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What is the ISO?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an independent organisation that sets international standards. The ISO is composed of representatives from various national standards organisations, bringing together experts to share knowledge and develop international standards that support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges. It is a voluntary organisation, the members of which are recognised authorities on standards.

What are ISO standards?

ISO standards are internationally agreed-upon standards, developed by the ISO to ensure the quality, safety, and efficiency of products, services, and systems. In short, ISO standards are developed and put in place to ensure consistency by demonstrating that a certified business meets the expectations of customers.

See the ISO website for a list of popular standards.

What is ISO certification?

ISO certification is a seal of approval that a business runs to one of the international standards developed and published by the ISO.

While it is not a legal requirement to be ISO certified, each ISO standard brings its own benefits. For example:

  • ISO 9001 - sets out the criteria for a quality management system and helps businesses keep a high level of productivity and quality while delivering products and services to customers

  • ISO 14001 - sets out the criteria for an environmental management system and thus reduces a business’ environmental impact

  • ISO 27001 - provides requirements for an information security management system thus protecting a business’ systems, data and reputation

  • ISO 45001 - sets out criteria for occupational health and safety management systems thus helping businesses protect its staff

  • ISO 22301 - sets out the criteria for business continuity management systems thus protecting from business disruptions

  • ISO/IEC 42001 - relevant for providers, developers, or users of artificial intelligence (AI) products or services, this standard sets out criteria for the safe development and use of AI

As such, common benefits of becoming ISO certified include:

  • increased customer satisfaction

  • increased efficiency

  • reduced costs

  • reduced risks

  • increased employee engagement

Why become ISO certified?

Businesses become ISO certified to take advantage of these benefits and to ensure the quality of their products and the services provided by their company. 

Obtaining ISO certification ensures that a business is performing to the optimal standard, enabling businesses to streamline their systems for more efficient use of resources, while also improving the business’ overall reputation and standing within an industry. 

This is especially beneficial for small and medium-sized (SMEs) businesses as ISO standards can help such businesses:

  • reduce costs (across the business as a whole)

  • comply with regulation requirements (at a lower cost) 

  • increase customer confidence and satisfaction (eg by ensuring that products are safe and reliable)

  • increase market penetration

How does a business become ISO certified?

While the ISO develops international standards, it does not issue ISO certificates. Instead, a business becomes ISO certified by obtaining a seal of approval from an approved third party body. 

However, the ISO’s Committee on Conformity Assessment (CASCO) has produced a variety of different standards related to the certification process, which are relied on by certification bodies.

How much does it cost to become ISO certified?

The costs associated vary depending on the body providing the certification. However, in determining costs the following points will typically be considered:

  • the size of the business

  • how the business is already run (ie what processes and procedures already exist)

  • the number of standards that certification is sought for

Things to consider when choosing a certification body

To choose a third-party certification body, businesses should ‘shop around’, finding a number of different authorised providers and comparing them to one another. 

They should then check if the certification body uses the relevant CASCO standard and whether the certification body is accredited. While accreditation is not compulsory, and non-accreditation doesn’t necessarily mean the certification body is not reputable, it does provide independent confirmation of competence. 

An accredited certification body can be found using the national accreditation body in the UK or the International Accreditation Forum.

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