Optimation has been certified in ISO 9001 since 1996—one of the first service companies to do so. We were also among the early adopters—since 2001—of the best practices established by the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). We have developed processes and follow standards that are the foundation of our quality system and represent the core of how we run our company.
These procedures have stood the test of time, with our organization transitioning through several quality managers over the 21 years since our first ISO certification. We continue to not only maintain certification, but also grow with continuous improvement.
Comparison of the standards
In September 2015, the new ISO 9001:2015 standard was issued with the condition that all companies needed to transition from the ISO 9001:2008 standard to the new standard by September 2018. The normal ISO certification cycle is a recertification audit every three years with surveillance audits the two years in between. Optimation was due for recertification in 2017, so even though we had a year left before we had to convert to the new standard, we felt it would be more cost-effective and efficient to recertify to the ISO 9001:2015 standard in 2017. There were significant changes to the ISO 9001:2015 standard that would generally require extensive revisions and additions to an organization’s quality system, but because of our CSIA certification, we were far ahead of the curve.
The new ISO 9001:2015 standard is constructed around seven quality management principles:
- Customer focus
- Engagement of people
- Process approach
- Evidence-based decision-making
- Relationship management
This is a much different focus than the old standard, but ties nicely into the focus areas of the CSIA Best Practices and Benchmarks standard, which focuses on the whole business and the sustainability of the organization. System integrators following the CSIA standard are committed to delivering the highest level of quality, performance and reliability to their customers.
The areas of focus in the CSIA Best Practices include:
- General management
- Human resources management
- Marketing, business development and sales management
- Financial management
- Project management
- System development lifecycle
- Supporting activities
- Quality assurance
- Service and support
CSIA Best Practices and Benchmarks encourages companies to pay attention to and focus on risk, risk management, a strategic plan, and areas such as succession planning, disaster recovery and business continuation. They ensure that there is sound financial management, a budget, and a marketing business development and sales plan. This aligns very nicely with the new ISO 9001:2015 standard. Some of the new areas that the ISO 9001:2015 standard focuses on are leadership, planning support and performance evaluation.
In our quality system, we have created a matrix that looks at the clauses in the CSIA Best Practices standard and the ISO 9001:2015 standard. We cross-reference them in our system. There were many sections of our quality system that used to only line up with the CSIA standard under the old ISO 9001:2008 standard, but the additions to the new ISO 9001:2015 standard align much more closely with the CSIA standard. This was a huge plus for us because we did not have to add documentation to our current quality system in order to align with both standards. Most of the information already existed as part of our compliance with CSIA certification requirements.
Another area that was added to the ISO 9001:2015 standard was the introduction of interested parties. Immediately following the requirements that you understand your own organization, the standard says that you must understand the needs and expectations of interested parties. Interested parties impact the organization’s ability to provide products and services that consistently meet customer needs and legal requirements. The standard requires that you determine what interested parties are relevant to the quality management system (QMS), as well as the requirements of these parties that can affect the QMS.
Some examples of interested parties are:
• Government and non-government organizations
Some of these are self-explanatory, but in the past, organizations have not necessarily considered these in relation to their quality system. You obviously need to understand your customers’ needs, expectations and requirements, and this has been the basis of our quality system. But have you considered the legal requirements that your products or services need to meet? Are there governing bodies that affect your business, products or services?
Without employees, you don’t have a business, so all aspects of maintaining a happy and healthy workforce constitute interested party considerations. Other key interested parties include your shareholders. Your financial bottom line is directly affected by the cost of your products or services, and you need to understand the expectations of your shareholders with regards to performance and continuous improvement in order to satisfy them.
In preparation for the ISO 9001:2015 certification audit, we received information from our auditing body requesting a readiness assessment to the new standard. We performed the assessment and did a gap analysis focusing on the changes to the new standard. We were elated to find that we were already doing most, if not all, of the additions to the new ISO standard and that they were already incorporated into our procedures through our CSIA certification. We have developed and written our quality system to run our business around the framework of both CSIA Best Practices and ISO 9001 standards, and it has paid off!
During the opening meeting with our auditor, he told us that companies our size that were ISO 9001:2008 certified often had trouble recertifying to the ISO 9001:2015 standard because of the significant changes. At the end of the audit, he congratulated us on a huge accomplishment as we became certified to that new standard with no non-conformities, and he provided only a few suggestions for opportunities for improvement. As he talked about the sections that typically gave companies trouble, we recognized that we already had sound processes in place addressing those areas because of our CSIA certification. We are proud of our sound quality system and our dedicated employees that follow our procedures.
The auditor also commended us for something we have been doing since creating our quality system. We have recognized the importance of our customers as interested parties. We reference it in our quality policy, which can be found on every employee’s business card, as well as in the closing paragraph of our project proposals: “The employees of Optimation are committed to building lasting client relationships by striving to provide consistently superior project services.”
One of the things that has been said about the ISO 9001:2015 standard is that it aligns well with sector standards and other management system standards. We consider our sector standard to be the CSIA Best Practices standard. Only in this case, our CSIA certification helped us achieve our ISO certification.
The good news for integrators is that those that are certified to the CSIA Best Practices and Benchmarks standards will experience a much smoother conversion to ISO 9001:2015. And the good news for integration clients is that working with ISO 9001:2015 and CSIA-certified integrators means that you are working with organizations that are committed to quality, continuity and competency.
Wendy Smith is vice president of engineering at Optimation Technology Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Optimation, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.