“What is an ISO Audit?” This question arises most often with companies just starting their compliance journey. ISO stands for the “International Organization for Standardization.” In 1946, delegates from 25 countries congregated at London’s Institute of Civil Engineers with a mission to coordinate industrial standards. Currently, ISO’s members represent 162 countries forming 778 technical committees and subcommittees.

Today, the ISO quality assurance standards cover everything from manufacturing and medical devices to data storage. They provide organizations with quality objectives and quality policies to implement strategic tools to keep businesses competitive and productive. The ISO/IEC 27001 standard often feels insurmountable for organizations. The sheer size of the standard and its risk-based nature make preparing for the ISO audit overwhelming in terms of documentation. To help prepare you, our primer below explains what an ISO audit is and how you can best manage the requirements of getting certified.

Leveraging a Quality Management System (QMS) can significantly assist in preparing for and succeeding in an ISO audit by establishing efficient processes, managing documentation, and promoting a culture of compliance and continuous improvement. The objective of a QMS is to provide a framework that improves communication, collaboration, and consistency across your organization while also reducing waste, and promoting continuous improvement. It streamlines the audit process and increases the organization’s chances of a successful ISO audit.

Why Is an ISO Audit Important?

ISO audits are important for several reasons, as they play a crucial role in ensuring that an organization complies with ISO standards. Here are the key reasons why an ISO audit is significant:

  1. Quality Assurance: ISO standards are designed to ensure the quality and consistency of products, services, and processes. An ISO audit helps verify that an organization is maintaining these quality standards, which can lead to improved customer satisfaction.
  2. Legal and Regulatory Compliance: ISO standards often align with legal and regulatory requirements in various industries. Adhering to ISO standards through regular audits can help organizations remain compliant with the law and avoid potential legal issues.
  3. Risk Management: ISO audits, particularly in fields like information security (e.g., ISO/IEC 27001), focus on risk-based approaches. By identifying and addressing risks through audits, organizations can reduce the likelihood of security breaches, data loss, and other costly incidents.
  4. Efficiency and Productivity: ISO standards emphasize efficiency and productivity improvements. An ISO audit helps organizations identify areas where processes can be streamlined and made more efficient, ultimately leading to cost savings.
  5. Competitive Advantage: Achieving ISO certification or compliance can be a valuable marketing tool. It can set an organization apart from competitors and demonstrate a commitment to quality and best practices, potentially attracting more customers and partners.
  6. Continuous Improvement: ISO audits are not just about compliance but also about continuous improvement. They provide valuable feedback and insights that organizations can use to refine their processes and achieve even higher levels of performance.
  7. Internal Control and Governance: ISO audits enhance an organization’s internal control and governance mechanisms. They help ensure that policies and procedures are followed consistently and that there is accountability at all levels of the organization.
  8. Customer Trust: ISO certification or compliance can build trust with customers. When customers see that a company adheres to recognized international standards, they are more likely to trust the organization and its products or services.
  9. Environmental Responsibility: ISO standards also cover environmental management, such as ISO 14001 for environmental management systems. Compliance with these standards demonstrates a commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility.
  10. Supplier and Partner Requirements: Some organizations require their suppliers and partners to meet specific ISO standards. By undergoing ISO audits, a company can meet these requirements and maintain key business relationships.

An ISO audit is essential for ensuring that an organization and its business processes not only comply with international standards but also reap the many benefits associated with them, including improved quality, risk management, efficiency, and competitiveness. It is a valuable tool for achieving and maintaining excellence in various aspects of business operations.

Types of Audits

ISO audits come in various forms, each serving a specific purpose in assessing an organization’s compliance with ISO standards. These audits are essential tools for evaluating an organization’s ability to meet the requirements outlined in the chosen ISO standard.

The three primary types of ISO audits include internal audits (first-party audits), second-party audits, and third-party audits. Each type plays a distinct role in ensuring that an organization adheres to internationally recognized standards and maintains the high levels of quality, safety, and performance expected in today’s competitive business landscape. Understanding the differences and purposes of these audit types is crucial for organizations seeking ISO certification and those striving to uphold their commitment to excellence.

First-Party or Internal ISO Audits

Internal audits are conducted by the organization’s own personnel. They focus on assessing compliance with ISO standards and identifying areas for improvement within the organization. Internal audits are essential for ongoing self-assessment and process refinement.

Second-Party ISO Audits

Second-party audits involve external organizations, such as customers, suppliers, or partners, assessing an organization’s compliance with ISO standards. These audits are often collaborative and are conducted to ensure that business relationships align with agreed-upon standards.

