ISO certification means that a third party has independently validated that an organization conforms to standards established by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). 

ISO compliance means that companies adhere to the requirements of ISO standards without the formal certification and recertification processes. 

To date, the ISO has developed over 22,000 international standards covering multiple industries and topics. One group of these standards, the ISO 9000 family of quality management standards, aims to help organizations deliver better products and services that are safer, more secure, more resilient, and environmentally friendly. 

These standards include ISO 9001 (quality management), ISO 27001 (information security), ISO 14001 (environmental management), and ISO 22301 (business continuity).

Types of ISO Standards

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has published over 22,000 standards across various industries and domains. However, a select few ISO standards stand out as the most widely adopted worldwide due to their applicability to key organizational functions and their ability to drive continuous improvement.

The most prominent ISO standards include:

  • ISO 9001: The ISO 9001 Quality Management System (QMS) standard specifies requirements for implementing a process-based QMS focused on enhancing customer satisfaction through continuous improvement, corrective/preventive actions, and greater adherence to quality management principles. ISO 9001 certification provides independent, third-party accreditation that an organization has met rigorous quality system requirements.
  • ISO 14001: The ISO 14001 standard outlines requirements for an effective Environmental Management System (EMS) based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act model. It helps organizations assess and reduce their environmental impact through a systematic approach. This standard is essential for manufacturers and other businesses with significant environmental footprints to demonstrate stakeholder commitment.
  • ISO 45001: This occupational health and safety management system standard aims to minimize workplace hazards and protect employee well-being. It establishes a framework for reducing safety risks and incidents through preventive and corrective actions. ISO 45001 certification reflects an organization’s commitment to creating a high-quality work environment.
  • ISO/IEC 27001: This information security standard covers technical, physical, and administrative controls to manage information security risks. Certification helps assure customers and stakeholders that an organization takes data protection seriously.
  • ISO 22301: The ISO 22301 business continuity management system standard guides to proactively assess and manage risks, develop contingency plans, and implement strategies to ensure continued business operations during disruptions. ISO 22301 certification validates an organization’s resilience and capability to deliver consistent, quality products and services despite unforeseen events.

Compliance with internationally recognized ISO standards like ISO 9001 demonstrates a commitment to implementing best practices for quality, environmental responsibility, safety, data security, and business continuity. ISO 9001 QMS certification, in particular, signals that an organization has achieved externally audited conformance to quality management principles and the adoption of a process approach and risk-based thinking for delivering high-quality goods and services.

What is ISO Certification?

ISO certification is a voluntary process where an organization seeks independent confirmation that it meets the requirements of a particular International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard.

Although voluntary, a company that wants to become ISO-certified has to submit to a series of audits performed by an independent organization called a certification body. During the certification process, these third-party assessors will audit the organization to determine if its functions, as well as its products and services, meet the ISO criteria.

Most organizations begin with the ISO 9001:2015 (the latest version) certification, as ISO 9001 is the basis for most other ISO standards. ISO 9001 defines the requirements for creating a Quality Management System (QMS). The QMS focuses on meeting customer requirements and overall customer satisfaction.

A company that meets the ISO requirements for a particular standard is awarded the certification for three years. Organizations must be recertified every three years, and they must continually improve to qualify for the recertification process.

Key Benefits of ISO Certification

Obtaining ISO certification delivers numerous advantages that support an organization’s profitability, competitiveness, and sustainability. Key benefits of ISO 9001 certification include:

Enhanced customer satisfaction

The ISO 9001 standard requires organizations to adopt a customer focus, including identifying and exceeding customer needs and enhancing customer satisfaction. This promotes greater customer loyalty and retention.

Supply chain management

ISO 9001 drives process standardization across the supply chain. This facilitates supplier quality management, on-time delivery of materials, and continuous improvement.

Leadership involvement

Top management must engage in ISO 9001 standards by reviewing and ensuring adequate resources. This fosters a culture of quality.

Operational efficiency

ISO 9001’s process approach identifies opportunities to streamline operations, reduce waste, standardize business processes, and improve productivity. This leads to greater efficiency.

Risk management 

The preventive action, corrective action, and performance evaluation components of ISO 9001 proactively identify and mitigate organizational risks. This reduces quality incidents and disruptions.

Regulatory compliance

Certification to standards like ISO 13485 demonstrates compliance with regulatory requirements for medical devices. ISO 9001 facilitates meeting quality regulations.

With benefits like increased customer retention, supply chain improvements, lower costs, and expanded market opportunities, ISO 9001 certification delivers a high return on investment for organizations seeking a quality advantage.

What is ISO Compliance?

Being ISO compliant means adhering to the requirements of a specific standard but without the need for the outside certification body to perform the series of audits. For example, ISO 9001 compliance means a company has consistent processes that meet the standard of a QMS. Although companies might not fully document these processes — and as such, not eligible for certification—they guarantee a consistent level of service to ensure customer satisfaction.

Unlike the ISO 9001 certification, which requires a certification body to perform audits, ISO compliance focuses on decision-making that establishes policies, procedures, and processes that align with the specifications.

Compliance, then, is a type of self-assessment. Although a company will still implement a complete QMS, it won’t hire a third-party certification body to conduct the certification audit.

Key Benefits of ISO Compliance

Organizations can reap numerous benefits from ISO compliance by implementing the requirements of ISO standards into their management systems and business processes without undergoing official certification. Key advantages of ISO compliance include:

Improved quality

Adopting ISO quality management principles enhances process control, reduces defects, and leads to overall quality and customer satisfaction improvements.

Operational efficiencies

The process approach and risk-based thinking mandated by ISO standards identify waste and opportunities for greater efficiency.

Informed certification decision 

Self-implementing ISO standard requirements gives organizations more significant insights into the costs, resources, and gaps for official ISO certification.

Gradual process refinement

Through internal audits and reviews, organizations can progressively improve and refine processes to meet ISO standards over time rather than in a concentrated certification period.

While official ISO certification has advantages, ISO compliance provides a flexible pathway for organizations to realize benefits from ISO standards at their own pace. However, with formal accreditation, organizations can promote themselves as ISO-certified.

Differences between ISO Certification and ISO Compliance

ISO certification offers independent validation that a company conforms to standards created by the ISO. Compliance, on the other hand, means complying with the requirements of ISO standards without the formalized certification and recertification process.

ISO compliance means organizations self-attest conformity to ISO standards through internal audits without formal external validation. Compliant organizations cannot promote an ISO-certified status. Improvements depend on internal discipline rather than mandatory external audits.

Achieving ISO certification requires significant costs for the initial and ongoing certification audits. ISO compliance only demands internal resources for self-audits, keeping costs low.

ZenGRC Offers ISO Compliance Solutions for Businesses

Maintaining ongoing ISO compliance presents many challenges – from managing policies and procedures to conducting internal audits and addressing non-conformities. Fortunately, there is a solution.

ZenGRC is an intuitive platform that brings simplicity and organization to ISO compliance efforts. It provides a central repository to store, manage, and search ISO documentation. ZenGRC allows you to assign and track ISO-related tasks and workflows to coordinate activities. It facilitates risk identification and analysis to manage threats proactively.Schedule a demo today to see ZenGRC and learn how it can accelerate your ISO compliance efforts. You’ll be able to visualize the advantages of an integrated Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) platform quickly. Let’s get started!