assurance and improvement, including the system of accredited certification, are being challenged.

    • Standards makers considering the future of ISO 9001 are presented with eight “Future Quality Concepts”
    • Changes may be imminent for ISO 9004, which could challenge the dominance of ISO 9001 and disrupt the long-established accredited certification industry model
    • Organisations are focusing more on environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) factors
    • Digital transformation and dramatic shifts in the way we work continue at pace. Quality 4.0 (a term which is much used, despite the principles, concepts and practices are not fully or widely defined) is bound to cause further disruption

    The CQI is currently developing its own working definition of Quality 4.0 that will lead to further work on the practices and tools that quality professionals need to thrive in the future world of work.

    What this means for the future of standards is still unclear. But the CQI will continue to highlight and tackle these challenges by:

    • Developing definitions of Q4.0
    • Contributing to standards which drive value and sustainability in a digitally transformed world
    • Defining the knowledge, skills and values required of a modern, agile quality professional

    The CQI has strong links with ISO and national standards bodies like BSI, as well as liaison status on technical committees for standards which are critical to the quality and management systems audit professions. This allows us to represent member views on the development and revision of ISO standards. Find out more about how to become a CQI, IRCA or corporate member.