ICSCA Pushes New Resolutions, Plans Growth

Industry Group Wants to Become Standards, Testing Watchdog

by Amy Zuckerman

U.S. industry continues to unify and develop an organization that is intent on serving as a watchdog for standards and testing practices worldwide.

A "who's who" of the high-tech, telecommunications, aerospace, automotive, and heavy equipment industries ("Multinationals Question ISO 9000 Registration; NIST Seeks Standards Summit, August 1998, p. 16), the Industry Cooperation on Standards and Conformity Assessment (ICSCA) has released its latest set of resolutions. (See Quality Progress' Web site at http://qualityprogress.asq.org for the complete resolutions.) These stem from a January meeting in Boca Raton, FL.

This is the same organization that shocked many in the standards and conformity assessment world last spring with an announcement that its members would move to supplier's declaration of conformity assessment to ISO 9000 by the year 2005 unless it saw some value from the registration process.

A subsequent meeting took place last summer between ICSCA and the Independent Association of Accredited Registrars (IAAR), at which industry reiterated its position while agreeing to maintain a continued dialogue with IAAR ("Late 1998 Should Prove a Watershed for Standards," November 1998, p. 17).

ICSCA's new set of resolutions reemphasizes that aim and points up ICSCA's determination to solidify and even expand its outreach. Resolution No. 45, which may be among the most significant, says the organization will "address multinational companies headquartered in other regions by specific invitation and is delighted to extend its membership accordingly."

This assertion flies in the face of scuttlebutt in the standards and testing worlds that ICSCA is a disorganized, disunited group of major companies. While not all ICSCA members are in accord on issues, particularly the supplier's declaration stance, ICSCA does appear to be functional at this time. In fact, one resolution calls for creation of a white paper that will describe the organization's "mission, purpose, and contribution to the public welfare of ICSCA."

According to ICSCA co-chairman Henry Line, most ICSCA resolutions are adopted by wide majorities. He points out that this is despite the "far-reaching nature of many of the issues" and attributes this sort of consensus to the fact that the main focus of ICSCA is to "embrace nothing that would serve as either a nontariff barrier to trade or a nonvalue-adding cost."

ICSCA members also appear to favor environmental management system standards that "diminish the tendency by governments to make such programs mandatory." This is a somewhat different posture than some of these companies have taken since the mid-'90s, when some individual companies now associated with ICSCA were less than enthusiastic about the ISO 14000 environmental management system standard. The group now has agreed to establish a working group to draft industry concepts and principles for pollution control and prevention.

High-tech/telecommunications bias?

In the past, the registration industry's other general criticism of ICSCA has been that it is out of touch with the needs of small and midsize companies. Line argues that the company does reflect small-business needs through association members such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the Information Technology Industry Council.

That ICSCA includes many high-tech and telecommunications companies that represent their own set of interests isn't disputed by anyone. Certainly, the new resolutions, particularly those that concentrate on the increasing speed of standards development and the efficiency of standards dissemination, do reflect a high-tech bias.

Mainly, the ICSCA resolutions reflect a continued concern that many companies share worldwide that standards and related practices should not present barriers to trade or impede competition.

While not arguing against conformity assessment (testing and certification) schemes, ICSCA members make it clear that they won't back standards or processes--whether a management standard for risk assessment or occupational health and safety, the European Union Electronic Waste Directive, or the United States Fastener Quality Act--that they consider unworkable, impeding competition, or not cost-effective.

The ICSCA resolutions, moreover, reflect the international bent of many members, some of whom are truly multinational with substantial bases in the United States, the European Union (EU), and Asia. For example, ICSCA members support the Vienna Agreement between the EU and International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Under this agreement, ISO agrees to handle standards development for any EU standards under creation as international standards. Some U.S. officials and industry leaders believe this confers preferential treatment on the EU, including design and market advantage.

Here is a closer look at some of the resolutions that most affect the quality and conformity assessment worlds.

* Registrars. Recognizing in connection with management system standards the "relative value of third-party auditing and certification," ICSCA offered to start a dialogue with major registrars on the value of third-party certification for global business.

