ISO Compliance vs. Certification

By Scott Dawson
May 19, 2021

ISO 9001:2015 can be an overwhelming subject for many companies. This can be the case for those that are not familiar with the standard, find themselves backed into a corner by a current customer or need to increase their prospects and know that ISO 9001:2015 puts them into a whole new competitive category.

These circumstances can often make a business feel like their choices are limited or taken away. There is good news in the land of ISO 9001:2015. That news is that there are choices.

An option often overlooked is the fact that a business can be “ISO 9001:2015 compliant” and not have to go through the rigor of a certification audit. The same goes for ISO 14001, 27001, and 45001.  This compliance option may meet your customers’ expectations for the implementation of a formal quality management system (QMS) based on the ISO standard. This option can be considered a type of “self-assessment.” With this option, you will still implement a complete QMS but, not take the final step of hiring a Registrar to conduct the certification audit, saving you time, money and the stress of “passing” a certification audit.


What Is ISO 9001 Compliance?

ISO compliance is when a company adheres to ISO standards but does not have formal certification officially verifying this concession. When a business is ISO 9001 compliant, its operational processes consistently meet quality management system standards defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) but does not have the documentation to qualify for certification. Even though ISO compliance is a step below ISO certification, it still ensures a certain level of high-quality service and customer satisfaction by aligning with ISO 9001 specifications.

ISO 9001 compliance comes with many benefits for companies. Though compliant organizations do not have a formal certification stating their QMS meets ISO requirements, they can still accurately assert that they have a complete QMS reflecting the ISO standard, which can project a positive image to customers.

Stating compliance also saves companies the time and money that comes with scheduling and passing certification audits. This aspect can be especially advantageous to smaller businesses with limited budgets that need extra time to build the funds necessary to earn their certifications.

However, in most cases compliance is a self-assertion, so companies claiming compliance may or may not be in line with the most recent ISO 9001 standard — ISO 9001:2015. In less common cases, organizations sometimes refer to a reputable third party to verify their compliance claim — though the enterprise still isn’t ISO certified, it has a reliable source to back up the statement.


What Is ISO 9001 Certification?

When a company’s management systems are ISO 9001 certified, that means a third-party company has officially confirmed the business in question adheres to ISO quality management standards. To earn this certification, companies must submit various audits verifying that their processes, products and services meet ISO specifications. All ISO audits must be independently conducted by a valid certification body.

ISO certifications are presented in the form of a certificate, diploma or mark proving the company is fully compliant with ISO criteria and identifying the certification body that awarded the certification. When a business earns its ISO 9001 certification, the statement will remain valid for three years, after which the organization must be recertified to ensure continual process improvements.

Because ISO certifications are bestowed by a qualified third-party source, they offer substantiated proof that a company adheres to QMS standards. This makes them more reliable than ISO compliance claims. Certifications are also guaranteed to be up to date with the most recent ISO regulations and communicate a business’s commitment to quality and customer service.


Difference Between ISO 9001 Certification and ISO 9001 Compliance

ISO 9001 Certification ISO 9001 Compliance
Implementation Time and Expense A little more time and expense A little less time and expense
Likelihood of customer audits of your system Less likely More likely
Applicable ISO 9001 requirements Yes Yes
Ongoing maintenance cost Higher – includes the cost of the ISO certification audits Lower – excludes the costs of the ISO certification audits
Overall effectiveness Can be the same; primarily dependent upon continued management support
International recognition Yes No
Additional advantages External audit to assess your QMS Avoids the cost of the external audit

ISO Compliance vs. ISO Certified

There is a fine line between ISO compliance and certification — compliance is when a company adheres to ISO standards, whereas certification means the business has earned official ISO validation from an independent third party. ISO 9001-certified organizations have to go through various audits to confirm their QMS meets ISO requirements, while compliant companies do not. Compliance saves businesses time and money, but certification formally substantiates a company’s claim.

In summary, please know that you do have options when it comes to ISO 9001:2015, ISO 14001, ISO 27001 and ISO 45001. Only you can determine which of the options best suits your company’s needs. We hope the information we provided here assists in that decision process.

One step you will want to take before finalizing your approach is to check with your customers to ensure that the ISO 9001:2015 Compliance option satisfies their requirements. Also, know that the compliance option will require additional diligence on the company’s part to sustain effectiveness over time. Where the Registrar audit requires additional time and expense, it does provide accountability in maintaining the QMS long term.


Prepare for Your ISO Certification With Services From Core Business Solutions Today

If you’re looking to become ISO compliant or earn your ISO certification, the experts at Core Business Solutions can help. Our family-owned company is dedicated to helping small businesses grow and succeed by enabling them to earn their ISO certifications.

Contact us to request a quote for our services today!


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