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Volume 8 · Issue 12 · December 2003


Task Force Meets to Act on Survey of Registrars
IAF Task Force Works to Increase Registrar Satisfaction

In the spirit of ISO 9001:2000, a Task Force of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) met December 15-16, 2003, to begin drafting an action plan to address five target issues identified as providing the best opportunities for increased customer satisfaction. The IAF Task Force was appointed to examine the results of a customer satisfaction survey of registrars, which are the IAF’s customers, and to propose an action plan to be presented to the IAF Executive Committee for consideration and likely approval when it meets in Vancouver in March 2004.

“We have an important message to get out—that the IAF agreed to undertake this survey, that the Executive Committee took on the survey results and that this Task Force was created to act on those results,” noted Robert H. King, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer of the Registrar Accreditation Board (RAB), in remarks to the press following the 2-day meeting in Washington, DC. RAB administers the US National Accreditation Program (NAP), which is jointly run with the American National Standards Institution.

King was among those appointed from accreditation bodies in the Americas, Asia and Europe to serve on the IAF Task Force. The IAF membership presently consists of 102 accreditation bodies (ABs), most of which have been through a peer-review process and have signed a multilateral agreement (MLA) while others are committed to doing so. The Task Force has representation from ABs from Canada, Japan, Netherlands, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States. Haru L. Uchida of the Japan Testing Center for Construction Materials representing JACO, a CRB association in Japan, and H. Pierre Sallé, President of KEMA–Registered Quality, Inc., and of the International Association of Accredited Registrars (IAAR), are also serving on the Task Force as certification/registration body (CRB) representatives, as is Tim Inman, who is serving in his role as Chairman of the European Federation of Associations of Certification Bodies (EFAC), which represents CRB interests in Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Romania, the United Kingdom and Yugoslavia. In addition, EFAC is a member of the IAF. “In all, EFAC’s members have some 30,000 accredited certificates in issue,” indicated Inman.

At their first meeting, the Task Force members who were able to attend in person evaluated the survey results and began the process of developing proposed steps aimed at improving the customer-supplier relationship involving CRBs and ABs. A press release from the IAF Task Force that summarizes events leading up to the survey, the key survey findings and what the Task Force accomplished at its first meeting is reprinted on page 17. The five issues that the survey identified as being primary targets for action by the IAF call on the IAF members to improve processes so that they will:

  1. Complete the accreditation procedure in a timely manner
  2. Respond quickly to requests for the extension of an accreditation scope
  3. Have open and clear communications with the CRBs
  4. Treat CRBs as valued customers
  5. Provide services that are a good value for the money.

“This is an important group and this was a good meeting, the results of which member CRBs will find satisfying,” acknowledged Sallé. “The process we have undertaken in the past two days has been helpful and useful in making improvements to the AB-CRB relationship.”

During the press conference, King and other Task Force members indicated that the IAF survey was conducted in the spring of 2003 by Burke, Inc., an international research and consulting firm that helps manufacturing and service organizations understand and accurately predict marketplace behavior. The decision to undertake a survey was the outcome of a September 2002 IAF meeting in Berlin. At that meeting, Sallé gave a presentation on the findings of a 2002 IAAR survey of its members, who account for more than 95% of all accredited registrations to ISO 9001/2/3 in the United States and a sizable portion of global registrations.

“The IAF members were interested in the global level of the IAAR survey, which addressed the satisfaction of IAAR members with the services of ABs,” acknowledged King, who indicated that the IAAR survey and its results were a motivational factor behind the IAF decision to develop its own survey and to use Burke to obtain a sophisticated analysis of the results. “While the IAAR survey raised certain key issues among its members, the IAF survey was the first customer satisfaction survey of the relationship between CRBs, which are the customers, and the ABs that belong to the IAF and are the suppliers,” pointed out King. “This is a response by the IAF to industry that the IAF members will deliver a value-added product, which takes the form of an accredited registration certificate.”

Tom Meyers of Burke explained at the press conference that the IAF survey and the analysis conducted of the survey results were designed to do more than just obtain satisfaction levels from the registrars. “The satisfaction areas were, in most areas, consistent across all CRBs, but the purpose of the analysis was to identify the best chances for making improvements among ABs,” recalled Meyers, who added, “We conducted a psychometric analysis of the survey results to bring key issues to the surface, and the analysis was validated by regional survey results.”