Third-Party ISO Audits

Third-party audits are the most formal and rigorous type of ISO audit. They are conducted by independent certification bodies or registrars that are accredited to assess and certify organizations for ISO compliance. Third-party audits are crucial for achieving ISO certification and demonstrating compliance to external stakeholders.

What ISO Standards Apply to Information Security?

ISO/IEC 27001:2013 standardizes an Information Security Management System (ISMS). Unlike other standards such as PCI DSS, ISO 27001 bases its controls on risks rather than prescriptive measures. This risk-based approach allows a variety of organizations and industries to apply ISO 27001. For example, commercial, government, and non-profits may all choose to comply with ISO while its flexibility means that markets ranging from banking, defense, healthcare, and education can also leverage it.

This flexibility makes it one of the most utilized information security standards. Moreover, ISO/IEC 27001 lists a series of controls in Annex A that acts more like a menu creating a choose-your-own-adventure style approach to security. These extended control sets offer management the option to avoid, transfer, or accept risks rather than mitigate them through controls.

Common mistakes to avoid in an ISO audit

Avoiding common mistakes in an ISO audit is crucial to ensure a successful assessment and to maintain compliance with ISO standards. Here are some common mistakes to avoid in an ISO audit:

  1. Lack of Preparation and Incomplete Documentation: Failing to prepare adequately for the audit is a significant mistake. Ensure that all relevant documents, records, and evidence are organized and readily available for the auditors. Inadequate or incomplete documentation is a common pitfall in this case. Ensure that all required documentation, including policies, procedures, and records, is up-to-date and readily accessible.
  2. Ignoring Nonconformities: If nonconformities or issues are identified during internal audits, it’s a mistake to overlook or ignore them. Address nonconformities promptly and implement corrective actions to resolve them.
  3. Overlooking Risk Assessment: ISO standards often require a risk-based approach. Neglecting to conduct a thorough risk assessment and address identified risks can lead to noncompliance.
  4. Inadequate Employee Training and Inconsistent Implementation: Your employees play a vital role in maintaining ISO compliance. Failing to provide adequate training and awareness programs can lead to inconsistent implementation of controls across the organization. Compliance with ISO standards requires consistent implementation of processes and controls. Inconsistencies across different departments or locations can result in noncompliance.
  5. Scope Creep: Ensure that your audit scope aligns with the specific ISO standard being assessed. Trying to include too many areas in a single audit can lead to confusion and inefficiency.
  6. Lack of Top Management Involvement: Top management’s commitment to ISO compliance is essential. Not involving senior leadership in the audit process can hinder success.
  7. Failure to Involve Relevant Stakeholders: Make sure that all relevant stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, and customers, are informed and involved in the audit process as necessary.
  8. Insufficient Communication: Clear and open communication with auditors is critical. Failing to communicate effectively during the audit can lead to misunderstandings and potential noncompliance issues.
  9. Relying Solely on Documentation: While documentation is essential, relying solely on paper-based evidence without considering practical implementation can be a mistake. Auditors often look for real-world evidence of compliance.
  10. Inadequate Follow-Up: After the audit, it’s important to follow up on audit findings and corrective actions promptly. Failing to do so can result in unresolved issues and potential noncompliance.
  11. Resistance to Feedback: Auditors may provide valuable feedback and recommendations. It’s a mistake to resist or dismiss this feedback. Use it as an opportunity for improvement.
  12. Inconsistent Monitoring and Measurement: ISO standards require organizations to monitor and measure their processes and performance. Neglecting to establish consistent monitoring and measurement systems can lead to noncompliance.

By avoiding these common mistakes and maintaining a proactive and continuous improvement mindset, organizations can better prepare for ISO audits, achieve compliance, and reap the benefits associated with ISO standards.

How Long Does it Take to Become ISO Certified?

The time required to achieve ISO certification varies widely depending on several factors. These factors include the chosen ISO standard, the organization’s size, its existing processes, and its readiness for compliance. Generally, the process can take several months to a year or more. It involves steps like initial assessment, process implementation, documentation, training, internal audits, corrective actions, and coordination with the chosen certification body. Larger and more complex organizations typically require more time due to the scale of their operations. Ultimately, setting realistic expectations and dedicating time to thorough preparation is crucial for a successful certification journey.

Before pursuing certification, organizations often conduct an initial gap analysis to identify areas of non-compliance with the chosen ISO standard. The time spent on this assessment can vary depending on the organization’s current state. Implementing the necessary processes and controls to meet ISO requirements can take several months to a year or more, depending on the size and complexity of the organization.

