Guide to ISO Certification and ISO Compliance

Published/Updated March 30, 2024

Introduction

To drive better cybersecurity and foster customer trust, one excellent strategy is to adhere to internationally recognized standards such as the ISO 27001 standard for  information security management systems (ISMS). 

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) provides many standards and frameworks that guide organizations across industries toward better performance. Compliance with ISO 27001 is essential for businesses seeking to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment.

ISO was established in 1947 to develop quality standards worldwide. With members from 164 countries, ISO has created more than 22,700 requirements, specifications, and guidelines for quality assurance across all sectors, including standards for risk assessment, risk management, and security controls.

While ISO certification is voluntary, its significance is undeniable. Implementing an ISMS to achieve ISO 27001 certification demonstrates a business’s commitment to quality, safety, continuous improvement, and access control. Customers and stakeholders recognize the ISO seal as a dedication to meeting the highest operations and vendor management standards.

Which Set of Standards is Right for My Organization?

ISO has published hundreds of standards in various sectors and industries, including service, environment and industry, technology, and health and medical. Every business will comply with different frameworks depending on its situation and sector.

Some ISO frameworks are particular. For example, ISO 34101-1 sets standards for the cocoa bean industry; ISO 80079-34 governs manufacturing in explosive atmospheres.

Other ISO publications are more general. For example, ISO 14001 serves as a guide to developing an effective environmental management system and can be helpful for any organization. ISO 9001 does the same for quality management systems.

How to Use This Guide?

To help you understand ISO compliance, why it matters, and how to obtain ISO certification, this guide will focus on two of the most common ISO frameworks: ISO 9000/9001 for quality management and ISO 27001/27002 for managing information security.

Each section of this guide addresses a different aspect of ISO compliance by answering some of the most common questions about the framework.

You can read the entire guide, consult only the sections applicable to your organization’s needs, or jump to the end to learn how to jump-start your compliance program — especially if that program currently involves old-fashioned spreadsheets.

What Is ISO?

Definition and Background

“ISO” stands for the International Organization for Standardization. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, ISO comprises members from 164 nations who develop and produce publications that guide organizations of nearly every kind to achieve the highest quality standards in their processes and products.

ISO began in 1946 when 65 delegates from 25 countries met in London to discuss the need for international standards and development. The following year, the organization had its first meeting of 67 technical committees or groups of experts, each focusing on a different subject.

The organization published its first standard, or “recommendation,” in 1951 (to measure length for industrial manufacturing). Over time, ISO grew in membership and influence, becoming noted for its standards, establishing an International System of Units (the second as the official unit of time, for instance), governing freight and packaging, and assuring environmental quality.

Although there are more than 22,700 ISO standards for different industries today (and counting), a few stand out as essential and influential:

  • The ISO 9000 family governs quality management systems (QMS). ISO 9001 is the only standard in this group that is eligible for certification.
  • ISO 14001 helps companies and organizations to identify and control their environmental impact.
  • The ISO 27000 family of information security standards, including ISO 27001, governs information security systems management (ISMS).

ISO Compliance vs. ISO Certification: What's the Difference?

ISO compliance and ISO certification are related concepts, but have distinct differences.

ISO Compliance

ISO compliance means that you adhere to the standards and guidelines outlined by the ISO, including the ISO 27001 framework for ISMS. The organization follows recommended practices and procedures to protect information assets, address cybersecurity risks, and mitigate data breaches.

Compliance can be voluntary or required by certain regulations, industry standards, or customer contracts. Organizations choose compliance to improve operations, enhance quality, and demonstrate commitment to international best practices.

ISO compliance involves internal audits and self-assessments to assure conformity with ISO standards, such as implementing an information security policy and risk management processes.

ISO Certification

ISO certification, or registration, is a formal process where an accredited certification auditor assesses and certifies an organization’s management system, processes, or products conform to specific ISO standards (chief among them ISO 27001).

Certification involves rigorous external audits, verifying that the organization has implemented required processes and complies with the relevant ISO standard, such as the Statement of Applicability for ISO 27001.

ISO certification demonstrates a commitment to quality, data protection, or other elements covered by ISO standards. It can be a valuable marketing tool and competitive advantage at the same time.

While ISO compliance involves an internal commitment to ISO standards, certification involves external verification through formal audits. Certification provides official recognition of conformity and can build trust with stakeholders regarding an organization’s information security posture and security programs.

