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Is Your Certification Body Offering Consulting?
In an effort to increase revenues, more and more certification bodies are offering consulting and auditing services to organizations they provide certification for, such as ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. Certification bodies may attempt to convince you by making claims of, “one-stop-shopping”, “more experience” or “less expensive”, but organizations should beware. This practice is kin to entering into an arranged marriage. Yes, selecting a certification body is very similar to a marriage and just as in a marriage, you need to know your options before selecting your spouse. If you never dated anyone else, you would not be aware of all the other options and may miss out on your soulmate wasting time, wasting money and possibly entering into an bad relationship.
In this article, I will provide the Top 5 reasons why your certification body should not provide consulting or auditing for companies that they currently or potentially may certify.
- It’s a Nonconformity to ISO 17021
- Does Not Provide Objectivity
- More Time and Money
- The Accreditation and Certification Structure
- Consultants Aligned with Certification Bodies
It’s a Nonconformity to ISO 17021
The first reason your certification body should not be your consultant or provide auditing, is because the practice is forbidden by ISO 17021, Conformity Assessment Requirements for Bodies Providing Auditing and Certification of Management Systems standard. You should consider purchasing ISO 17021, so that you better understand what certification bodies are and are not supposed to do. ISO 17021 is similar to ISO 9001, but it provides requirements for certification bodies. ISO 17021 defines management system consultancy as participating in designing, implementing or maintaining a management system. ISO 17021 identifies several threats and risks to the impartiality and objectivity of the certification process, when a certification body performs consulting and auditing services for their clients.
Here are a few requirements identified in ISO 17021:
- Being impartial, and being perceived to be impartial, is necessary for a certification body to deliver certification that provides confidence.
- Threats arise from a certification body acting in their own financial self-interest.
- Threats arise from a certification body reviewing the work done by themselves.
- Auditing the management system of a client to whom the certification body provided management system consultancy would be a self-review threat.
- The certification body and any part of the same legal entity shall not offer or provide management system consultancy. To attempt to disguise this, some certification bodies have established funnel companies that operate under a different name to create a funneling system to the legal entity that actually provides certification.
- Certification bodies and any part of the same legal entity shall not offer or provide internal audits to its certified clients.
- Certification bodies shall not make claims implying that certification would be simpler, easier, faster or less expensive if their certification body or a specific consulting company were used. See item 5 above.
- When performing training certification bodies are only allowed to provide generic training and should not provide company-specific solutions for companies they certify.
Does Not Provide Objectivity
As a consulting company, when we work with our clients in providing consulting services for their management system, it’s totally objective. We are only working in our clients’ best interest. A certification body that offers consulting or auditing does not have the motive of being objective. They have a motive to provide your organization with their certification, either directly or indirectly through their funnel company. As a consulting company, our motive is to be an advocate for our clients in selecting the right certification body that best matches our clients’ culture and style of operation.
All certification bodies are not the same, so its important to determine up-front, if the certification body is a good fit for your organization. For example, some certification bodies work better with big companies, but not as well with small to mid sized companies. Some certification bodies are more understanding and will work with you more than others. Some act as dictators and will nit-pick you to death to justify additional visits and charges. There are even certification companies that are not accredited, which means your certification may not be recognized by your customers or industry. As a consulting company we are able to help our clients make the right selection for them and prevent them from possibly entering into a bad relationship with the wrong certification body. Pursuing certification can be timely and costly.
More Time and Money
We often are able to save our clients up to $3,000 (per site) or more on the cost of their certification because we request quotes from various accredited certification bodies that we work with. A certification body that provides you with consulting or auditing, will not be objective and provide you with additional quotes from their competitors. We often request up to 5 quotes for our clients and we review them and provide our client with their best option. When considering costs for certification, some certification bodies may appear to be less expensive, but they have other administrative costs the you must pay annually, which makes the total cost of certification actually more expensive. If this is not considered, you could end up spending more on your certification than necessary.
We also consider issues such as travel and lodging costs for our clients. Certification bodies will provide you with a quote for certification, but may use an auditor from another state or city, which causes the client to incur an additional $3,000 – $5,000 (per site) for the cost of their certification. Certification bodies will also sometimes charge 8 hours for an activity that may actually only take 4 hours to complete. All of these factors ultimately increases the total cost of certification for your company.
Certification bodies will often provide clients with preliminary auditing services, which is referred to as a “gap analysis”, to determine if they are ready for certification, realizing that they are forbidden by ISO 17025 to provide consulting to assist in closing any identified gaps. Often clients are simply left with a list of gaps, which they have paid up to $4,000 (per site) for. As a consulting company, we are able to provide an objective list of findings along with recommendations for corrective actions to address them. As a consulting company, we walk our clients through all of these factors they should consider and often save them around $10,000 or more (per site) by properly guiding them through the certification process and selecting the right certification body for them, which more than pays for the investment made in retaining us as their consultant.