The specific ISO standard chosen will impact the certification timeline. Some standards are more complex and comprehensive than others. For example, ISO 9001 (Quality Management) may be less time-consuming to achieve than ISO/IEC 27001 (Information Security Management).

Preparing for your ISO Certification Audit

Preparing for an ISO Certification Audit is a crucial step in the process of achieving and maintaining ISO certification. The audit is conducted by an independent certification body or registrar to assess whether an organization’s management systems, processes, and operations comply with the specific ISO standard for which certification is sought.

Preparing for an ISO Certification Audit is a comprehensive process that involves a combination of thorough documentation, internal audits, employee training, and continuous improvement efforts. Successful preparation helps ensure that your organization not only achieves ISO certification but also maintains it over time, demonstrating your commitment to quality, safety, and compliance with internationally recognized standards.

What Is an ISO Audit Checklist?

An ISO audit checklist is a structured and comprehensive tool used to assess an organization’s compliance with ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standards. It serves as a roadmap for auditors, internal or external, to systematically review various aspects of the organization’s operations to ensure they align with the specific ISO standard being audited.

Key characteristics and purposes of an ISO audit checklist include:

  1. Guidance: It provides clear guidance to auditors on what specific requirements, processes, and controls they need to examine during the audit.
  2. Comprehensive Coverage: The checklist covers all relevant sections and clauses of the ISO standard, ensuring that no critical area is overlooked during the audit.
  3. Documentation Reference: It often includes references to the organization’s documented policies, procedures, records, and evidence that need to be reviewed.
  4. Evidence Collection: It helps auditors collect evidence to confirm compliance. This can include physical documents, digital records, interviews with personnel, and on-site observations.
  5. Consistency: By using a checklist, audits are conducted in a consistent and systematic manner, reducing the risk of missing important compliance elements.
  6. Efficiency: It streamlines the audit process by providing a predefined structure, making it easier for auditors to follow and ensure nothing is omitted.
  7. Training Tool: It can serve as a training tool for auditors, helping them understand the specific requirements of the ISO standard and how to assess compliance.
  8. Customization: Organizations often customize their ISO audit checklists to align with their unique processes and the requirements of the ISO standard they are pursuing.

An ISO audit checklist is a valuable resource to help organizations evaluate their readiness for ISO certification, monitor ongoing compliance, and identify areas for improvement. It assists in maintaining consistency and objectivity during the audit process, contributing to the effectiveness of ISO compliance assessments.

Creating an ISO Audit Checklist

The creation of an ISO audit checklist involves developing a comprehensive list of items, policies, procedures, and evidence that will be assessed during the audit. It is a systematic approach to ensure that all necessary aspects of ISO compliance are addressed and documented. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to create an ISO audit checklist:

  1. Select the Relevant ISO Standard: Identify the specific ISO standard that is applicable to your organization and which you want to create an audit checklist for. Ensure you have a copy of the standard for reference.
  2. Review and Understand the ISO Standard: Carefully read and comprehend the content of the chosen ISO standard. Familiarize yourself with the key clauses, requirements, and objectives.
  3. Identify Key Requirements: Highlight and list the critical requirements, objectives, and processes outlined in the standard that you need to assess for compliance.
  4. Create Checklist Items: For each key requirement or clause, craft concise checklist items that clearly define what needs to be checked. Ensure that each item is specific, measurable, and directly linked to the ISO standard.
  5. Include References and Space for Comments: For each checklist item, add references to relevant documents or records that should be examined during the audit. Also, allocate space for auditors to note comments or observations.
  6. Validation and Customization: Validate the checklist by seeking input from internal auditors or subject matter experts to ensure its accuracy and completeness. Customize it to your organization’s unique processes, and ensure it aligns with your specific operations and the ISO standard‘s requirements.

Once you’ve completed these six steps, you’ll have a basic ISO audit checklist specific to your organization’s needs and the ISO standard in question. Remember that this checklist should be a dynamic document, subject to regular review and updates to maintain alignment with changing ISO standards and organizational developments

FAQs for ISO Audits

What Is An ISMS?

An ISMS, or Information Security Management System, is a systematic and structured approach to managing an organization’s information security processes, policies, and practices. Its primary goal is to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of an organization’s sensitive information, protecting it from unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration, and destruction.

A company’s ISMS is its policies and procedures for protecting sensitive data. An organization’s ISMS should address not only data and technology but also employee behavior. For example, employee security awareness and password protection awareness should be part of the overarching data protection corporate culture.

While ISO/IEC 27001 specifies creating an ISMS, it only offers suggestions for actions rather than requiring specific activities. Some of these ideas include internal audits, continual monitoring, and corrective or preventative measures.

