Right Selection Adds Value

October 1, 2003
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A few tips make the process of selecting a registrar or consultant less daunting.

The route to development and certification of management systems such as ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 can be a daunting one, with its buzzwords and onslaught of suitors wanting to sell certification and consulting services. Some basics can be applied to each of these distinct activities by the buyer with an overall goal of both services adding value to an organization.



Consulting

A management consultant is an independent person or firm brought in to help an organization with a specific problem or task, or in this case, implementation of ISO 9001. There are a variety of management consultants who specialize in implementing management systems based on international standards. It is important to find the right individual or organization to help create a smooth transition during the development of these systems. Some criteria in selecting these service providers include:

Track record. It is essential through the selection process to look for evidence of experience both in consulting and in an organization's activities. After all, a butcher or a baker would not be asked to build a house.

In addition, does the consulting business practice what it preaches? Has the selected consultant implemented and become certified to ISO 9001? Ask to see a copy of the certificate, and if they do not have one, ask why not.

Knowledge. An individual must have relevant work experience or gained significant experience to enable them to understand and interpret an organization's processes, be able to document those processes, and to communicate with individuals and gain their respect during the implementation process. Educational background can be beneficial but is not a substitute for experience.

Ask the consultant to provide information about similar projects in which he has been directly involved. Consultants should provide information about relevant skills, knowledge and experience, and a plan on how to undertake the project.

A common cause of an organization becoming disillusioned with ISO 9001 is that what has been developed does not add value. There are significant amounts of documentation to manage, and there is a lack of understanding of the requirements of ISO 9001 within the organization, resulting in a lack of commitment to ISO 9001.

Interview. Interview the consultant, or if it is a consulting practice, ask to speak directly to the consultant who will be appointed to the project. Ask technical questions related to the industry to test the background of the individual. Treat this interview as if hiring a new employee. It is essential to establish a rapport with the consultant because an organization will be working closely with the individual or individuals over the coming months.

Good communication. Does the individual have the ability to explain things simply and communicate at all levels in an organization? Using a lot of technical jargon that no one understands will not help the implementation process or when conducting training sessions with the staff of an organization.

Presentation skills. The ability to produce easy-to-read documentation is a necessity. Ask to see examples of previous work. Can the structure of the system be followed without much explanation? Does there seem to be a lot of documentation in relation to the size or activities of the organization? More documentation does not mean more value for the money.

Ability to develop a good working relationship. A successful consultant can communicate at all levels, has the to ability to motivate workers and make them feel involved in the process. The certification process is about people and getting an organization working toward a common goal.

Agreement. Buyers of consulting services play a vital role at the outset by being clear about the objectives and the scope of the project. The output should be a clear and detailed proposal as to the services offered. Typically the proposal would include:

1. Gap analysis-report and subsequent plan

2. Awareness training

3. Procedure writing training

4. The identification of required list of procedures

5. Assistance with procedure development

6. Auditor training

7. Assistance during the implementation phase

8. Independent internal audit by the consultant

9. Acting as a facilitator at management reviews

Price. Ask for the day rate and the expected number of days to complete the project.

References.Contact the organizations listed as references and discuss some of the previous points raised here. Ask how the project went, what problems were encountered and if the successes and failures were an indication of the consultant's abilities. If possible, visit the organizations and see the systems in operation.



Certification

Unlike the consulting business, certification companies are regulated by accreditation authorities, the organizations that assess the capabilities of certification companies to perform certification audits in accordance with ISO Guide 62 (Quality Management). This guide defines the criteria a certification registrar must meet in its day-to-day activities of performing audits. Several accreditation authorities operate worldwide including ANSI-RAB (USA), UKAS (UK), COFRAC (France) or SCC (Canada).

Certification registrars all have strengths and weaknesses depending on the market sectors for which they are accredited, thus prospective buyers of certification services should do a detailed analysis of the capabilities of their selection of registrars based on the following:

Accreditation. Is the registrar accredited for a company's scope of work? This is important because some certification companies in the United States issue certificates but are not accredited. This can cause problems if seeking certification because of contractual pressures from customers.

In addition, which accreditation does a company want? The majority of companies in the United States will request ANSI-RAB, however if exporting products to overseas markets, it may be useful to have an accreditation mark with which the client is more familiar such as UKAS (UK) or TGA-DAR (Germany). Some registrars can provide multiple accreditations for an additional fee.

Proposals. Proposals are based on standard guidelines assessing the size, scope and complexity of the applicant company. These guidelines are generic so man-days proposed by registrars for certification should be the same in theory. However, study the costs over the three-year certification period and the surveillance cycle or options quoted. In some cases, the surveillance cost can inflate the overall costs significantly as opposed to other proposals. A common mistake made by companies is to take the initial costs of becoming certified and selecting a registrar on that basis.

Location of the auditors can have an impact on the cost of certification because of travel expenses. In some cases, registrars will charge for the auditor's travel time, so it is essential to request details of any hidden costs associated with the delivery of the service.

Another aspect is the competitive certification market, whereby registrars are competing for a share of the market. The effects of this could be a reduction in the man-day rate. However, a cheap quote does not necessarily mean they will be able to provide a good service.

Registrar's portfolio. A factor becoming more and more relevant is the ability of a registrar to provide a "one-stop shop" for an organization's long-term certification needs. With the development of ISO 14001, QS-9000, TS 16949, AS 9100, HACCP and OSHA 18001, organizations are now developing integrated management systems and looking for a certification registrar who can provide integrated management systems audits. The benefits of this approach are to reduce the number of audits an organization will be subjected to and a reduction in certification costs.

Auditors. Certification companies are required to provide a suitable qualified auditor for the scope of work being applied. A copy of the auditor's curriculum vitae, or resume, can be requested, and in most cases, the registrar will provide this information.

Company visit. Most certification bodies will conduct sales visits to potential customers to assess the scope of certification. A preliminary visit is important for the certification body to get a better understanding of the company that is to be certified, and the visit also gives the client a better understanding of the people that they will be dealing with during the certification.

Conflict of interest. It is to be noted that accredited certification registrars are not allowed under the terms of their accreditation to perform consulting services that cause a conflict of interest. Registrars must be independent of any consulting activities if the audit process is to be truly an independent third-party assessment for a management system providing confidence to customers.

The selection of a consultant and certification registrar must not be based purely on price; a decision should be made based on added value. The object of such a consulting project is to develop and have certified a management system that will assist an organization in developing its processes and capabilities to meet it customer requirements while managing its resources more effectively.



Tech Tips

1. The selection of a consultant or certification registrar should not be based purely on price; a decision should be made on added value.

2. The right individual or organization can help to make a smooth transition.

3. Registrars have strengths and weaknesses depending on the market sectors for which they are accredited.

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