What Are the Different Types of ISO Standards?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed a wide range of standards, with some significant types covering critical areas of business operations:

  1. Quality Management Standards (ISO 9000 family)
    • ISO 9001: Focuses on quality management systems (QMS) to assure organizations meet customer and regulatory requirements while improving processes and services.
    • ISO 9000: Guides fundamental QMS concepts and terminology.
  2. Environmental Management Standards (ISO 14000 family)
    • ISO 14001: Addresses environmental management systems (EMS) to help organizations minimize ecological impact, comply with regulations, and achieve sustainability goals.
  3. Information Security Standards (ISO 27000 family)
    • ISO 27001: Focuses on ISMS to protect sensitive data and manage cybersecurity risks.
    • ISO 27002: Provides a code of practice for information security controls.
  4. Occupational Health and Safety Standards (ISO 45000 family)
    • ISO 45001: Addresses occupational health and safety management systems to establish safe working environments and prevent accidents.
  5. Food Safety Standards (ISO 22000 family)
    • ISO 22000: Concentrates on food safety management systems to ensure product safety and quality throughout the supply chain.
  6. Energy Management Standards (ISO 50000 family)
    • ISO 50001 focuses on energy management systems that improve energy efficiency, reduce costs, and minimize environmental footprint.
  7. Automotive Quality Standards
    • IATF 16949: This is a supplement to ISO 9001, outlining specific quality management system requirements for automotive suppliers.
  8. Medical Device Quality Standards
    • ISO 13485: Specifies requirements for quality management systems to assure the safety and effectiveness of medical devices.
  9. Social Responsibility Standards
    • ISO 26000: Provides guidelines on social responsibility and sustainable business practices for ethical operations.
  10. IT Service Management Standards
    • ISO/IEC 20000: Focuses on IT service management to assure the quality of IT services and align IT with business objectives.

These ISO standard families cover critical areas including quality, environment, information security, safety, and social responsibility. They enable organizations to demonstrate a commitment to international best practices and achieve compliance and certification.

What You Need To Know About ISO 27001?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed a variety of frameworks designed to help organizations better manage their business in areas including:

  • Quality
  • Safety
  • IT security
  • Environmental impacts
  • Assets
  • Business risk

Framework vs. Standard

A framework is defined as a basic structure underlying a system, concept, or text. In business, frameworks provide a structure for organizations to improve their processes or operations. Frameworks are typically general rather than prescriptive. They tell what to do, but not how.

Most business and IT frameworks serve to mitigate risks and support internal controls. These processes, however, must also accommodate risk measures, financial reporting, and revenue performance.

There are various types of frameworks:

  • Quality frameworks provide a structure for designing, establishing, and maintaining quality management systems.
  • Control frameworks are sets of fundamental controls aimed at preventing financial or information loss.
  • Program frameworks help build, assess, improve, and maintain programs.
  • Risk frameworks guide through the process steps necessary to manage risk and reduce risk levels successfully.
  • Cybersecurity or information security frameworks are designed to help reduce exposure to cyberattacks.

Standards, on the other hand, are governance best practices used by various companies. Standard may include guidelines, regulations, frameworks, models, processes, and internal controls for managing business and IT functions.

Standards define mandatory requirements for business and IT audit and assurance. They inform audit and assurance professionals of the minimum acceptable performance level required to meet professional responsibilities, and direct how to meet these requirements.

The International Organization for Standardization creates and publishes international standards, defined as “documents that provide requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes, and services are fit for their purpose.”

Because ISO strives to standardize business processes and procedures worldwide, it has published more than 22,700 standards. For instance, the ISO 9001 standard contains guidelines for establishing and maintaining a quality management system (QMS).

The ISO/IEC 27000 family of standards is designed to help organizations manage the security of assets including financial information, intellectual property, employee details or information entrusted to you by third parties. ISO sets standards by which to manage information security management systems (ISMS). This ISO 27000 family includes:

  • ISO 27000: Information security management systems overview and vocabulary
  • ISO 27001: Information security management systems requirements
  • ISO 27002: Guidance on applying the ISO 27001 controls
  • ISO 27005: Conducting an information security risk assessment
  • ISO 27015: Information security management for financial services
  • ISO 27017: Cloud services information security controls
  • ISO 27031: Information and communication technology readiness for business continuity
  • ISO 27032: Cybersecurity best practices

Many frameworks and standards specify “controls,” or countermeasures or safeguards to minimize organizational risk. For example, ISO 27001 includes controls to help protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data in an information security management system.

