At one time, there were as many standards of quality as there were companies implementing them. ISO 9000 is helping to change that. ISO 9000 - a set of five universal quality system standards - provides a uniform framework for quality assurance that can be used worldwide. In effect, ISO 9000 has codified into a single system the essential principles common to diverse quality management and assurance standards. The International Organization for Standardization, in Geneva, Switzerland, developed ISO 9000. The European Community has adopted it as part of its drive towards unification to provide a means of guaranteeing cross-border quality among its 12 members. At the same time, the EC also adopted a third-party audit system. With a third-party audit, an organization implements a quality management system to satisfy one of three ISO 9000 contractual standards:
* ISO 9001, which is the most extensive standard
* ISO 9002
* ISO 9003, the narrowest and least used standard.
The company calls in an accredited third-party registrar or assessor to audit the quality system and certify that it meets ISO 9000 requirements. The company's quality system is then registered. Unannounced surveillance audits ensure that the quality system continues to meet the registrations requirements.
More than 35 countries worldwide have adopted ISO 9000 and the third-party party audit system. NATO and the U.S. Department of Defense have also embraced ISO 9000, although without the third-party audit. As ISO 9000 gains momentum, it becomes a de facto market requirements especially in Europe. In many countries, if two suppliers are trying to land the same contract, the one with ISO 9000 registration has a clear competitive
As a result, the pressure is increasing for companies all over the world to become certified. Firms that conduct ISO 9000 audits and registrations must be licensed to do so by governments and official agencies. And licensed firms are experiencing a boom. In Europe, more than 25,000 companies have been certified, and the demands on registrars are growing. And the governments of the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand recently began requiring their suppliers to achieve ISO 9000 registration.
Coming to America
In the United States, more and more companies are seeking certification - in many cases, because of pressures from overseas customers.
In the past, U.S. companies used European registrars such as the British Standards Institution, the leading British registrar. But that's changing.
In 1990 the Registrar Accreditation Board - an affiliate of the American Society for Quality Control - was formed to license domestic registrars. The board has formed a partnership with the American National Standards Institute (the U.S. representative to ISO) to operate a registrar accreditation program in the in the United States. It has also initiated talks with the U.S. Department of Commerce. All of this is leading to full international recognition and standing for U.S. registrations.
The growing domestication of ISO 9000 in the United States is important in making it more acceptable to jump over businesses.
Many U.S. business people complain that Europeans are imposing ISO 9000 on the United States, as a barrier Americans have to jump over order to conduct trade. That perception is false. Even worse, it's self-defeating. ISO 9000 is a tool that Europeans are using to help unify their economies. And when ISO 9000 is approached as an opportunity instead of as a …