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ISO audits – How to become ISO accredited

Organisations of all sectors and sizes face a wide range of risks if they do not regularly review their management systems.

Failing to have a system in place whereby policies, procedures and security systems at your business are routinely scrutinised is likely to heighten the chances of infrastructure and security vulnerabilities. It could also imperil the standard of services your company provides.

Here at ACMS UK, we are ISO accredited ourselves, which helps boost clients’ and would-be clients’ confidence in the products and services we offer. But what does your own organisation need to know about ISO audits and how you can gain ISO accreditation preferably in line with your well thought-out IMS (Integrated Management System)?

What is ISO?

The acronym ISO stands for International Organization for Standardisation. With its history dating back to 1946, it is an independent body that has set tens of thousands of international standards down the years, unifying products and services around the globe and from every sector,  setting standards for safety, reliability and quality.

These ‘standards’ are defined as best-practice methods for undertaking certain tasks – ranging from conducting risk assessments to developing software – as endorsed by experts.

If, then, you can get your own business ISO certified – which signals the manner in which it performs tasks like the above which are globally recognised and endorsed by professionals – you can expect significant benefits for your company’s image and standing in its industry.

Benefits of being ISO accredited

Your organisation being ISO certified – a process also sometimes referred to as ‘ISO accredited’ – indicates that it has won national and international recognition of its high standards, in relation to the quality standards for which it holds certification. Here are some of the more specific advantages of gaining such accreditation.

Improves trust

Prospective clients are drawn to work with ISO certified companies because of the considerable pedigree of ISO quality standards; indeed, independent auditors also regularly assess the relevant management systems of ISO-accredited organisations. This helps would-be and current clients to have the utmost confidence in the products and services of such businesses.

Improves customer satisfaction, retention and acquisition

A business being ISO certified indicates the high standards to which it holds itself accountable. ISO 9001, for instance – for which ACMS UK holds certification – is the globally recognised standard for quality management systems (QMS). Customers can therefore be sure that an organisation with such certification provides products and services that are consistently high in quality. This, in turn, aids customer acquisition and retention.

Better performance, and reduced operating costs and downtime

An organisation that is ISO accredited is required to continue working in accordance with the standards for which it is certified, in order to retain this status. This naturally leads to such businesses continually improving their processes over time, with positive implications for minimising waste and downtime, and enhancing operational efficiency and effectiveness.

Ensures legal compliance

The process of gaining and retaining ISO-certified status also helps an organisation to stay up to date and comply with the relevant statutory and regulatory requirements in their sector.

Creates accountability

For those companies obtaining and maintaining ISO 14001, it signals a commitment of that company’s impact on the environment.  ISO 14001 is the most widely used and adhered to standard in the world with over 360,000 certificates issued globally. 

How to become ISO accredited

If you’re a company that wants to be known for the quality it delivers, ISO accreditation may be the way to go…

Choose a certification body

The very first step to getting your organisation ISO-certified will be looking at, and identifying, the ISO standards of particular relevance to your business. This will be followed by determining a suitable certification body, given that ISO – although it developed the standards – does not carry out certification or issue certificates. This is instead the responsibility of external certification bodies.

When deciding on a certification body, your organisation should ensure the body is accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). One suggested tip is to check out their online reviews. If you need help, particularly at the outset, you should consider working with consultants and external auditors to help define and put in place your company’s management systems.

Appoint a management representative

A management representative will then need to be appointed at your company, with their duty being to implement any changes the audit determines to be necessary.  A good fit would be the person who is responsible for the processes and procedures of your organisation as part of your IMS.

Conduct an internal audit

Carrying out an internal audit at your organisation at least once a year will enable you to check that your ongoing business processes are working as intended, as well as to pinpoint any gaps in your procedures that will need to be addressed.

Implement corrective actions and training

If the internal audit does identify any non-conformities or other areas where improvements could be made, it will be your responsibility as a company to carry out any necessary corrective action – and don’t forget to update your procedural guidelines to evidence the changes/improvements.

Monitor your objectives and record your progress

As you make the changes needed in order to further refine your business’s management systems, you should keep a close eye on – and record – how well these systems are working in light of the specific ISO standards for which you are seeking certification.

Complete an external audit

To finally become ISO certified as a company, you must satisfy external auditors that your management systems are worthy of such a status, so that – if you do this successfully – they can officially grant you ISO certification.

This process will then be periodically repeated, with auditors reassessing your business’s systems from time to time to make sure they still meet the requirements for continued certification.  

Using audit management software to help manage the process

As a software and project management company here at ACMS UK, we make extensive use of our own Vision software – and in particular, its module for managing audits – to manage our internal management system. This, in turn, is fundamental to our ongoing efforts as an organisation to attain and maintain ISO certification.

Here are some of the ways in which our Audits Management Software platform could take much of the stress out of the ISO certification process for your company:

Use to store documents, contracts and training records

Our software includes a Document Storage facility for the uploading of all documentation, encompassing templates, contracts, risk assessments and training records. In setting expiry dates, you are immediately alerted to any documents and, in turn, procedures and policies that require attention or updating.

Track schedules and deadlines

If your business is to attain and maintain ISO accredited status over time, it will need to have a means of easily tracking schedules, training certificates and processes, while auditing as needed, to help ensure no deadline is missed. 

Create a bespoke questionnaire to ask the right questions

The Vision Audits Module also gives users the ability to create bespoke audit questionnaires, to further help prevent anything vital from being overlooked. The audit questionnaire functionality also enables users to upload relevant documents, certificates and photographs, while a colour-coded system helps those scrutinising the list of audits to gauge whether or not they are compliant.

Enables all documents and audit plans to be stored in one place

When your business has all of its processes, documentation and audits in one place, it can be assured of greater cohesion, consistency and transparency – all benefits that business owners are appreciative of even when they aren’t specifically seeking out ISO certification.  And in the current climate of remote working – which includes external auditing – you can simply allow access to the Auditor who can join you in your software platforms and access your IMS.

If you are interested in learning more about the possibilities that our Vision software – with its Audits Module – could bring to your company’s compliance and risk management efforts, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information or to arrange a free trial demo of our software.