ISO 27001 is one of the most widely recognized standards for implementing an ISMS. It provides a framework for organizations to establish, implement, maintain, and continually improve their information security management systems.

Implementing an ISMS is crucial for organizations in today’s digital age, as data breaches and cyber threats continue to pose significant risks. It helps organizations protect their critical information assets and maintain the trust of customers, partners, and stakeholders by demonstrating a commitment to information security.

What Is ISO Certification?

ISO certification requires meeting compliance as well as audit standards. Being certified means that an external certification body has reviewed your ISMS and determined that it complies with all the needed requirements.

The simple steps hide the complexity of certification. In short, certification requires a gap analysis, formal assessment, implementation, and audit.

Performing a gap analysis means reviewing the controls chosen for different standards and ensuring that you have met the needs for ISO/IEC 27001 in the process. For example, an organization may want to follow both the NIST framework and be PCI DSS compliant. While these overlap in some areas, they diverge in others. Assuming that your organization’s compliance with these meets ISO/IEC 27001 recommendations may leave you with a gap should you not review all the controls needed.

Once you complete the gap analysis, then you can create a formal assessment that incorporates not only the risks previously mitigated but determine whether to accept, mitigate, or transfer additional risks located.

The implementation process requires creating the policies and procedures that put new controls in place. This process can be time-consuming if your gap analysis notes several significant areas to be included and if your risk assessment determines that your company wants to control and mitigate numerous new risks rather than accept or transfer them.

Finally, the ongoing monitoring requirement of ISO/IEC 27001 required audits. Audits mean documentation which implies the time spent gathering the documentation.

What is an ISO Certification Audit?

An ISO Certification Audit is a thorough and formal evaluation conducted by an independent certification body or registrar to determine whether an organization complies with the requirements of a specific ISO standard. The primary purpose of this audit is to assess an organization’s management systems, processes, and operations to confirm that they meet the standards and criteria defined in the chosen ISO standard.

A certification audit determines whether your organization has aggregated the documentation, records, processes, and controls needed for being ISO/IEC 27001 certified. The auditor compares the documents against the daily activities to ensure that your organization is not only compliant with the standard on paper but also in practice.

Certifications last three years, but during that time, the organization wants to ensure that you remain compliant instead of just putting on a good face for a single visit.

The ISO Certification Audit typically involves several key elements:

  1. Documentation Review: The auditor reviews the organization’s documented processes, procedures, policies, and records to ensure they align with the ISO standard‘s requirements.
  2. On-Site Assessment: In many cases, the audit includes an on-site visit to the organization’s facilities. During the visit, the auditor examines operations, interviews employees, and observes processes to validate compliance.
  3. Compliance Assessment: The auditor assesses the organization’s adherence to the ISO standard‘s specific requirements, including policies, objectives, and controls. They also look for evidence of continual improvement.
  4. Nonconformity Identification: Any identified nonconformities or areas of non-compliance are documented. Nonconformities may relate to procedural issues, documentation discrepancies, or inadequate implementation of controls.
  5. Corrective Actions: If nonconformities are identified, the organization is required to take corrective actions to address the issues within specified timeframes.
  6. Certification Decision: After the audit is complete, the certification body makes a certification decision. If the organization successfully demonstrates compliance, it is awarded ISO certification.
  7. Certification Validity: ISO certification typically has a validity period, which can vary but is commonly three years. The organization must undergo annual surveillance audits during this period to maintain certification.
  8. Continual Improvement: ISO certification promotes the principles of continual improvement. Organizations are expected to continuously enhance their processes and performance in line with ISO standards.

Obtaining ISO certification signifies to customers, partners, and stakeholders that the organization has met internationally recognized quality, environmental, information security, or other standards. It enhances an organization’s credibility, competitive advantage, and its ability to meet customer expectations while demonstrating a commitment to best practices in its field.

What is an ISO Surveillance Audit?

An ISO surveillance audit, also known as a surveillance assessment or surveillance audit, is a periodic evaluation conducted by a certification body or registrar to ensure that an organization maintains compliance with an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standard. These audits are a critical part of the ISO certification process and occur after an organization has achieved ISO certification.