What Are Quality Management Principles?

ISO 27001 is a robust framework for information security management. It is relevant for organizations that handle sensitive data and are committed to safeguarding their information assets.

What Is ISO 27001?

ISO 27001 is a globally recognized standard for creating an information security management system (ISMS). It lays out the policies and procedures that include all legal, physical, and technical controls involved in an organization’s information risk management processes.

Who Needs ISO 27001?

Any organization, regardless of size or industry, that wants to secure its information systems from vulnerabilities and assure stakeholders of their asset management should consider implementing ISO 27001.

Pros and Cons of ISO 27001

The framework strengthens your security posture through a risk-based approach and rigorous risk treatment protocols. Adherence enhances performance evaluation and aligns with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF). 

All that said, achieving certification can be resource-intensive, requiring a significant investment in time and workforce. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) collaborates on the standard’s development and assures it meets international best practices.

What Are ISO Frameworks and Controls?

ISO has developed a variety of frameworks designed to help organizations better manage their business in areas including:

  • Quality
  • Safety
  • IT security
  • Environmental impacts
  • Assets
  • Business risk

Framework vs. Standard

A framework is a basic structure underlying a system, concept, or text. In business, frameworks provide a structure for organizations to improve their processes or operations. They are typically general rather than prescriptive. They tell you what you need to do, but you still need to figure out how to do it.

Most business and IT frameworks mitigate risks and support internal controls. These processes, however, must also accommodate operational procedures, financial reporting, and revenue performance.

There are various types of frameworks:

  • Quality frameworks provide a structure for designing, establishing, and maintaining quality management systems.
  • Control frameworks are sets of fundamental controls to prevent information loss or mistakes in financial reporting.
  • Program frameworks help build, assess, improve, and maintain operational programs.
  • Risk frameworks guide the steps to manage risk and reduce risk levels successfully.
  • Cybersecurity (or information security) frameworks are designed to help reduce exposure to cyberattacks.

Standards, in contrast, are governance best practices. Standards may include guidelines, regulations, frameworks, models, processes, and internal controls for managing business and IT functions.

Standards define mandatory requirements for business and IT audit and assurance. They inform audit and assurance professionals of the minimum acceptable performance level required to meet professional responsibilities, and direct employees on how to meet these requirements.

ISO creates and publishes international standards, defined as “documents that provide requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes, and services are fit for their purpose.”

Because ISO strives to standardize business processes and procedures worldwide, it has published more than 22,700 standards. For instance, the ISO 9001 standard contains guidelines for establishing and maintaining a Quality Management System (QMS).

The ISO 27000 family of standards is designed to help organizations manage the security of assets, including financial information, intellectual property, employee details, or information entrusted to them by third parties. ISO sets standards by which to manage information security management systems (ISMS). This ISO 27000 family includes:

  • ISO 27000: information security management systems overview and vocabulary
  • ISO 27001: information security management systems requirements
  • ISO 27002: Guidance on applying the ISO 27001 controls
  • ISO 27005: Conducting an information security risk assessment
  • ISO 27015: Information security management for financial services
  • ISO 27017: Cloud services information security controls
  • ISO 27031: Information and communication technology readiness for business continuity
  • ISO 27032: Cybersecurity best practices

Many frameworks and standards specify “controls,” or countermeasures or safeguards to minimize organizational risk. For example, ISO 27001 includes controls to help protect data confidentiality, integrity, and availability in an information security management system.

What Are Quality Management Principles?

Quality management principles (QMPs) form the basis of ISO 9000, 9001, and other quality management standards. These principles can help manage a quality management system (QMS).

The Seven Quality Management Principles

  1. Customer focus. The primary focus of quality management is to meet customer requirements and strive to exceed customer expectations.
  2. Leadership. Leaders at all levels establish unity of purpose and direction and create the conditions in which people are engaged in achieving the organization’s quality objectives.
  3. Engagement of people. Competent, empowered, and engaged people throughout the organization must enhance its capability to create and deliver value.
  4. Process approach. Consistent and predictable results are achieved more efficiently when activities are understood and managed as interrelated processes that function as a coherent system.
  5. Continuous improvement. Successful organizations have an ongoing focus on improvement.
  6. Evidence-based decision making. Decisions based on analyzing and evaluating data and information are more likely to produce desired results.