* Supplier's declaration. Supplier's declaration is clearly the approach of choice for many ICSCA members. For example, Resolution No. 20 supports the Information Technology Industry Council's "work to remove technical and regulatory barriers for information technology products through use of supplier's declaration of conformity."

* Alternative ways of performing ISO 9000. ICSCA is also clearly seeking ways of handling ISO 9000 in the most efficient and cost-effective fashion. One approach it touts is called the "supervised management system," which is considered "a valuable interim step" on the path to supplier's self-declaration.

According to Resolution No. 34, this procedure is based on mutual trust among industry, auditors, and certifiers of management systems; allows for performing the audit on a system and document level, thus realistically taking the manufacturers' responsibility into account; and is a cost-efficient way of handling auditing and certification.

ICSCA will be exploring a proposed research effort by professors at the University of Minnesota on the actual value of ISO 9000 to industry. Funding is apparently being sought for this study.

* ISO 9000 hybrids. In terms of the ISO 9000 telecommunications hybrid, TL 9000, ICSCA approves of the fact that the QuEST Forum--a group of companies--has followed past ICSCA recommendations. (See "Telecom Industry Forum Working Toward TL 9000, an ISO 9000-Based Standard," December 1998, p. 14).

QuEST Forum members are urged to ensure that TL 9000 "adds value to industry." Coordination with ISO Technical Committee 176, which supervises the ISO 9000 standards series, is also recommended.

* Integrating audits. Following its pattern of encouraging integration of management system audits, ICSCA supports the work of ISO's Technical Management Board ad hoc committee in its continued efforts to find ways of integrating audits for management system standards such as ISO 9000, the ISO 14000 environmental standard, and occupational health and safety requirements.

Guido Guertler, director of standards for Siemens and ICSCA co-chairman, says integrating audits may be advantageous from a cost perspective but that this task is complicated by varying national regulations and requirements, particularly in environmental and occupational, health, and safety arenas.

* Conformity assessment. In the conformity assessment (testing and certification) areas, ICSCA continues to push for harmonization of practices, and supports organizations such as the International Accreditation Forum and ISO's conformity assessment committee work in this area.

Registration industry reacts

IAAR president Lane Hallenbeck says the registration industry is committed to productive cooperation with ICSCA and describes the dialogue between the groups as "cordial and professional."

However, in commenting on ICSCA's latest set of resolutions, Hallenbeck--who says he is phasing out of IAAR leadership shortly--continues to point out what he considers to be misconceptions about this group. ". . .There has been some question whether ICSCA members were in some cases individuals from big companies expressing their personal opinions and not necessarily those of their corporation. Certain automotive companies have been mentioned relative to this."

Line counters, "I can say safely that most people represent the philosophy of their company. In those cases when they can't, they refuse to take a stand."

About TL 9000, the telecommunication's industry hybrid of ISO 9000, Hallenbeck notes that the QuEST Forum has worked with IAAR from the start to ensure that this standard was in line with top registration practices. He notes that ASQ is administering the gathering of metrics on TL 9000 with the University of Texas at Dallas. "There is also a prescribed auditor-training protocol being launched by two approved organizations and a pilot third-party certification program under way."

Reg Blake, IAAR board member and membership chairman, who is also regulatory manager for the British Standards Institution, recognizes that ICSCA members sometimes represent different opinions. However, he says outsiders should not lose sight of the caliber of ICSCA members and the sort of influence that a number of ICSCA members can bring to bear in other forums.

"When discussing the supplier's declaration approach, we also need to appreciate that it may not be just standards and related practices that could present barriers to trade. Customers often have serious concerns about supplier's declarations and often resort to seeking independent validation of claims. Often confidence takes a long time to build and can be quickly demolished," according to Blake.

Blake adds that a number of registrars are already providing services that address mature quality systems and other services that take companies well beyond the boundaries of basic ISO 9000 systems. "Many are also contributing to the development of integrated management systems audits. However, there is still much work to do in all these areas and...groups of registrars must work with ICSCA. Then and only then will the needs of all stakeholders be met."

AMY ZUCKERMAN is principal of A-Z International Associates in Amherst, MA, and author of the book International Standards Desk Reference: Your Passport to World Markets.

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