The Accreditation and Certification Structure
As a consulting company, we are able to put over 20 years of experience to work for your organization in avoiding common mistakes that companies make on their path to certification. These mistakes mean increased revenues to certification bodies, so the more mistakes you make, the more they are able to capitalize on those mistakes. Our goal as a consulting company is to help you reduce mistakes; therefore, saving you time and money. We are able to do this because we understand the accreditation and certification structure and process. Most companies don’t understand this and if they would, they would understand the need for a consultant to be their advocate and guide them through the certification maze.
The first thing to understand is that certification bodies are accredited by accreditation bodies to issue their certificates, not the International Organization for Standardization or ISO. The two biggest accreditation bodies are ANAB, The ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board and UKAS, United Kingdom Accreditation Service. You may notice a couple of familiar acronyms in the ANAB name. ANSI, American National Standards Institute and ASQ, American Society for Quality. These organizations are also supposed to ensure certification bodies comply with ISO 17021, which I mention above. Similar to the certification fees your organization pays, certification bodies pay an initial application fee of around $13,000 – $20,000, which is based upon the number of standards they are accredited to certify.
Certification bodies must also pay a semi-annual royalty of around 1.25% to their accreditation body for each certificate they issue, up to $3.6M per standard. In short, certification bodies, must “pay to play”. The cost that the certification bodies must pay are factored in the cost they charge you for your certification, which would explain why there is such a disparaging difference in prices from one certification body to the next. This may also explain why the nonconformity to ISO 17021 requirements that certification bodies not offer consulting or auditing services to their clients is not being fully enforced. If certification bodies are basically funding the operations of the accreditation bodies, through their fees and royalties, the accreditation bodies would be literally biting the hand that feeds them by enforcing the requirements of ISO 17021. Just imagine, if your certification body assesses a royalty on your revenues once they certify you. They may believe that your certification was the reason for your increased revenues and may want to charge you a royalty. As a consulting company, we do not desire to “pay to play” and understand the accreditation and certification structure. It would seem that as a consulting company, we would actually be the only objective entity involved in your certification process. This is a major reason why your certification body should not provide you with consulting or auditing services.
Consultants Aligned with Certification Bodies
Organizations should also be aware if their consulting company is aligned too closely with a specific certification body(s). Some consulting companies align themselves with a specific certification body because of back-end deals or referral fees, which does not allow them to only have their clients’ best interest in mind. For example, a certification body may agree to refer clients needing consulting to a consulting company, if the consulting company steers the client back to the certification body. If your consultant is certified by the same certification body that they recommend to you, this may be an indication of these types of back end deals. This type of arrangement places the consulting company in a very compromising position, as the certification body now has influence over the consulting company’s certificate. If a consulting company is to truly be an objective party in the certification process for their client, they must always be at “arms length” with certification bodies. As such, I also believe the accreditation bodies should operate at “arms length” with the certification bodies. A consulting company cannot and should not be in bed with a certification body. Besides this being unethical, it is a major conflict of interest for the client. At The ISO 9001 Group, we do not participate in “pay to play” structures. This allows us to work only in the best interest of our clients in their pursuit of certification.
In conclusion, it is not a good practice for certification bodies to also provide consulting or auditing. Besides not being a good practice, its a nonconformity to ISO 17021, which is the standard for certification bodies. There are some certification bodies that comply with ISO 17021 and are not willing to impede on the needed impartiality and objectivity required in the certification process in lieu of increased revenues. As a consulting company, we provide objectivity and allow our clients to save significant amounts of time and money on their overall certification costs. As accreditation bodies are funded by certification bodies, organizations should always seek the objective services of a consulting company to ensure that they are being given objective and impartial advice, with the only motive being what’s best for them. Organizations should also be aware of consulting companies that are too closely aligned with certification body(s). Pursuing certification can be a very intimidating and confusing journey and in many cases, its designed to this way. As a consulting company, we work to demystify the process and provide you with objective consultation and auditing in the design, implementation and maintenance of your management system, with only your best interest in mind.
Oscar Combs is the Founder and Senior Consultant of The ISO 9001 Group, a management consulting firm based in Houston, Texas. Oscar has over 20 years of experience working for several of the largest corporations in North America. Oscar has worked throughout North America, South America, The Middle East and Africa helping companies manage risk and improve their business operations. Oscar holds an MBA from the University of Houston and maintains various industry memberships. He also sits on various industry boards and committees. Read a message from Oscar here.
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