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Standards & Certifications

7 minutes of reading

Everything about ISO – usefulness, necessity, pitfalls and success factors

Discover the world of ISO certifications and see how they can contribute to the success of your organization. From success factors and pitfalls to preparing for successful certification, you'll find this and more in this comprehensive ISO information article.

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Contents of this article

Introduction

You'd be hardpressed to find anything that you cannot get ISO certified for – ISO certifications are everywhere! With all the stress and frenzy that often accompanies accreditations, you'd almost forget that it is about much more than a fill-in-the-blanks exercise and the familiar 'check in the box'. How do you best prepare for ISO certifications relevant to your organization? And what should you do to get the best and fastest return on the time, money and resources you invest in this? You'll find out here.

What is ISO?

ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization. An independent, non-governmental international organization that sets standards to ensure quality, safety and efficiency in products, services and systems worldwide. ISO's goal is to develop and publish common international standards to facilitate the exchange of goods and services and promote cooperation between countries. ISO standards enable organizations to operate more efficiently, reduce risk, improve quality and comply with laws and regulations.

Why are ISO standards important to organizations?

There are several reasons why ISO standards are important to organizations. Some examples:

  • Ensuring good quality: ISO standards such as ISO 9001 are based on quality management principles. By complying with these standards, you can optimize your processes, ensure consistency, and improve the overall quality of your products or services.
  • Working more efficiently: ISO standards are designed to streamline and optimize business processes resulting in better efficiency, lower operating costs and increased productivity.
  • Managing risks: ISO standards, such as ISO 31000 for risk management, help companies identify, assess and manage potential risks. This allows you to proactively address risks and ensure better business continuity.

What are the benefits of using ISO?

If you use ISO standards, then you have a proven, structured framework for improving your business performance. If your company or organization is ISO certified, then:

  • You can differentiate yourself from competitors and show that you are a reliable party to work with. You can prove that your organization has quality, consistency and continuous improvement high on its agenda.
  • Ensure better regulatory compliance. ISO standards help your organization meet the requirements of laws, guidelines and standards, preventing fines and reputational damage.
  • Gain access to new markets. Many international markets require companies to meet certain ISO standards before you can do business there.
  • Send a clear signal to employees and new hires that they work for a company that takes information security seriously and provides a secure work environment.
  • boost your customer satisfaction. Consistent quality and reliability have a positive impact on customer trust and create customer loyalty and retention.

What are important ISO standards in the world of content and quality?

There are thousands of ISO standards for different aspects of products, processes and services. Important ISO standards in the context of content and quality are ISO 27001 and NEN 7510 (information security) and ISO 9001 (quality management).

ISO 9001 – Quality management systems

ISO 9001 contains guidelines for establishing, implementing and maintaining effective quality management systems (QMS). This standard aims to improve customer satisfaction by focusing on customer requirements and relevant laws and regulations. But leadership and management commitment is also a focus, as is creating support among employees to work together on process management – more specifically, on improving the quality of processes.

ISO 9001 is based on a process approach, where you identify, understand and manage underlying processes so that your KMS is efficient and effective. The premise is that you keep improving based on ongoing analysis of processes and based on this look at what can (still) be improved. ISO 9001 also provides insight into the relationships with relevant stakeholders, offers points of departure for the best possible collaboration with them, and also provides points of departure when it comes to risk management and risk-based thinking.

ISO 27001 – Information security

ISO 27001 focuses on information security and provides guidelines for establishing, implementing, maintaining and improving an effective Information Security Management System (ISMS). The main purpose of ISO 27001 is to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information within an organization, regardless of its form (digital, paper, etc.).

Some key aspects of ISO 27001 include:

  • Risk assessment and treatment where you look for information security risks that threaten your organization and prioritize them based on their likelihood and impact on your organization. You then take appropriate control measures to reduce the risks to an acceptable level.
  • In an information security policy you describe how your organization deals with information security and how everyone contributes to this in his/her own role and who is responsible for what.
  • By implementing measures for incident management, business continuity planning, and measures for recovering information after incidents, you ensure that information and information systems remain available and communication and business continuity are not compromised.

A special variant of ISO 27001 is NEN 7510, the Dutch standard for information security in the healthcare sector. In it you will find guidelines and specifications to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of medical information. This standard was developed specifically to meet the specific requirements and challenges you face in securing sensitive patient data within the healthcare industry.

How to prepare for ISO certification?

