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Quality Certification Declines in Mature Countries
ISO survey for 2007 shows exceptions to global growth
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2008-11-25 13:01 (KST)   
A survey shows continued global growth in numbers of certificates for standards on management systems, but there are signs of a possible decline in mature countries such as the UK and US. The ISO is the International Organisation for Standardization and the management standards include ISO 9000 on quality, ISO 14000 on environment and others for the automotive industry, medical devices and information security. The certificates demonstrate that a site is working to the standard and the annual survey shows the trends in numbers.

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Although there are complicating factors, there appears to be less ISO 9000 concern in the US and UK. The UK is down from 40,909 in 2006 to 35,517 in 2007 and the US from 44,883 to 36,192. This is in the context of continued global growth with China changing from 162,259 to 210,773.

The ISO point out that "the continuing growth of sector- or activity-specific editions of ISO 9001 reduces the number of certifications to the generic standard" and that "the trend for organizations to replace multiple-site certificates by one certificate covering all sites continues, although its extent is difficult to quantify, and also reduces the number of certificates".

The ISO Press Release also states that "The market for certification is maturing in certain countries where this activity began early on." This could be a reference to the UK where BS5750 provided a model for the ISO standard and the US, source for the Allied Quality Assurance Procedures introduced to the UK through NATO. Future surveys may show whether this maturity takes the form of a plateau or the start of a decline.

Possible explanations include the manufacturing bias in ISO 9000 and the interest in alternative approaches. Although the quality standards can be used for service organisations the original standards were written for manufacturing and there is less production happening in the UK and US. The early reputation for conformance obsessed paperwork has continued to some extent. John Seddon recently told Quality World that ISO 9000 is "quality for under achievers. The only reason it has been successful is because of market coercian." Companies are forced to certification to meet the requirements of buyers. This could explain the growth in countries where exporting is an issue. The ISO mention that the 2007 survey results "continue to shed light on the evolution of the global economy, with newly emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil and the Russian Federation appearing among the leading countries for totals of certificates issued."

In 2000 there was a major revision of ISO 9000, intended to address the problems with the previous version. John Hele from the British Standards Institute recently explained in Quality World that "the standard was lifted from what basically was an inspection standard full of quality assurance and control into a standard that was much more management system based. It introduced the eight quality management principles and it was more about processes; a system approach to management and competence for employees, as well as being driven by top management."

It is possible that this requirement for top management involvement has been difficult to evidence and some organisations may have dropped ISO 9000 as the process approach is harder to understand. Research is not available in the UK as the apparent decline in ISO 9000 is not widely recognised as an issue.

In the US the ISO standards have not ever been seen as central to quality policy, compared for example to the Malcolm Baldridge Awards. In "A History of Managing for Quality" (ASQC 1995), Joseph Juran associated the ISO standards with Western Europe and suggested that "there is a risk that European companies are in for a massive let down. They are getting certified to ISO 9000, but this alone will not enable them to attain quality leadership." So even after the 2000 revisions it would not be surprising if managers in the US had their own ideas about quality as well as ISO.

China is also leading in the area of environmental management. The 2007 survey shows 30,489 certificates, closely followed by Japan with 27,955. Korea with 6,392 is just ahead of the US with 5,462. There is commercial pressure to show environmental credentials but this is not the only explanation for interest in this standard.

The approach in ISO 9000 has been adapted for particular sectors, including automobiles and medical devices. On automotive (ISO/TS 16949:2002) China was slightly ahead of the US in 2006 (4,758 compared to 3,852) but the difference is now significant (7,732 compared to 4,288). Design and marketing continue to be based in the US but the certification numbers probably indicate a trend in the location of production sites.

Germany has significantly increased certification for medical devices (2,204 for 2007 compared with 699 in 2006) and is now slightly ahead of the US with 2,186. Previously medical devices (ISO 13485:2003) were the only product area where the US was clearly convinced about ISO. It will be interesting to see how the trends continue.

Information Security shows a different pattern, with most of the interest clearly located in Japan. There are 4,896 certificates for 2007, up from 3,790. Next are the UK and India with just over 500 each. Taipei with 256 is ahead of China with 146. In this case it seems unlikely that the Japanese are working on the standard because they have been forced to by some other country. The reputation for information security is good and it may be that they find the standard useful.

The Information Security standard (ISO/IEC 27001:2005)is structured around the phases of the "Plan-Do-Check-Act" approach known as the Deming Cycle though he called it the Shewart Cycle and there is a good description in the book "What is Total Quality Control?" by Kaoru Ishikawa. Juran's history of quality in the US records that "the Japanese adopted some unprecedented strategies for creating their revolution in quality", including upper managers personally taking charge and training for the entire managerial hierarchy. PDCA may originate in the US but there may be reasons why it is documented in Japan.

Quality Circles have continued in Asia although they are now rare in the UK and US. Ishikawa suggested that Christianity implies the belief that man is by nature evil. This could explain the emphasis on inspection as employees cannot be trusted. I am not sure if this explains current trends or if it is widely understood. The translator of "What Is Total Quality Control?" adds a section to explain where he disagrees. However there seems to be some connection between the circumstances for Quality Circles and the adoption of PDCA.

Management interest in standards could increase with integration of different approaches. In theory the PDCA structure will relate to each one and the associated guidance. ISO 9000 has been recently revised, with the intention of aligning more closely with other standards. Managers may find the different documents confusing however, and choose to develop their own idea of what PDCA could mean.

©2008 ISO
It is similar to a description of learning or scientific inquiry. There could be more study of how learning happens as part of a quality system. In 1996 Chris Argyris and Donald Schon wrote that "in the academic as well as the practical world, organizational learning has become an idea in good currency." My impression is that for academics there has been more recent emphasis on "leadership" though this may now include "distributed leadership" so that organizational learning is still relevant. There may be more study of links between quality systems and learning organizations. Case studies on ISO 9000 will be possible close to all countries with a business school.

A PDF of the main findings of the survey is available for download. The full survey is available from the ISO Store.

Aspects of this story will be discussed in the blog "Learning with ISO 9000" - http://learn9log.blogspot.com
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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