Relationship management. An organization manages its relationships with stakeholders, such as customers and suppliers, for sustained success.

Why Is ISO Certification Useful?

For many organizations, achieving ISO certification demonstrates that they have met ISO standards and are committed to ongoing, continuous compliance with relevant international business standards.

ISO certification, like compliance, is voluntary. Not every ISO standard is eligible for certification, and ISO itself doesn’t directly provide certifications. Certification must be issued by an independent, third-party auditor accredited by ISO’s Committee on Conformity Assessment (CASCO). The ISO website lists 10 standards available for certification:

  1. ISO 9001, a standard for general organizational quality management systems (QMS)
  2. ISO 14001, a guide to developing an effective environmental management system
  3. ISO 27001, information security management systems (ISMS)
  4. ISO 50001, energy management systems
  5. ISO 22000, food safety management systems
  6. ISO 13485, medical devices
  7. ISO 22301, business continuity management systems
  8. ISO 20000, information technology service management systems
  9. ISO 28000, security management systems
  10. ISO 39001, road traffic safety management systems

What Are the Benefits of ISO Certification?

The benefits are many, such as:

  • Increased credibility and international recognition
  • Potentially increased revenue and competitive advantage, from customers impressed by your commitment to ISO standards
  • Demonstration that the entity maintains a culture of security and assurance to keep confidential information (and the exchange of information) secure
  • More efficient processes
  • Greater consistency of business operations
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction
  • Demonstrated commitment to minimizing risk exposure
  • Increased productivity
  • Better quality of goods and services offered
  • Increased protection of the company and its assets and shareholders
  • Ability to use certification to promote the business

Taking the steps necessary to achieve ISO certification can help your organization comply with other regulations.

Although industry and business compliance with ISO is widespread, only some organizations pursue certification. Some opt out of what can be a costly and time-consuming certification process. Those organizations, however, may be losing some of the benefits that certification confers. Like self-assessment, mere compliance does not compare to a “seal of approval” from an independent, accredited third-party auditor or assessor.

Does Your Company Need ISO Certification?

Certification that your company complies with International Organization for Standardization criteria is a matter of want, not need. For most industries, certification is voluntary. That said, some organizations need to be certified to do business. To determine whether you are one of them, ask these questions:

  • Is ISO certification required for my industry or business? Different ISO standards apply to various industries, but rules vary among sectors. For example, ISO 9001 quality management system certification is required for automotive industry suppliers.
  • Are your competitors ISO-certified? If they are but you aren’t, your business could suffer.
  • Do you conduct business internationally or wish to do so? ISO standards are internationally respected.
  • Are your customers and clients concerned about data security and privacy? Attaining an ISO 27001 certification verifies that you are committed to protecting their confidential information.
  • Are you contractually obligated to maintain certification for an ISO standard or standards?

This list makes it easy to see why ISO certification is a must for many organizations. Although some organizations opt out of expensive certification audits and are content to reach ISO compliance, many others need certification to be competitive. It’s expected in their industry, and others have clients or customers who demand certification as a condition of doing business.

Even if you don’t need it, the many benefits of ISO certification — international recognition, customer confidence, robust processes, insightful third-party audits, and a proven commitment to maintaining the highest standards in your industry or sector — may convince you to pursue it anyway.

Which Industries Require ISO 9001 Certification?

To manage your business with common sense and satisfy consumers and other stakeholders, ISO 9001 offers a framework and set of principles. ISO 9001 certification lays the groundwork for providing an efficient product or service.

All quality management system (QMS) implementations and ISO 9001 audits share the same business goal: lower risk and raise quality. Various industries require ISO 9001 certification.

Construction

Quality, safety, time, and financial constraints are frequently pitted against one another in the construction sector. ISO standards hold businesses, stakeholders, and third-party investors accountable for meeting the international standards.

Engineering

All engineers must be accurate and uphold a reputation for reliability among prospective contractors. Their success will depend on their ability to repeat and scale their performance to meet the needs of different clients and circumstances.

Technology Services

Businesses providing IT systems, cloud-based software, and digital support have rapidly increased with a surge in demand for tech-based services. Processes in the technology industry are continuously maturing to respond to increased demands. Those two forces drive demand for a tangible, demonstrable commitment to quality.

