International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is the world’s largest and most popular standards development organization supported by 165 member organizations that are national standards bodies of their respective countries.
After World War II, there was an eminent need to help domestic markets to grow internationally. However, there seemed to be a challenge in meeting national standards established by the countries where goods would be exported by manufacturers of these goods belonging to a certain country. Establishing international standards after aligning such various national standards was a key to resolve this issue. This largely drove the thought process of developing international standards and as a result delegates from 25 countries came together during 1946 to form an international organization that would develop such international standards. This organization was officially constituted in 1947 and was called as ‘International Organization for Standardization’ short formed as ‘ISO‘ (derived from Greek word ‘isos’ – meaning ‘equal’). The headquarters of ISO is situated in Geneva, Switzerland.
The standards are developed by various technical committees and their working groups within ISO. Interestingly, these committees adhere to the internal standards, called as directives, established by the Technical Management Board (TMB) of ISO. Each new standard follows a clearly defined lifecycle, structure and a work plan. It takes about 3 years to develop a new standard. Each standard before getting published is put up for reviewing, commenting and voting by all members. Only standards that obtain more than or equal to two-third votes are published as ‘International Standards‘. As of date ISO has published over 23000 international standards which are globally used by individuals, businesses, Governments, etc.
ISO develops various types of standards including product standards, system standards, etc. related to a variety of topics including quality, environment, health and safety, food safety, security, etc. Essentially a standard is developed only when ISO receives a request for developing a standard that the market needs. Such a request can be made by various stakeholders such as industry representatives, consumer groups, etc. through their national standard body. E.g. industry associations in UK may approach their national standard body, British Standards Institute (BSI), who would then take this request to the respective Technical Committee within ISO who deals with the subject matter.
The standards developed by ISO impact the growth and sustainability of organizations. There are standards from ISO that can be used to maintain unique product or service characteristics, to protect business by addressing risks, to reduce negative impacts on the environment. The list is never ending. An organization may be able to find an ISO standard to achieve any given purpose.
For example, ISO 9001, the world’s first quality management system standard, can be used by an organization enhance customer satisfaction by establishing certain processes to help the management to manage process risks, streamline operations, reduce error-rate and improve performance. As against that, ISO 27001, information security management system standard, can be used by an organization to protect its goodwill and reputation by protecting information that it creates, processes, stores or transmits.
By applying such standards, an organization can not only improve its performance but also establish trust in the market about its ability related to a given aspect, whether it is quality, environment, or information security. One of the good things about ISO management system standards is that for some of them a third-party certification scheme is also available to help organizations demonstrate to its current as well as potential customers that it has established appropriate processes for the given aspect. This helps the organizations to gain entry into markets which is otherwise dominated by larger organizations. For example, certain government organizations would accept bids only from bidders which are certified to ISO 9001, ISO 27001, etc. as the case may be. Also, there are organizations who require their suppliers to meet certain criteria related to quality, environment, information security, etc. By obtaining certifications like ISO 9001, ISO 27001, etc. such suppliers can demonstrate to their potential customers that they meet such requirements that are already audited and confirmed by a third-party audit organizations, i.e. the certification bodies.
It is now a well established fact globally that ISO standards bring a lot of benefits internally as well as externally to the business. If an organization is not certified to one of these standards, it faces difficulty in sustaining the business or acquiring newer customers.
For more details of various standards, visit our certification consulting section.