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Comments from the Accreditation Service for Certifying Bodies (Europe)

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QualityZoneASCB(E) response to invitation to comment on Dr Eicher's remarks about the ISO 9000 community to Police itself:

As a quality practitioner my first response to Dr Eicher is to challenge his assertions. (Please note, I do not use the term 'refute').

I perceive in the Doctor's comments a degree of ubjectivity and a lack of objectivity. Words such as 'weed out malpractice', 'integrity', 'charlatans' and 'facing a serious challenge'. There was little substance in his reported words but they engendered some obvious emotion. Admittedly, his comments were made at the opening of a meeting on conformity assessment and were not, I assume, the result of a detailed study. In the light of what Roger Brockway says in the UKAS response it is puzzling why the tone of UKAS comments are supportive to the Doctor because he says that there is no reason to believe that the certification process has become a prey to malpractice within the UK. I tend to agree with Roger although there are some areas of concern to be addressed.

I see Dr Eicher's comments as an attack on a new sector of the quality profession that I would view as ntrepreneurial. Individuals and organisations offering their services in the way Dr Eicher suggests may or may not do a good job. I would not however hold these 'charlatans' responsible for their actions. They have been allowed to enter the market place not because of the lack of policing as Dr Eicher suggests, but because inadequate service by the established certification industry has encouraged them to do it.

We are within a free market, The European Union, and a fundamental premise of the Union is freedom to trade. Everyone should be on a 'level playing field'. However the standards and certification circus has so mismanaged this arena that the opposite has been achieved. Significant pressure has been put on large purchasing organisations throughout the EU but especially within the UK for organisations to achieve certification to ISO 9000 as a pre-requisite to tendering. Any self-respecting businessman will view this as just another hurdle to be surmounted in order to conduct his trade. On occasion, business people will also see the benefits and potential that ISO 9000 can offer an organisation. However there is a degree of evangelism at play here and as Frank Steer of the IQA says in his response "Leadership and motivation for ISO 9000 use comes from the top" I would stress his use of the word 'use'.

Unless 'The Top' believes ISO 9000 to be a contributing element to the business it will be treated as a chore and just another hurdle to be surmounted by business rather than an opportunity to be grabbed. There has been significant experience of this attitude within the UK.

The quality profession and industry therefore has a dichotomy. On the one hand we have 'the purists' expecting their followers to demonstrate some evangelical zeal for the quality discipline as if that and that alone will ensure the survivability of a business; and on the other hand we have 'the pragmatists' who will do what is necessary to be done in order to meet customer needs and ensure customer satisfaction. Some would say that these two sides of the dichotomy want the same thing. ASCB(E) perceive that whilst customer satisfaction is the claimed objective of both the purists and the pragmatists, it is the purists that allow themselves to be sidetracked by the obscurity and wonder of their own arguments and offerings and industry has become disenchanted by this and accepted other approaches to ISO 9000.

Within the UK there were no 'charlatans', 'cowboys' or 'dishonest operators' before the established providers of so called certification services had learned how to muck things up. Dr Eicher is attacking a sector of the quality profession without naming them or their faults. He does reference the practice of writing quality manuals and then of the author issuing a certificate. I can understand his concern on this issue but what policing does he believe will adequately address this? We have thousands of regulations and directives every year emanating from the EU and have many other regulations from within individual member states as well. Does he really believe that another policy or policing document will address this situation. I say 'situation' because I do not believe it is much of a problem.

Yes, the practice of 'self certification' has existed but it is only within the quality profession that this is looked upon as a heinous crime. The real problem is that an un-businesslike, ponderous, dictatorial and largely irrelevant quality profession thought it could make a commercial killing by telling industry that unless it conforms to their prescribed style of quality management then trading conditions would be more difficult for them.

This establishment profession had successfully created a new market and then proceeded to woefully serve it ill. Little wonder then that entrepreneurial quality practitioners have entered the market with more user-friendly and cost effective services. It is a fairly pathetic response to call these newcomers charlatans and the like and to accuse them of lack of integrity.

On the other hand, are not the people urging Dr Eicher to make his remarks sailing dangerously close to the wind as far as integrity is concerned? Are they not encouraging a breach of competition rules by formulating the 'closed shop' of mutual recognition agreements, mandatory certification via one type of accreditation regime and other stifling arrangements? Moreover Dr Eicher, how do you respond to 'sound' certification bodies who, whilst
they may not have written initial quality manuals, are now actively involved in hawking Training Courses, Gap Analyses and the like to their certification registrants. Do you believe that integrity can not be questioned when firms who need ISO 9000 registration in order to maintain
contracts are being urged to procure so many extra services from the organisations issuing the certificates?

There has been at least a decade to get this scenario right and the quality profession has let down industry and itself very badly. The most effective thing the quality profession can do now is back off from encouraging purchasers to insist on ISO 9000 registration. Firms will then take to the
standard and registration for its benefits and opportunities and this will then dissipate the dichotomy between opposing schools of business management. If firms do not take to the standard voluntarily then one has to ask why so many sound business minds refuse a good thing?

No, Dr Eicher. You are wrong to suggest more policing. You would have been better advised to urge less insistence for ISO 9000 certification policing and more for ISO 9000 real practice.

I believe that maintenance of standards is not the real subject here. Money is behind this issue and the protection of the market that the established certification profession is trying to cling onto.

As a final thought, we do not experience these debates on product certification. Is it because there is not so much cash involved?

Stephen Feltham
Accreditation Service for Certifying Bodies (Europe)

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