Community Services

Quality management systems are advantageous for community-focused activities. The tenets of ISO 9001, such as employee involvement and a methodical management style, are beneficial for exhibiting credibility.

Health

It is impossible to overestimate the healthcare sector’s role in the community; we depend on high-quality and reliable services daily. So ISO 9001’s commitment to quality is hugely important here.

How Much Does ISO Certification Cost?

ISO certification costs depend on several factors, including the organization’s size, complexity, and maturity level. Larger and more complex organizations, or those with immature procedures and process documentation, typically face higher costs.

For example, estimates range from $3,100 for a small business (up to 25 employees) with a mature system to $75,000 or more for a large enterprise (500-1,000 employees) without a system.

Factors to consider when drawing up your ISO certification budget include:

  • Internal resource costs. The internal team designated to oversee ISO compliance and certification will spend time away from their other duties performing ISO-related tasks, including:
    • Establishing or improving your QMS, ISMS, or other pertinent systems
    • Implementing the system
    • Performing a gap analysis and risk analysis as needed
    • Conducting internal audits to determine compliance with ISO
    • Ongoing system maintenance
    • Employee training
  • External resource costs. Hiring consultants and an ISO-certified auditor accredited by ISO’s Committee on Conformity Assessment (CASCO) will incur additional charges, depending on your ISO system implementation and assessment scope. Those costs include:
    • Implementation costs
    • The cost of a registrar to oversee your ISO application and audit
    • Re-certification audit fees (once every three years)
    • Annual surveillance audit fees to confirm ongoing ISO compliance

How to Get ISO Certification?

The ISO certification process can be lengthy, taking as long as three years for organizations to prepare for that first ISO audit. Still, the process is essential for any organization planning to apply for ISO certification. Preparation is a must so that you end with a successful audit. ISO recommends a process-oriented “Plan, Do, Check, Act” approach.

  1. PLAN: Planning and Preparation
    • Identify the relevant management system for your enterprise. Which ISO standard or standards will you be certifying? ISO 9001, which governs quality management systems (QMS), and ISO 27001, which sets standards for information security management systems (ISMS), are the most popular.
  2. PLAN, continued. For this step, you will need to document your business objectives and processes relevant to the standards for which you are pursuing certification. Value stream mapping, systems architecture mapping, and the ISO standard can help. Designate a team of employees and senior management to oversee the ISO certification initiative and a lead person to direct the process. Checklists help assure that nothing is missed.
    • Analyze your gaps by studying the ISO standard you have chosen. Figure out where you comply and where you fall short. For this step, you may work with an ISO consultant.
    • Conduct a risk analysis of your processes and decide how to mitigate or minimize the gaps you find.
    • Train your personnel so that everyone is familiar with the ISO standard or (if you’re renewing certification) with updates to the existing standard.
  3. DO Systems and ISO implementation.
    • Implement your new or updated system. This can happen in-house, or you may work with a consultant.
    • Train employees on how to use the system.
  4. CHECK: Testing
    • Perform testing to confirm that the system works as it should, following the proper ISO standard.
    • Ongoing internal audits verify that processes are consistently followed and yield expected results.
  5. ACT: Closing compliance gaps
    • Make changes where needed to bring your organization into compliance.
    • Document everything, from the first step through the last.
  6. AUDIT: Getting your certification
    • Choose an ISO-certified company to work with. This company comprises a registrar, an independent, third-party assessor, and other personnel to help with the certification process. Be sure to find a company accredited by ISO’s Committee on Conformity Assessment (CASCO). Otherwise your audit will not be valid.
  7. The certification company may also provide you with an ISO certification kit that can be helpful as you prepare for your audit.
    • Gather your documents. You need to provide evidence of your compliance efforts to the auditor. Reciprocity’s ISO audit guide contains a checklist.

Two Birds, One Stone

Because ISO certification applies to standards for general management — of quality, information security, information technology, food safety, and business continuity, among other categories — enterprises often need more than one ISO certification.

The good news is that ISO 9001, governing quality management systems (QMS), can be integrated with other management standards to streamline ISO certification. In addition, quality GRC software may tell you where you already conform to ISO standards to avoid costly and time-consuming duplication of efforts.

How to Be ISO-Compliant?

The “Plan, Do, Check, Act” steps to achieve ISO certification are essentially the same as those required for ISO compliance. The only difference is that you don’t need an external audit when only seeking compliance.

