Impact of ISO standards felt around the world

Barb ClearyWhen a group of 65 delegates from 25 countries met in London after World War II, little did they know that they were taking the first step toward what would become the “end of technology nationalism,” nor would they anticipate the global markets that now demand standard expectations and uniformity in measurements as well as other aspects of management.

The group, known as the International Organization for Standards, met in 1947 to discuss the future of standardization throughout the world. Today, ISO provides guidelines that include standards for manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, health and safety, quality management, and technology.

The first ISO standard was published in 1951, and was known as ISO/R1:1951, “Standard reference temperature for industrial length measurements.” This standard has evolved now to “ISO 1:2002 Geometrical Product Specifications (GPS) – Standard reference temperature for geometrical product specification.” In 1960, ISO published the standard ISO 31 on quantities and units (which has since been replaced by ISO 80 000). ISO 31 is based on SI (Système international d’unités). The SI sets out one unit for each quantity–for example, the metre for distance and the second for time. The objective of the SI system is to reach world-wide uniformity in units of measurement. 1

ISO published its first quality management standards, known as the ISO 9000, family a few years later, and these have become among the best known and best selling standards.

While establishing standards for measurement may seem a far cry from quality management, there can be no doubt that improvement of processes and products relies fundamentally on these standards. Meeting standards for technical tools, environmental impacts, and information security demands close examination of an organization’s understanding of the systems that are affected by the standards, and ultimately, improving those systems in order to meet the requirements for specific standards. Beyond these connections, ISO recognized the need for a specific quality management standard in 1987, establishing the ISO 9000 family of standards.

ISO standards have expanded in scope and impact since those mid-twentieth-century beginnings. In 1971, ISO created its first two technical committees related to the environment, focusing on both air and water quality. By 1996, the organization had launched ISO 14001, an environmental management system. What followed were standards for information security and for social responsibility, as well as other broad standards.

The microeconomic impacts of standards can be seen in case studies of individual companies all over the world. “Many case studies apply the ISO Methodology for the assessment of economic benefits of standards, which aims at an identification and quantification of the benefits companies can derive from the use of standards.”2

Case studies of companies from Mauritius to Senegal, Italy to China, have recorded positive impacts derived from application of standards, cited on an ISO website.

Areas addressed by ISO standards:

With advances in technology, including software programs that manage data and provide access to easy analysis, the ISO standards have become a way of life for many organizations that seek acknowledgement of the integrity of their systems. SQCpack, GAGEpack, and CHARTrunner solutions are often seen as the workhorses that render conformity to standards easy to establish.

“The software makes data analysis that supports ISO standards easy,” says Steve Daum, Software Development Manager for PQ Systems. “Auditors look for the proof of quality that these solutions offer.”

While the originators of the standards may not have anticipated the impact of technology on their product, they would undoubtedly be pleased to see the number of organizations that seek certification to their standards, and the ways that they prove their conformity to the standards with modern technology.

  1. Source of information related to ISO history: http://www.iso.org/iso/home/about/the_iso_story.htm#7
  2. http://www.iso.org/iso/home/standards/benefitsofstandards/benefits_repository.htm?type=EBS-MS

One thought on “Impact of ISO standards felt around the world

  1. As per my over 30 years of experience in China until today, majority of the ISO9000 certificated factories in China are just a paper system. The certificates are purchased. Most of the auditors/audit companies are not actually and throughly knowing the requirements.

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