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The company -- which had grown from a one-man operation to a staff of 75 in just a few years -- was simply not prepared to handle the new demands thrust upon it, including increased paperwork, additional communications and more complex operations. As a way to help streamline operations and prepare for future growth, the company's management chose to seek ISO 9001: 2000 certification.
Solar Technology thought that the ISO 9001: 2000 certification process would be a long road without assistance from an expert consultant. But it also knew that bringing in a full-time consulting team to guide the process would be time consuming and costly. Another option was to self-direct the effort using ISO 9000-training software. But the company knew that this approach too is often ineffective without some form of consulting.
After assessing its options, Solar Technology decided to take a combined approach to certification, using a technology tool along with on-site consulting services. To provide these services, Solar Technology selected Prism eSolutions LLC (Blue Bell, PA), a Web-based applications, consulting and training company that specializes in ISO 9000 and ISO 14000.
Prism eSolutions provides a combination of on-site consulting services and Web-based applications designed to work together to enable organizations to pursue an expertly guided, self-directed path to certification. The company's Web product, called equationASP, delivers document management, online training, collaboration tools, a project management system and an ISO reference library from a single Web-based platform.
"We recognized that neither technology nor on-site consulting alone presented a complete answer to our ISO 9001: 2000 challenge," says Eric J. Zerphy, vice president of research and development and chief operating officer for Solar Technology. By combining both, "Prism offered a solid middle ground," he says.
Compared to other approaches, the Web-based platform saved money for Solar Technology by eliminating the need to invest in multiple software packages from different vendors. The fact that equationASP is Web-hosted also meant that Solar Technology didn't need a dedicated IT staff maintaining the system.
This approach to certification freed up Solar Technology staff time and resources, and helped ease Zerphy's concern about his company's ability to support expanding operations during the ISO 9001 implementation. "We liked the fact that equationASP took a major certification responsibility off of our backs. With other consulting firms, a great deal of the administrative work would have fallen on us," Zerphy relates. "We wanted to streamline our business, not add more work."
Zerphy was also pleased with the on-site consulting and training services that were provided. "Prism's experienced consultant was an important contributor to the success of our ISO 9001: 2000 implementation," he observes. "The consultant made sure that each staff member was doing his or her part, and that the certification process was on schedule."
The two-pronged process worked for Solar Technology. The company completed all certification requirements within five months -- 60% faster than the average ISO 9000 certification -- and the company was recommended for certification with zero noncompliances.
Next: the world
The fast ISO certification helped Solar Technology get a jump on some of its competitors. "Now that we're ISO certified, we're becoming much more of a global presence in our industry," says Byron Zerphy, Solar Technology's president and chief executive officer. The company now does business in Australia, Ireland and Qatar and is planning to move into Great Britain and other parts of Europe, places where companies demand that their vendors be certified, he says. "As the only American company in our industry to earn ISO 9000 certification, we're looking at huge growth opportunities -- both here and abroad."
ISO 9001: 2000 certification has also elevated Solar Technology's production to a "new level," the president adds. "We've seen a dramatic increase in the quality of the goods and services we provide, as well as the quality of the goods and services that we purchase," says Byron Zerphy. "By prequalifying and monitoring our suppliers, we're significantly cutting back the amount of reorder and rework that we have to do."