Key points about ISO surveillance audits:

  1. Ongoing Compliance Monitoring: ISO surveillance audits are conducted at regular intervals, typically annually, to monitor the organization’s ongoing compliance with the ISO standard. The frequency and scheduling of these audits may vary depending on the standard and certification body.
  2. Focus on Continual Improvement: While surveillance audits primarily aim to confirm that the organization continues to meet the ISO requirements, they also emphasize the concept of continual improvement. Auditors may assess how the organization has addressed nonconformities from previous audits and look for enhancements in processes and performance.
  3. Spot Checks: Surveillance audits typically cover a sampling of the organization’s operations, processes, and records. Auditors conduct spot checks to ensure that the organization is consistently adhering to the ISO standard.
  4. Nonconformity Resolution: If nonconformities or areas of non-compliance are identified during a surveillance audit, the organization is required to take corrective actions to resolve these issues within specified timeframes.
  5. Maintaining Certification: Successful completion of surveillance audits is essential for maintaining ISO certification. Failure to pass these audits may result in the suspension or withdrawal of the organization’s certification.
  6. Certification Renewal: The surveillance audit process continues throughout the certification cycle, which typically lasts for three years. After the initial certification audit, the certification body conducts annual surveillance audits to ensure continued compliance. At the end of the three-year cycle, a re-certification audit may be required.
  7. Adaptation to Changes: ISO standards may undergo revisions and updates. Organizations must adapt their processes and systems to align with these changes. Surveillance audits may assess an organization’s readiness and compliance with the most current version of the ISO standard.

An ISO surveillance audit is a routine evaluation that ensures an organization maintains its ISO certification and continues to meet the requirements of the specific ISO standard. These audits promote the principles of continual improvement and help organizations remain in compliance with evolving ISO standards.

What is an ISO Auditor’s Training?

ISO auditor‘s training is a specialized education and development process designed to prepare individuals for the role of an auditor in the context of ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standards. ISO auditors play a crucial role in assessing an organization’s compliance with ISO standards, ensuring quality, safety, and best practices in various domains. Here are the key aspects of ISO auditor‘s training:

  1. Understanding ISO Standards: Training typically starts with a comprehensive understanding of the specific ISO standard(s) for which the auditor is being trained. This includes studying the standard’s clauses, requirements, and objectives.
  2. Audit Principles: Trainees learn the fundamental principles of auditing, including independence, objectivity, and integrity. They also gain knowledge about audit types, such as first-party (internal), second-party, and third-party audits.
  3. Audit Processes: Trainees are taught the audit process, which includes planning, conducting, reporting, and following up on audits. This encompasses creating audit plans, checklists, and evaluation methods.
  4. Audit Techniques: Training covers auditing techniques and methodologies, which include document review, interviews, observation, and sampling. Auditors learn how to collect, analyze, and verify evidence during an audit.
  5. Communication Skills: Effective communication is essential for auditors. Training helps develop skills in interviewing, reporting findings, and providing constructive feedback to auditees.
  6. Nonconformities: Trainees learn how to identify nonconformities and deviations from ISO standards, document them accurately, and recommend corrective actions.
  7. Corrective Actions: Understanding the corrective action process is crucial, as auditors may be involved in ensuring that nonconformities are addressed appropriately.
  8. Legal and Ethical Aspects: Auditors are educated about the legal and ethical responsibilities associated with auditing. This includes confidentiality, conflict of interest, and following relevant laws and regulations.
  9. Industry-Specific Knowledge: Depending on the field of auditing (e.g., quality management, information security, environmental management), specialized industry knowledge may be included in the training.
  10. Audit Simulations: Practical training often includes simulated audit scenarios, where trainees practice conducting audits in a controlled environment.
  11. Certification: Some ISO standards, particularly for third-party audits, may require auditors to obtain certification from recognized auditing organizations. These certifications validate an auditor’s competence.
  12. Continual Learning: ISO auditors should engage in continuous learning to stay updated on ISO standards, audit practices, and industry developments. This often includes attending workshops, seminars, and refresher courses.

ISO auditor‘s training is critical for ensuring the competence and effectiveness of auditors who assess an organization’s compliance with ISO standards. Well-trained auditors contribute to the credibility of ISO certification and the ongoing improvement of quality, safety, and environmental practices within organizations.

How Can Automation Help You Be ISO Certified and Compliance?

ZenGRC’s preloaded content includes ISO 27001. Once our GRC experts onboard your organization, you have access to content that helps you map your controls across multiple standards.

When managing your compliance with shared drives or spreadsheets, seeing the overlaps and gaps in your compliance can leave you cross-eyed. ZenGRC’s SaaS compliance platform allows you to map your controls and then perform a gap analysis so that you can view the remaining work and manage your timeline better.

Finally, our platform provides a single source of truth giving you one-click access to the documents the audit checklist requires for a successful audit.

Although an ISO audit without any ISO audit software to help you may seem overwhelming, with the help of ZenGRC’s automation, you can become compliant faster, more efficiently and with a lot less hassle.

Want to see what the buzz is all about? For more information on how ZenGRC can help your ISO certification process, schedule a demo.