Compliance also means that you must maintain compliance over time, which entails striving for continual improvement in your management systems and processes.

Enterprises choose compliance over certification for various reasons. We should also remember that many ISO standards aren’t even eligible for certification. For example, the entire ISO 9000 family, except ISO 9001, is ineligible for certification; the only choice you have is compliance.

Organizations choose to comply with ISO standards for many reasons, often because compliance helps them stay competitive or improve their business processes and, by extension, their profits. On the other hand, noncompliance with the essential ISO standards (ISO 9001 and ISO 27001 for most entities) can mean a loss of reputation and business.

An ISO compliance checklist can be invaluable for guidance through the ISO 27001/2 compliance process, saving your enterprise time and money.

What Is an ISO Audit?

ISO defines an ISO audit this way:

A systematic and independent examination to determine whether quality activities and related results comply with planned arrangements, whether these arrangements are implemented effectively, and whether they are suitable for achieving objectives.

There are three types of ISO audits:

  1. First-Party Audit
    This internal audit is a conformity assessment to check for compliance gaps and prepare your enterprise for an external ISO certification audit. Internal audits are valuable for catching and remediating gaps before an external stakeholder identifies them.
  2. Second-Party Audit
    An organization you work with may audit your enterprise to determine whether you are ISO-compliant. In some cases, customers may insist on doing an on-site audit. Or your organization may audit your contractors or suppliers.
  3. Third-Party Audit
    An auditor accredited by ISO’s Committee on Conformity Assessment (CASCO) assesses whether your organization complies with the appropriate ISO standard. Audit costs depend on your entity’s size, complexity, and maturity level.

The American Society for Quality (ASQ) Lists Three Types of Audits

  • A process audit verifies that your organization is doing what it says and uses processes that conform to the standard you certify. The auditor may:
    • Check conformance to requirements such as time, accuracy, temperature, pressure, composition, responsiveness, amperage, and component mixture.
    • Examine the resources (equipment, materials, people) applied to transform the inputs into outputs, the environment, the methods (procedures, instructions), and the measures collected to determine process performance.
    • Check the adequacy and effectiveness of the process controls established by procedures, work instructions, flowcharts, and training and process specifications.
  • A product audit examines a product or service, such as hardware, processed material, or software, to evaluate whether it conforms to the relevant standard.
  • A system audit scrutinizes the entire management system. It verifies, by examining and evaluating objective evidence, that applicable system elements are appropriate and effective and have been developed, documented, and implemented in accordance with specified requirements.

Since most ISO standards eligible for certification govern systems (such as quality management systems, information security management systems, food safety management systems, environmental management systems), ISO certification audits are usually system audits.

Part of the ISO certification audit process will likely include several “desk audits,” where an auditor sits one-on-one with various employees to interview them about their job function.

How to Prepare for an ISO Audit: Checklist?

Deciding to procure an ISO audit is the first step on any ISO audit checklist.

By the time you reach this phase of your ISO compliance, you have already established a quality management system or another system relevant to the ISO certification you are pursuing.

Now it’s time to test your system against ISO standards. The following steps apply whether you’re preparing for a second-party audit, in which a business partner audits your organization for ISO compliance, or a third-party audit, in which an auditor accredited by ISO’s Committee on Conformity Assessment (CASCO) performs a conformity assessment of your enterprise.

The assessor may conduct an ISO system, process, or product audit, depending on your organization and the ISO standard or standards for which you seek certification. The procedure may entail:

  • Checking your system and processes to verify that they function according to the relevant ISO standard
  • Reviewing your documentation to confirm that your practices follow your management principles and that your system has been operational for at least three months
  • Interviewing employees (“desk audit”) about their procedures and roles

For the most efficient and effective ISO audit and the best chance of success, use an ISO checklist, preferably one that includes a QMS or ISMS documentation checklist. In addition, our ISO 27001/2 audit guide provides a comprehensive list of questions to ask and documents to gather in advance to help you sail through your ISO audit.

Non-Conformance Risks: What Happens If You Fail Your ISO Audit?

Failing your ISO audit is not the end of the world. But if it’s your first ISO audit and you’ve spent a lot of time, effort, and expense getting here, a failed ISO audit can be disheartening. Fortunately, you can take action to remedy the situation and achieve that prized ISO certification.