This outcome was confirmed at the press conference by Paul Stennett of the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). “The Burke analysis made the IAF survey results actionable,” stressed Stennett. “The analysis prioritized the five key issues that we need to address in order to improve service to CRBs. Thanks to the sophisticated analysis techniques used by Burke, this survey has much more value to ABs and the IAF than the usual simple listing of dislikes or dissatisfaction issues presented from customer surveys.”

In his summarization of the meeting, King reported that the Task Force discussed each of the five target issues identified by Burke in its analysis of the survey results. This included an examination by the Task Force of each issue from a regional perspective. “The first thing we did was identify barriers, both those between ABs and CRBs and those between different regions of the world, that related to these target issues,” remarked King, who noted that cultural and business approaches differ by region and impact on accreditation and registration practices. “Then we began the process of reaching consensus on steps the IAF needs to take to remove or at least reduce those barriers. Many ABs already believed some of these are things that IAF and its members need to do, and all the steps to be proposed in the action plan fit in with what would be considered best practices.”

Indeed, several Task Force members confirmed that there were no surprises in the IAF survey findings. Jan C. van der Poel, Chief Executive of Raad voor Accreditatie (RvA), the Dutch accreditation council, told THE OUTLOOK that a trade association survey in the Netherlands two years ago had produced similar findings to those in the IAF survey. Further, King and a representative of the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) acknowledged that they had been privy to the IAAR findings and that the analysis of the IAF survey results simply provided a focus on key issues where improvement was most strongly desired and where actions could easily be taken.

“The differences between the IAAR and IAF surveys are that the IAAR survey raised certain key issues that need to be addressed to improve the relationship of the ABs with the CRBs they accredit, while the IAF survey confirmed the legitimacy of these issues and identified specific issues to be addressed,” remarked Sallé. “It will always be a challenge to add value to both the accreditor-registrar relationship and the registration certificate bearing an accreditation mark. The ABs and CRBs need to work together to find the value for the customers, both the CRBs and the users of the management system standards. ISO 9001 is maturing, the management systems of many of the companies and other organizations that are using ISO 9001 are also maturing and so are we, the registrars and accreditation bodies that make the system work.”

“The CRBs are very responsive to issues raised by the ABs, and the accreditation bodies really depend on the CRBs to make sure their complaints about the working relationship are made known to the ABs,” pointed out King.

IAF Task Force Responds to Customer Satisfaction Survey

Washington, DC – A task force of the IAF met to develop recommendations to improve satisfaction among customers of services provided by IAF and its member accreditation bodies (ABs) in response to results of an IAF survey.

The task force agreed that ABs and certification/registration bodies (CRBs) need to work together in partnership to ensure the integrity of accredited certification and to deliver effective and valued services to the end user.

IAF’s global customer satisfaction survey was conducted by Burke Inc. to gather feedback from the CRB customers of the AB members of IAF. Survey results were reviewed by the IAF general assembly during the September 2003 IAF Plenary meeting in Bratislava, and the IAF Executive Committee appointed the task force to consider the findings, determine the areas of greatest opportunity for improvement, and present an action plan.

The five target issues identified are:

  1. Completes accreditation procedure in a timely manner
  2. Responds quickly to requests for extension of scope
  3. Has open clear communications with me
  4. Treats me as a valued customer
  5. Provides services that are a good value for the money

In a two-day meeting, the task force reviewed the survey results and confirmed the findings on the basis of regional research results known to task force members, as well as direct customer feedback. Task force members reviewed best practices among ABs and CRBs, including initiatives already under way.

The recommendations proposed by the team included some directed specifically at IAF and others directed at IAF member ABs. The task force considered such things as the need to more clearly define roles and responsibilities within accreditation and certification processes and to clarify expectations of all involved.

An action plan including specific recommendations relating to each of the five key issues will be presented to the IAF Executive Committee at its meeting March 2-3, 2004, in Vancouver, BC. The recommendations will include timelines for implementation.

Task force members include representatives of ABs and CRBs in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. An observer from the IAF Executive Committee also participated in the task force meeting.

The International Accreditation Forum, Inc., is the world association of conformity assessment accreditation bodies and other bodies interested in conformity assessment. It primary function is to develop a single worldwide program of conformity assessment which reduces risk for business and its customers by assuring them that accredited certificates may be relied upon.

