The road to the future
Interview with The Secretary-General of the International Standardization Organization.
By Sergio da Silva, UNOG/ICTS.
The Secretary-General of the
By Sergio da Silva, UNOG/ICTS.
The word standard is generally associated with the application of recognized principles dealing among others, with quality, security, reliability, effectiveness and interchangeability applied to ser- vices, products, procedures and management. To talk to us about this subject, we invited Mr. Alan Bryden, who is the Secretary-General of the International Standardization Organization.
What is an ISO standard ?
An ISO standard is a voluntary agreement based on consensus among national delegations of experts in the relevant field, representing all the economic stakeholders concerned suppliers, users, government regulators and other interest groups, such as consumers. They agree on specifications and criteria to be applied consistently in the classification of materials, in the manufacture and supply of products, in testing and analysis, in terminology, in management and conformity assessment practices and in the provision of services. There some 188 ISO technical committees mobilizing some 40 000 experts, including from some 565 international organizations in liaison, many of which are UN Commissions and Agencies.
In order to grasp the essence of ISOs work, it can help to see standardization as the job of transforming valued criteria such as quality, ecology, safety, economy, reliability, compatibility, interoperability, efficiency and effectiveness into real attributes of products and services that are manufactured, delivered, bought, used at work or home, or at play. To realize this transformation, standardization develops the values and criteria into specific and concrete characteristics that are relevant to a given product or service and practical to implement during its design, manufacture or supply. Standards, which can also be understood are the collective crystallization of knowledge, facilitate trade as well as the dissemination of technology and good practices
How can these standards be applied to the UN, its programmes or its procedures ?
Between 1947 and the present day, ISO has published more than 14 300 International Standards. ISOs work programme ranges from standards for traditional activities, such as agriculture and construction, through mechanical engineering, to medical devices, to the newest information technology developments. The UN and the staff who work in its agencies no doubt use or benefit from many ISO standards in both their professional and private lives. However, I presume your question concerns the ISO 9000 standards for quality management.
These can certainly be applied to the UN, as they are «generic management systems standards». This means that the same standards can be applied to any organization, large or small, whatever its product or service, in any sector of activity, and whether it is a business enterprise, a public administration, a government department, an NGO or a UN agency.
«Management system» refers to what the organization does to manage its processes, or activities, in order that the products or services that it produces meet the objectives it has set itself, such as satisfying the quality requirements of its customers, and complying to regulations.
Implementing a management system is a way to ensure that nothing important is left out and that everyone is clear about who is responsible for doing what, when, how, why and where.
The ISO 9000 standards provide the organization with a model to follow in setting up and operating the quality management system. This model incorporates the features on which experts in the field have reached a consensus as representing the international state of the art.
The requirements for a quality system have been standardized but most of us like to think our organization is unique. So how does the ISO 9000 approach allow for the diversity of say, on the one hand, a « Mr. and Mrs. » enterprise, and on the other, to a multinational manufacturing company with service components, or a public utility, or a government administration or to the UN system?
The answer is that the ISO 9000 approach lays down what requirements your quality system must meet, but does not dictate how they should be met in your organization which leaves great scope and flexibility for implementation in different business sectors and organizational cultures.
In practical terms, how would the application of these standards affect the way an Organization works internally, with other Organizations or with the civil society?
Its a question of focus. Too often, organizations are inward-looking and decisions are made according to the interests of their hierarchies. However, an organization that implements ISO 9001:2000 which is the latest, improved model has a customer focus. It understands that whatever its product or service, in order to ensure its survival it has to satisfy its customers (although in the UN context, «stakeholders» may be more understandable than «customers»). Therefore, the organization becomes focused on identifying its various stakeholders, their requirements, and the means of satisfying them.
To do so efficiently and effectively, the organization comes to see itself as a system in which departments are linked by inter- related processes. Therefore, everyone is both internal supplier and customer, and treats each other with appropriate consideration of respective requirements, contributing to the overall objective of satisfying the external customers.
External organizations may be customers, or they may be suppliers of resources, products and services and achieving mutually beneficial relationships with these suppliers will create additional value by increasing speed of response, or optimizing costs and the use of resources.
In implementing ISO 9001:2000, the organizations that make up the UN system would be in a similar context to that of the humanitarian NGOs that are turning to the standard. Their «customers» include both the victims of famine, war or disease that they aid and the donor governments, business organizations and citizens that provide them with funds and other support.
Like these NGOs, implementing ISO 9001:2000 would be a means for the UN to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of its activities, and to demonstrate good stewardship of the resources it is entrusted by governments. This is turn can only increase its standing and influence in the eyes of civil society as a whole.
If an Organization wished to improve the quality of service provided to its clients for example in an IT department, how would the implementation of ISO 9000 help, both from the department and the client point of view ?
This has really been covered in my answers to the previous questions. What I can say is that, except as a pilot project, it makes little sense to implement ISO 9001:2000 in a single department its benefits are best achieved by implementation throughout the organization. The ISO 9000 approach is a holistic one that is the antithesis of the «silo mentality» or «baronies» which cripple the effectiveness of many organizations.
In addition, ISO 9001:2000 requires management review, internal auditing of the quality system, measuring processes and monitoring customer satisfaction which, when implemented together, meet the standards basic requirement for continual improvement. ISO 9001:2000 quality is not a destination, but a journey.
What is ISO doing in terms of education of future generations regarding the sustainability of its values ?
ISOs vocation is to make a positive, practical difference in the here and now, rather than the education of future generations. Naturally, however, we are committed to leaving the earth and its resources in the best possible state for future generations. Our broad portfolio includes standards for products, ser- vices, and good management and environmental practices that together constitute a toolbox for sustainable development.
ISO is also committed to ensuring that developing countries, which make up more than 100 of our 146 members, enjoy the benefits of participation in international standardization to the full and this involves us in education and training activities, often in collaboration with other international organizations. We have thus cooperated with the WTO and at the end of last year, I signed a memorandum of understanding with UNIDO and ITC to assist developing countries by the development of joint training material and awareness-raising workshops on standardization.
Lastly, ISO actively supports The ISO 14000 Kids Programme on which the United Nations University is co-operating, and which is also supported by UNEP. The programme aims to harness the energy of children and young people around the world to tackle environmental challenges and provides a clear example of ISOs commitment to future generations and to sustainable development.