Guide to ISO 9001

Guide to ISO 9001You’ve probably heard of ISO 9001 because you’ve seen a logo on the side of a van, or been told you need it for a tender you’re interested in. At the moment then, you’re probably wondering what on earth this mix of letters and numbers means and you’re not alone!

‘ISO’ represents the International Organization for Standardization, an international standards institute. It takes feedback from multiple sectors across the world to create relevant, worthwhile standards. These standards define how everyday products we use are manufactured, and when it comes to ISO 9001, how a Quality Management System is put in place.

Why should I be taking notice?

Well, you could argue that the fact that over 1,000,000 organisations implement ISO 9001 around the world is endorsement enough. However, specific to UK businesses, ISO 9001 is a proven business winner in the public sector. That’s from central government, to local authorities, the NHS and Ministry of Defence.

In the current economic client, public sector procurement probably accounts for more than the normal share of 50% of the total market for goods and services in the UK. Unsurprisingly then, there are a lot of people bidding to tender for available contracts. The problem for the public sector is; how can they verify the quality credentials of all these potential suppliers? Individually assessing each supplier would be time consuming and costly, certainly not a good way to spend tax payers’ money!

This is where ISO 9001 comes in. Because it is an internationally recognised quality management standard, simply requiring suppliers to have ISO 9001 stops the needless time wasting involved in individually checking them.

To reiterate the importance of the standard, Forum of Private Business procurement adviser Tim Williams recently said that “Increasingly public sector procurement staff are adopting a tick box approach to tenders, so that you must have accreditation to demonstrate your compliance with ISO’s 9001, 27001 [and] 14001”.

How to get started

Many businesses think the first thing to do is buy a copy of the standard itself. Although it can be useful in the future, at first the jargon involved may put you off completely. The best bet is starting off with the ISO 9001 for Small Businesses handbook, created by ISO themselves. It talks about the requirements of the standard, but also gives plenty of examples across various industries in plain language.

In order for ISO 9001 to have true weight, you will need to become certified. This is a third party assessment from a Certification Body to verify you meet all the requirements of the standard. To ensure you are using a credible Certification Body, make sure they are accredited by UKAS. They are the only accredited body recognised by government and there is no other form of recognised regulation in the industry, so using a UKAS accredited body means you will get the most out of the standard and your certification will be recognised by your customers.

An interim step before certification could be to get a consultant in. For bigger and more complex organisations this can certainly be beneficial, but most SMEs can manage their own Quality Management System. There is also a danger of absolving yourself and handing all responsibility to a consultant when it is vital for there to be buy-in from the management down, for ISO 9001 to be truly effective. After all, ISO 9001 wasn’t created to win tenders, but to improve your organisation’s quality management systems and improve how your business is run. The standard helps to establish processes for you to become more efficient, helping to save unnecessary rework, expenditure, whilst ultimately improving customer service.

An experienced consultant will however be able to give you examples and ideas, helping you get the most out of the standard. Although a Certification Body can identify gaps, they can’t actually give advice as it would affect their impartiality for the auditing process.

The costs involved

Becoming certified by a UKAS accredited Certification Body can be under £2,000 for a small business. This will usually consist of a pre-audit to identify existing gaps, followed by the real thing, where you are assessed against the requirements of the standard.

The cost of certification rises depending on what you do, how many people you employ and how many sites you have. If you plan to use a consultant, bear in mind this could increase the overall cost significantly.

In order to retain certification, you will need to be re-audited each year to show you continue to meet the requirements of the standard. A fundamental part of the ISO 9001 standard is continual improvement, so your auditor will be looking to see what more you have done. Typically, a re-audit would be around 40% of the initial certification cost.

Of course, another cost is your time. Typically, it takes between 3-6 months to become certified. Up until initial certification is achieved, implementation will typically require one day a week from the person responsible.


This article was written by The British Assessment Bureau, an ISO 9001 Certification Body with a specialist Small Business Service.

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