When we talk about procurement and managing your suppliers relationship, we always think of time, money, value, and efficiency in the processes we have in place. I believe it is fair to say that you have probably started thinking about the best supplier you have and potentially the one you dread the most. But have you thought of the external auditor that comes on site once a year to perform an audit on your business?

This is how the thought of having an event to discuss the relationship between end users (Quality Managers and Businesses) and Certification bodies.

To understand how better to  manage relationships, nothing is more suitable than understanding the different points of view of all parties. The event had 4 speakers: a Quality Manager (Jonathan Bishop), a Consultant (Nina Abbassi), a Managing Director of a Certification Company (Matt Gantly) and a Director Of Operations from the Accreditation body UKAS (Jeff Ruddle).

Managing Certification Bodies

So what are their points of views? How do they perceive this entire process and what are the challenges? Jonathan Bishop, the Quality Manager in Mace Group started by defining the different stakeholders that a Quality Manager has to consider.

There is no business requirement to become ISO9001 certified. It is a strategic decision!

While this strategic decision by an organisation drives the need to have an integrated Quality Management system, challenges with certification bodies started to shape up. Is the relationship managed based on SLAs only? While the audit is a snap shot only and a sample size of the organisation as a whole, it became apparent that there are lots of external auditors who do not fully understand the context of the organisation. This became visible in the audit reports and the findings that are delivered. They mostly quote the standard requirement but not the Quality Management System and the context in which the finding was identified.

With this in mind, Matt Gantly, the Managing Director of NQA – a global Certification Body – kicked off his point view to this relationship.

The purpose of an audit is to drive constancy, drive forward continual improvement and customer satisfaction!

But if we take a step back and look at the reality and the perception of public, organisations seek those certifications and advertise them publicly. Then you hear of incidents where nearly over 1000 cases of food contamination and deaths in the food sector took place, what happens to the trust aspect of those standards?

Standards across the whole industries have been going through significant changes and evolved a lot to become fit for purpose. On the other hand, there has been a rise in peer to peer evaluation with the help of social media. Companies like TripAdvisor, booking.com, Facebook reviews etc are playing a role in shaping up this public trust. Studies have found that 20% of these peer to peer reviews are fake and 60% are out of date. This by itself brings an additional responsibility to the profession to ensure trust is put in the right place. This cascades to the relationship between Certifying bodies and Quality Managers. For that reason, during a workshop NQA was holding with its team of auditors the question was brought to discussion:

The Audit Report that is submitted at the end of each audit: is it aimed for the company and thus the Quality Manager? Is it for the head office as a form of evidence of audit completion? or is it treated purely as evidence for once the accreditation body performs random checks? There are already different stakeholders involved and for that, the customer, the Quality Managers, must get the maximum value from this report.

Nina Abbassi took the stage to share her experience in managing such complex relationships. As a Consultant, Nina advises organisations on how to shape up their Quality Management systems rather than writing policies for them.

In today’s world, Quality and standards are in place to ensure that consumers – us public – are having access to products and services that are good and safe, as a minimum. But we cannot forget that organisations also want to operate in a sustainable way. So are we really considering all other stakeholders in the process of auditing and governance? Wouldn’t top management and board of directors be interested to truly understand how their business is running?

If value is looked at in monetary terms, does it matter where organisations get their certifications from? Wouldn’t they choose the cheapest certification body? And this is one of the challenges that certification bodies must consider. With more standards being reviewed and brought to Annex SL, are we now in a position where we expect our external auditors to review our risks and opportunities and advise us if they are suitable?

Different point of views and questions had led the way for UKAS to share its position as an Accreditation Body. Jeff Ruddle, Director of Operations for UKAS, took the stage.

The main challenge that is facing the industry as a whole is the public expectation of ZERO RISK. With this public expectation, the entire industry faces the challenge. Quality Managers in the context of their organisation and day to day operations face this challenge and build and improve their QMS accordingly. This becomes a challenge for the certifying bodies as they perform external audits. And as more and more organisations are seeking these certifications, finding experts in all the fields becomes a difficulty that UKAS has to address and ensure is being addressed.

Our main stakeholders are certification bodies as our direct clients, the public as they engage with these services and products, and scheme owners and the government. The vast scale of stakeholders automatically makes this relationship a complex one.

But with this complexity, organisations and Quality Managers must acknowledge the fact that managing customers expectations and relationship is their own responsibility. This is not the responsibility of a certification body nor an accreditation body. However, by improving Quality in all sectors, cost will be reduced and this reduction will impact the entire supply chain of this relationship.

This was a very structured debate that shed light on four different points of view in the industry. The outcome of this event was one common agreement:

Collaboration between all parties involved is the foundation of driving the Quality profession forward and ensure stakeholders are getting the added value they are seeking!

The audience were able to ask questions to the panel and the entire Q&A was facilitated by the CEO of the Chartered Quality Institute, Vincent Desmond. In this complex and demanding relationship, it is great to see this debate take place openly and constructively with the aim of driving the profession forward.

By the end of the event, Vincent asked me a question:

If certification bodies ceased to exist, do you think it will be the end of the Quality Profession?

Without giving you my response, the way you answer this question will undoubtedly explain how you perceive value from Quality as an industry. While certain certifications have helped companies win sales, are their sole purpose increase sales? or are they truly tried and tested methods to run business and reduce risks?

Click here to view some photos from the event, courtesy of Eric Loh, a CQI London branch volunteer!

One thought on “Supply Chain Value through Certification Bodies

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