Previously we introduced the ISO 9001 quality management standard, and briefly outlined the criteria required for certification. As we discussed, ISO 9001 is a globally recognised benchmark for quality management systems. These systems formalise through documentation, the processes, protocols and structures an organisation has in place to guarantee quality and consistency of product/service delivery.
In addition to the obvious benefit of improved customer satisfaction, other benefits of establishing an ISO 9001 compliant quality management system include:
The ISO 9001 standard stresses the importance of managing risk. This means that as part of the QMS (quality management system) planning phase, your organisation will consider its risk profile, and be encouraged to make contingencies to ensure service continuity and quality maintenance in the face of operational challenges.
Streamlined business processes
An ISO 9001 certified QMS will mean your business has formalised procedures in place regarding most aspects of service/product delivery. The result will give your team the structures necessary to make autonomous decisions, making for a more efficient, productive workplace with clearly defined responsibilities.
Better management oversight
ISO 9001 places strong emphasis on evaluating performance using key metrics and leveraging such data to drive continuous improvement. By hardwiring data gathering into your business’s psyche, you’ll arm your management team with the information they need to make informed, calculated decisions.
Improved staff morale
A carefully conceived, ISO 9001 certified QMS will give your employees the tools they need to deliver an excellent customer experience consistently. Research suggests that staff often feel despondent when a lack of structure and poor communication hamper their ability to work effectively. Your quality management system will ensure that employees know exactly how to handle a wide variety of situations, without the need for ‘hand holding’ or micromanagement.
Lower Insurance premiums
Again, because ISO 9001 encourages being risk-conscious, insurers often reward certified organisations with lower premiums. ISO 9001 certification signals to insurers that a business has taken measures to moderate the risks it faces.
ISO 9001 is recognised by every sector, and is relevant to businesses of all sizes. Meeting the criteria for certification proves to potential clients that your organisation is structured, outcome-driven, and committed to an exceptional customer experience.
From a commercial perspective this is probably the most compelling reason to achieve ISO 9001 certification. Both public and private sector tendering processes enquire about ISO 9001 certification, often in pre-qualification questionnaires. Certification will give your organisation the edge over non-certified counterparts, as they will have to try much harder to convince prospective clients that their systems and procedures are of a comparable standard to yours both in scope and quality. Adherence to ISO 9001 standards will inspire confidence in potential clients that you have the ability to deliver consistently on promises, and operate within the boundaries of regulatory constraints. Put simply, they’ll be more convinced of your ability to meet their expectations.
Where technology meets quality control – the role of your IT system
By now you may be thinking: ‘this is all very well, but where does IT come into the equation?’
Just as a quality management systems aims to improve product and service outcomes by standardising workflows and rationalising business processes, a good IT system should seek to do similar. Using technology to drive productivity, improve business communications (including client engagement) and formalise workflows using technologies like automation and AI, your IT system can work in work in harmony with your quality management goals. Let’s consider a few examples that refer back to the requirements set out in ISO 9001:2015.
Requirement 82) Clause 7.1.3
“Provide and maintain infrastructure necessary to the functioning of processes.”
This requirement refers to the provision and maintenance of both hardware and software elements necessary to ensure conformity of products and/or services to your quality objectives.
What does this mean in terms of my IT?
This means running up-to-date and fit-for-purpose technology that is scalable, reliable and in line with the expectations of your customers. In the manufacturing sphere, this could mean deploying IoT devices to monitor product quality at various stages of production. In the creative services domain this could mean having the latest video production software to ensure your end product meets modern expectations. In the professional services sector, this requirement might involve giving your clients access to multiple communication touchpoints, including remote access to file resources and the ability to sign documents electronically.
Requirement 106) Clause 7.4 d
“Define how to communicate.”
This requirement which is part of the planning phase, requires organisations to set out which communication channels are required in order to ensure a high standard of customer experience.
What does this mean in terms of my IT?
Consider how complaints might be handled, how you would ensure high call volumes could be managed effectively and the systems you might want to implement to ensure support requests are dealt with efficiently. Ensuring availability at all times could be achieved by using cloud hosted VoIP, allowing complaints and queries to be handled when you’re out of the office. A customer relationship management system could be used to unify customer data and help you foster better long-term relationships with the clients you serve. You could also consider video conferencing as a way to catch up with geographically dispersed interest groups.
Requirement 114) Clause 18.104.22.168.b
“Control the protection of the documented information.”
ISO 9001 requires substantial documentation to support many aspects of your quality management system. This requirement stresses the importance of applying controls to protect the integrity of such information.
What does this mean in terms of my IT?
This involves having checks and balances in place to limit access to such data on a need-to-know basis. Heightened authentication procedures such as multi-factor authentication could be used to prevent unauthorised access to sensitive data vaults, and data sensitivity labels and read-only permissions could be applied to sensitive documents to prevent misuse.
More broadly speaking technical measures such as encryption could be used to protect sensitive data in transit, and firewall and anti-virus software could be used to defend against malicious intrusion.
Requirement 206) Clause 8.5.1
“The organization shall implement production and service provision under controlled conditions. Controlled conditions shall include, as applicable: … g) the implementation of actions to prevent human error;”
This clause lays out the requirement for organisations to minimise human error in the product/service deliver process.
What does this mean for my IT?
Workflow management or project management tools could be used to structure complex projects. These tools are useful for preventing projects overrunning deadlines, ensuring that critical tasks don’t go missing and avoiding procedural missteps.
Business process automation can also be used to streamline clunky manual tasks and reduce end user mistakes. Automation can be applied to billing, customer service, order processing, engagement, sales and much more.
An ISO 9001 compliant quality management system, combined with a digitalised, streamlined and automated IT system is a match made in heaven. Combining organisational structures which prioritise the customer experience with technologies that rigidify business processes will ensure you’re able to deliver on quality commitments each and every time.