So….exactly what is ISO 9001:2008 and how is it relevant to a service organisation?

Published: 24 November, 2015
So….exactly what is ISO 9001:2008 and how is it relevant to a service organisation?

For my sins the maintenance and indeed extension of ISO 9001:2008 across Care Plus Group is something that I’m heavily involved in.   So what? I hear you cry.  Well that’s part of the problem I face on a daily basis, ISO has the danger of becoming a bit of a dark art in that no-one understands it, nor do they particularly want to.  The biggest challenge is demystifying it!

It’s probably best if I give you a very brief background into what ISO 9001:2008 is.  It actually stands for International Organisation for Standardisation.  (Yes, I know it should be IOS but I’m guessing that whoever came up the acronym was either not very good at them or anticipated that Bill Gates would soon be developing an operating system for Apple mobile phones!).  The 9001 relates to the standard itself with the 9000 series addressing quality management. (There are many varying standards, for example ISO 50001 addresses Energy Management – how very exciting!)  The 2008 is the year of the most recent standard update.  Now that’s addressed, I’m going to just refer to ISO rather than ISO 9001:2008 from here on in.

At this point I imagine it would really useful if I mention that ISO at present is very, very engineering based even down to the language.  (I’m not an engineer, I feel smug when I manage to empty the dishwasher without breaking it).  I’ve therefore tried to avoid ‘ISO speak’ wherever possible.  When I’ve not managed to do that, I’ll try to break down the previous jargon into something us non-engineering types can understand. 

Quality Management System in a nutshell

ISO is a Quality Management System that gives organisations the framework of a set of common sense processes to add value to the business.  It makes us slicker with everything thing we do. It gives us a structure so everyone knows what they’re doing, when they’re doing it and why they’re doing it.  Very much a case of we do what we say we do.   

Chances are that organisations have already these processes in place, they just might not be quite aligned with each other.  What non-ISO organisations don’t have is the much sought after accreditation mark (more on that later.)  Those organisations that don’t have processes in place are what are more commonly known in the world as CHAOS!   Imagine that in the picture below each of those arrows in the ball (the organisation) represents individual processes or even staff.   They’ve all got their own interpretations of what needs doing and how it should be done.   Because they’re all going off in differing directions, in turn they’re preventing the organisation reaching its objective.

ISO 1 

Now imagine all of those arrows are on the same page, they’re all singing from the same song sheet and working together….

 Blog 2

Much better.

So why is it important?

So we’ve established that ISO makes organisations slicker in how they operate and assists them with achieving organisational objectives but you’re now thinking ‘So….how does this affect me/us?’.   Well on a day-to-day basis and within our own individual teams, ISO doesn’t really affect you at all.  What it does do is bring a standardisation to what you do, so your day-to-day to operations are put on a document what is known as the Scope.  Each ISO accredited service within Care Plus Group has a scope which serves, if you like, as a step-by-step guide to that service.  Crucially it is also a key element of what services are assessed against by the accrediting body. 

As soon as we mention words assess, accredit and inspect it has this horrible habit of making people panic.  I can’t stress enough, this should not be the case.  Assess is just a fancy word for review.  Likewise, Accredit  for award.  

As an organisation overall, the introduction of ISO has meant some subtle changes – an example of this is that we must have certain documentation like a Document Control Policy, in place.  However it differs very little from the above mentioned for individual services, it is still a case of bringing standardisation to what we all do.

Giving a competitive advantage

A few paragraphs back we spoke about accreditation, this is ultimately what Care Plus Group is seeking when we put any services up for ISO.  Why?  Well it’s quite simple, in addition to the slicker business set-up, it gives us a competitive advantage.  When we talk competitive advantage it doesn’t seem to quite fit with Health and Social Care….well at least it didn’t previously.    Care Plus Group is a business in a competitive market, with goals of keeping existing services but also expanding into new markets.  Anything that gives that competitive advantage is something to be grabbed with both hands! 

How ISO gives that competitive advantage is probably even simpler and this is an analogy that I use all the time:  When you’re buying a safety product, for this example, let’s say a fire extinguisher.  Above all you want a recognised mark of its quality and safety, the one thing you are instantly reassured by is the BSI Kitemark.  What that Kitemark says is ‘THIS PRODUCT IS SAFE!  THIS PRODUCT IS QUALITY!  LOOK – WE HAVE THE KITEMARK TO SAY SO!” In fact, according to a GfK NOP Consumer Survey, the Kitemark is recognised by 82% of the United Kingdom population, 88% of whom trust the Kitemark.  Some quick napkin workings tell me that’s approximately 46 million people in the UK alone who trust the Kitemark!

Like ISO, the BSI Kitemark certification is not a legal requirement but it provides that above and beyond level of reassurance.  There are a lot of similarities between ISO and BSI Kitemark in terms not only of achievement of accreditation but also in the fact they are based around Quality Management Systems.

If BSI Kitemark can give producers of safety product that extra level of recognisability and assurance to customers, why wouldn’t ISO do the same for Care Plus Group?  To our key stakeholders (Patients/Service Users) but also to our present and potential future commissioners?  Sticking with the fire extinguisher analogy, are you more likely to buy one with a kitemark or without?    

There you have a very, very brief whistle-stop tour of what ISO is and why it’s so important to Care Plus Group.  The one thing mentioned above briefly which hasn’t been covered in depth is the language of ISO.  This is due to change with the move from ISO 9001: 2008 standard to ISO 9001:2015, but I think that’s a topic for another time…

Another topic for another day is the accreditation process itself, which brings me nicely onto a conclusion that on 30th September 2015 Care Plus Group were successful in their annual surveillance audit by our external accreditors.  Whilst here our assessor spoke so highly of the services we deliver and the wonderful staff we have.   That’s testament to the incredible work all of our staff do on a daily basis.  

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Written by: Paul Holmes

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