The process of ISO certification involves several steps, depending on the specific ISO standard(s) an organization wants to meet. In general, the following seven steps are completed:

  1. Preparation
    It starts with understanding the relevant ISO standard(s) that apply to your organization and determining what kind of certification you need. Make sure you pay attention to sufficient support within the organization and management.
  2. Documentation
    Step two is to establish a quality management system (QMS), information security management system (ISMS), or other relevant system in which you document the requirements of the chosen ISO standard(s). Consider setting up procedures, instructions, forms and other documents you need to demonstrate compliance with the standard.
  3. Implementation

    Next, you will implement the KMS or ISMS and integrate it into the daily activities of the organization. You will train employees, designate/establish communication channels and establish processes. Everything to ensure that the requirements of the standard can be met.

  4. Internal audit
    An internal audit is your test to assess the effectiveness of the KMS and identify any issues you need to resolve before the external audit takes place.
  5. External audit
    Step 5 is to request an external audit by an accredited certification body. They will review the organization's documentation and processes to determine if they meet the requirements of the chosen ISO standard(s).
  6. Certification
    If your organization has successfully passed the external audit, you will be issued the corresponding ISO certificate demonstrating your organization's compliance with the standard.
  7. Maintenance and continuous improvement
    You maintain your ISO certification by undergoing regular audits and working to continuously improve and adjust processes and everything related to them.

Top 5 pitfalls surrounding ISO certifications

Insufficient management commitment
If your organization's management is not (fully) behind achieving and maintaining ISO certification, in many cases this leads to a lack of resources, priority and support. Therefore, ensure that management is actively involved in the process and committed to achieving and maintaining certification.

Too much focus on documentation
Of course, documentation is important for ISO certification. But document creation should never come at the expense of actual process improvement and implementation of the KMS. Therefore, provide relevant, concise, and practical documentation.

Lack of internal communication and awareness
Employees must be aware of the existence and reason for the QMS and their own contribution to it. In most cases, lack of communication and awareness leads to resistance to change and lack of cooperation.

Emphasis on compliance rather than improvement
ISO certification is not just a matter of compliance with the standard; it is ultimately aimed at continuously improving processes and performance. Therefore, ensure that the QMS focuses on identifying and addressing improvement opportunities, rather than just meeting minimum requirements.

Lack of regular evaluation and adjustment
ISO certifications do not stop when they are achieved; they require regular evaluation and adjustments. Nobody benefits from a static system that does not evolve with the needs of the organization.

ISO certifications: did you know...

  • …ISO 27001 certification not only improves data security, but can also increase customer and employee confidence? By showing that your organization meets international standards for information security, you build a reputation for reliability and integrity.
  • …government agencies often require ISO certifications in tenders?
  • …ISO certifications are not just for large companies? Even small startups and family businesses can benefit from ISO certifications by improving their processes, increasing customer satisfaction and giving them access to new markets.
  • …ISO 9001 and ISO 27001 have opened many companies' eyes to potential vulnerabilities and threats they previously overlooked?
  • …ISO 27001-cISO-27001 certification by NIS2 and DORA may soon be a must-have?
  • …The Netherlands is one of the countries with the highest number of ISO 9001 certifications per capita?

Top 3 success factors for ISO

Setting clear objectives and measurable goals is critical to the success of your ISO certification. Why are you going to implement a quality management/ information security system and what results do you want to achieve? By setting measurable goals, you can better track progress and celebrate successes. The latter in turn is important to get and keep stakeholders motivated and enthusiastic.

Open and transparent communication with all stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers and external auditors, is crucial to the success of ISO certification. Creating a culture of engagement where all stakeholders are heard and respected, promotes understanding, acceptance, and contributions to achieving ISO certification(s) time and time again.

ISO certification often requires changes to existing processes and practices.Your organization must therefore be flexible and resilient if it needs to adapt well to these changes. The ability to respond quickly to new requirements and circumstances, and to learn from feedback and experiences, is essential to successfully move through the certification process each time and maintain certification in the long term.

Getting started with ISO

Are you interested in getting started with ISO and ISO certifications yourself after reading this article? WoodWing Scienta offers extensive features for getting actively involved with ISO, including a complete ISO 9001 handbook that just needs to be adapted to your organization before you can actively start using it.


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Published on May 30, 2024

Kitty van Commenee

Kitty van Commenee, started as a Content Marketer and now a Demand Generation Manager, develops powerful marketing campaigns with a keen focus on writing, social media, and strategy.

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