First, take stock of the situation. The auditor’s non-conformance report will describe whether they found “minor non-conformances” or “major non-conformances.” Your goal is to take corrective action and remedy the problem.

  • A minor non-conformance means the auditor found gaps in your enterprise’s ISO compliance but nothing disastrous. For example, perhaps an ISO requirement wasn’t followed, or someone lacked the paperwork to demonstrate compliance.
  • A significant non-conformance means the management system has a fatal flaw, missing something critical to achieving organizational goals or protecting customers. For example, perhaps a requirement hasn’t been implemented, or the enterprise has not taken corrective or preventive action to assure compliance.

Once you understand the issue, take corrective action. You can still get an ISO certification with a minor non-conformance as long as you rectify the problems outlined in the report immediately. A significant non-conformance, on the other hand, will rule out certification; you must schedule another audit to achieve it.

Fortunately, the auditor’s report will detail your system’s deficiencies and the corrective actions you need to take. In addition, if you have been ISO certified before, the auditor will follow up to confirm that you have returned the enterprise to ISO compliance.

Common reasons why enterprises fail their ISO audits include:

  • Changes in company structure
  • Loss of personnel with ISO knowledge or skills
  • Updates or modifications to the relevant ISO standard

Conducting periodic internal audits, including an ISO compliance gap analysis, can help your organization avoid similar problems in the future.

How to Maintain Your ISO Certification?

Passing yearly “surveillance audits” is critical to maintaining your ISO certification.

These external audits, also conducted by an assessor accredited by ISO’s Committee on Conformity Assessment (CASCO), are mandatory checks of your QMS, ISMS, or other relevant systems to verify that your enterprise maintains ISO compliance between the re-certification audits.

ISO recommends the “Plan, Do, Check, Act” process to maintain compliance.

  1. PLAN: Set the objectives of the system and processes to deliver results (“what to do” and “how to do it”).
  2. DO: Implement and control what was planned.
  3. CHECK: Monitor and measure processes and results against policies, objectives, and requirements.
  4. ACT: Report results and take actions to improve the performance of processes.

This process is an ongoing cycle of continual improvement.

When you’re in maintenance mode, the plans have already been laid out, and your standard operating procedures have been defined. Your organization has moved from the “plan” to the “do” phase:

  • Implementing your systems and controls, including controls of outsourcing partners and suppliers
  • Documenting your efforts for the auditor’s annual review and discussion in the periodic management review meetings (essential to maintaining your organization’s ISO compliance).

By paying attention to ISO compliance throughout the year and not just at audit time, your organization benefits in two ways. First, you can be confident in holding on to that ISO certification you worked hard to achieve. Second, you also have the added assurance that the management system you certified is functioning at the highest level, increasing your organization’s chances of success.

Automate ISO Compliance with ZenGRC

Compliance with your chosen ISO standard (or standards) requires significant time and effort. You will quickly find that tracking compliance tasks on old-fashioned spreadsheets is overwhelming, especially for large or complex organizations.

Juggling all that paperwork, even on a computer screen, means using resources on risk and compliance management that you could devote to your enterprise’s most important asset: your customers. ISO compliance tools can streamline and automate your enterprise’s ISO compliance and certification, saving you hassle and headaches.

Automating your ISO compliance and certification program can accelerate the process and minimize your ISO worries. Whether you’re obtaining certification for ISO 9001, ISO 27001, or ISO standards for cloud security or risk management, the software will make you, your customers, and your auditors happier.

RiskOptics ZenGRC automates the entire ISO compliance process by:

  • Probing your organization’s systems for ISO conformity and alerting you when it finds a flaw.
  • Making detailed, prescriptive suggestions for non-conformance management, including what to do about the quality of information security incidents.
  • Summarizing your risk and compliance posture in real-time.
  • Tracking employee training records.
  • Improving audit management.
  • Documenting root cause analysis and corrective actions.
  • Enabling you to automate your self-audits.
  • Providing a “single source of truth” repository for effective audit management and document control.

ZenGRC performs many ISO-related tasks for you, and by extension, helps improve the performance of your management systems. You can stop worrying about your enterprise’s ISO compliance and management processes. You’ll know your systems are working as smoothly and effectively as possible.

With ZenGRC, you can focus on other, more pressing matters, such as pleasing your customers and boosting your bottom line. Contact a Reciprocity expert today to schedule a demo and see what ZenGRC can do for you and your ISO compliance and certification program!