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Listen to: "The Difference Between ISO Compliance, Certification & Accreditation in Management Systems"

The International Organization of Standardization (ISO) is a non-governmental, independent international organization comprised of 164 national standards bodies as members around the world. Together, with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), all ISO members bring together experts to share knowledge on various matters. The organization creates thousands of international standards each year, covering various disciplines and topics for business leaders all over the world.

The ISO’s output is a collection of standards known as “management system standards.” These are meant to guide organizations in providing goods and services that are resilient, safe, environmentally friendly and of high quality.

When working with the ISO suite related to quality management systems or information management systems, it is important to understand the difference between ISO compliance, ISO certification, and ISO accreditation. Without understanding the differentiation, it may prove difficult to further understand the processes necessary to accomplish each.

We hope that we can help shed some light on ISO in general and help you gain a better understanding of all three critical factors.

What is a Management System?

In order to achieve its business objectives, an organization needs a pathway for creating order. A management system does that by managing the interrelated parts of the business. With a management system, leaders have a clearer perspective of business operations at a specific point in time and how to best achieve their short-term and long-term goals. The business objectives may relate to various topics in different contexts, which might include environmental performance, operational efficiency, health, and safety in the workplace, product or service quality, and many others.

The system’s complexity will depend on each organization’s specific structure, goals and challenges. Smaller organizations may be able to rely on fewer and simpler steps. Startups and small companies may only rely on strong leadership from the business owner who leads and encourages a small staff with his or her vision and a clear definition of expectations. In larger organizations or more highly regulated industries, there is likely a need for extensive controls and documentation to remain ISO compliant, meet legal obligations, and obtain organizational objectives.

Why Are the ISO Management System Standards So Effective?

The ISO management system standards (MSS) assist all types of organizations in improving performance. It does this by identifying repeatable steps that each organization can consciously adopt and implement to create a solid organizational structure. At the same time, the company can focus on its goals and objectives by participating in a continuous cycle of self-evaluation, correction, and improvement of processes and operations. The ISO MSS inspires and encourages all of these improvements by increasing employee awareness while leveraging management support and leadership.

What is ISO Compliance?

ISO compliance may be the simplest way of ensuring that a company is working according to its mandated regulations. Many companies adopt and implement a management system standard and use it to both manage risk and drive continuous improvement. The organization must commit to meeting requirements and achieving regulatory compliance through internal audits as an integral part of their overall management system. When taking this route, the organization does not put into place any specific standards mandating them to undergo an external audit. A company can implement the standard and simply claim to be compliant.

However, objectively, and without the proper steps, the company may actually not have achieved proper compliance that would spare them from penalties and fines. If a customer, at some point, requests proof of compliance in meeting certain standards, and the company is unable to provide certified proof, auditing may be necessary.

This type of scenario is time-consuming, expensive and burdensome for companies with multiple customers seeking their own audits. It can also be damaging for the company’s reputation; failure to provide a certified audit may give the impression of having something to hide. Further, not performing audits inconveniences customers by requiring them to ask for something that it would be easier to do once, so they could simply turn over a certified audit upon request.

For the company’s benefit, there are several reasons to perform compliance-related duties like audits, which primarily focus on protecting their customers, their stakeholders, and their own brand.

What is ISO Certification?

When an organization commits to certification for ISO standards, this strategy may offer a quick and simple way of proving compliance with all relevant standards, according to the PECB Knowledge Base. The ISO certification process does not involve designing and implementing special requirements or controls. If the organization achieves and maintains compliance, certification is the next natural step in the process.

The certification step involves engaging an independent auditing firm, which is also known as the accredited certification body. Certification bodies must acquire a license to conduct certification audits and to issue certificates. The certification party will perform the audit in two stages. The first stage involves a high-level review of the management system in place. The second stage allows the certification body to take a closer look at the management system and mine it for more details, providing evidence of compliance in various areas.

Once the organization has met all requirements and is recommended for certification, it is awarded that certification for a duration of three years. While still undergoing annual surveillance audits, such audits are much smaller and less time-consuming.

Take ISO 27001 certification, for example, which is not mandatory. This audit provides great savings and peace of mind for businesses. Here are four additional benefits of performing an ISO 27001 audit for certification:

  1. Easier Compliance in Other Areas. Often, once a business becomes compliant in one area, and for one regulation, there is some overlap. Organizations compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are very likely up-to-speed on the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, for example. One issue with many of these laws and acts is that they do not always come with an audit process in place. However, with the ISO standards, the certification increases the chances of covering a large swath of compliance commitments by providing a compliance procedure in auditing where none previously existed.
  2. The Process is Smoother and More Efficient. Achieving ISO certification often results in the creation of smoother processes, helping everyone to better understand their responsibilities.
  3. It Protects Against the Loss of Reputation. An ISO certification provides IT departments an opportunity to stay ahead of potential issues like data breaches and other intrusions, helping the organization to maintain a solid reputation in protecting data.
  4. An ISO Certification Provides a Competitive Edge. The ability to prove compliance instantly solidifies trust with customers.

Who Needs ISO 27001 Certification?

Businesses of all sizes, and in all industries, benefit from obtaining and maintaining ISO 27001 certification since a data breach can happen to any business that collects, stores and processes customer data.

Even if a business does not perform sales or business transactions online, it still likely houses customer information, intellectual property and other confidential information that can be compromised via daily online work, email-based attacks or remote network access from employees working off-site.

With that, any business working with customer records, or anything else they want to safeguard, should consider learning more about ISO 27001 certification and how to obtain it.

What is ISO Accreditation?

All certification bodies performing audits for ISO certification must secure their licenses through ISO accreditation from the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) for the certification to be considered valid. In a way, accreditation is the certification or recognition that organizations granting the power of certification maintain suitable standards.

Ensure That Your Compliance Procedure in Auditing is Effective

While ISO compliance is frequently the core goal associated with ISO standards, you add more value to your efforts by seeking ISO certification and ISO accreditation. If you need more help determining what you need to ensure and prove compliance, the I.S. Partners, LLC team is here for you.

Call us at 215-675-1400 or request a quote to learn more about the ISO standard, compliance, certification, and much more.

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