December 16, 2003

When asked how the ABs obtain feedback from the registrars, Inman indicated that the IAF and the individual accreditation bodies have a number of communication vehicles, including the CRB associations and the AB and IAF complaints handling systems. “Keep in mind that most CRB associations maintain close liaison with ABs relevant to their members’ accreditations,” commented Inman.

“All five of the targets identified by Burke in its analysis of the survey results are long-term issues, and each will be a continual improvement effort by the IAF and the ABs,” affirmed Stennett, who indicated that some of the issues were already being addressed on a regional level. For instance, the NAP has been working with the CRBs to address issue 2, which involves reducing the time it takes to approve extensions to the scope of a registrar/certification body’s accreditation, while UKAS has been examining steps to reduce the time it takes to complete the accreditation procedure. “To some degree, the survey has helped to elevate some local and regional initiatives to the IAF level,” added Stennett.

The Task Force members confirmed that the IAF survey did not seek feedback from the QMS user community, which relies on CRBs for registration services. “The user community was not directly involved in the survey and will not be taking part in evaluating the results or vetting the action plan, but QMS users will benefit from the results of the action plan,” confirmed King.

The Task Force was not yet in a position at the time of the press conference to discuss the details of the action plan as it stood at the conclusion of its first meeting. The IAF Task Force expects to have another meeting before making its presentation to the Executive Committee in March 2004, at which time the Task Force expects to finalize the contents of the action plan. The IAF survey results also have not yet been released to the public but may be made available in the future.

One of the last questions addressed to the Task Force members was what they see as the future challenges for the ABs and CRBs, since the ISO 9001:2000 transition concluded on December 15, the first day of their meeting. First, there was general agreement among the ABs that the ISO 9001:2000 transition had turned out to be a very successful process in terms of the numbers of organizations completing the transition by the deadline, based on what they have observed among the registrars/certification bodies and what the bodies have reported to the ABs. “We found it difficult to get a quantitative reading from the CRBs during the transition—some people won’t tell you how they are doing for competitive reasons—but we expect the dropout rate in Europe to be very low based on what information we have seen of late,” commented Inman.

Second, the expectation is that the focus will now shift to those sector-specific registration schemes that are fully or partially aligned with ISO 9001:2000 but where the deadlines for registration are in the future. For instance, several members noted that a transition deadline for ISO 13485:2003, the medical devices manufacturing QMS requirements that are only partially aligned with ISO 9001:2000, had recently been announced and provided manufacturers in that sector with ample time in which to make the transition from the 1996 editions of ISO 13485 and ISO 13488.

Finally, the AB-CRB relationship is the subject of a new ISO/International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standard. “The next major challenge will be ISO/IEC 17021, Conformity assessment—General requirements for bodies providing assessment and certification of management systems, which is currently at the second Committee Draft stage and will provide guidelines for the accreditation of quality and environmental management system CRBs,” concluded Poel. “This is about interface challenges between the ABs and the CRBs.” Inman said that ISO/IEC 17021 is scheduled for publication in July 2006. King also noted ISO 17011 will provide a challenge to the ABs.

One caution provided by the Task Force members is that, as of December 15, 2003, all certificates of registration to ISO 9001/2/3:1996 bearing the accreditation mark of an IAF member were to have been withdrawn. King advised that RAB staff will visit the sites of NAP-accredited registrars to see if any registration databases posted online by registrars have been “cleaned” of expired certificates. However, King acknowledged Sallé’s clarification that it is the In-House/On-Site registration databases of registrars that need to be accurate as far as accredited registrations are concerned, although registrars should be moving quickly to remove listings of obsolete 1994 certificates from their public web sites and from any online registration databases that are used by customers to verify the registration of existing and potential suppliers.

“The NAP auditors are very careful when they visit an accredited registrar’s offices, and you can expect that they will be looking at the registries very carefully when they come to audit your office in the next few months,” advised Sallé in his position as head of a registrar. He also suggested that, with the revisions to ISO 14001 likely to be completed in 2004, there should be a shorter transition period than with ISO 9001. “Registered organizations will need time for planning and training, but too long a transition period would simply permit organizations to delay the process of making any changes that might be needed.”

THE OUTLOOK will provide coverage of the IAF action plan and survey results once they are made available.