While ISO certification provides independent validation of a company’s conformity to a set of standards created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the certification process can be long. Thus, many organizations prefer to focus on being ISO-compliant rather than ISO-certified.

ISO compliance means adhering to the requirements of ISO standards without the formalized certification and recertification process. For example, organizations may choose to follow guidelines for establishing a quality management system as outlined in ISO 9001. Unlike ISO 9001 certification which requires a series of audits, ISO compliance focuses on using the standards as a way to make decisions regarding policies, procedures, and processes so that they align with the specifications.

A company can obtain a certificate of compliance that provides customers and business partners with assurance but lacks the time-consuming and costliness of the certification audit. For example, organizations can meet the requirements of the ISO 9000 management standard and obtain a certificate of compliance. This certificate can be used to prove that the appropriate organizational structures exist to promote improvement.


ISO compliance vs. ISO certification: What’s the difference?

ISO (International Organization for Standardization) compliance and ISO certification are related concepts but have distinct differences:

  1. ISO Compliance:
    • ISO compliance refers to the adherence of an organization to the standards and guidelines outlined by the ISO. This means that the organization follows the recommended practices and procedures as set forth in ISO standards relevant to its industry or area of operation.
    • Compliance can be voluntary or required by law, industry regulations, or customer contracts. Organizations choose to comply with ISO standards to improve their operations, enhance quality, and demonstrate a commitment to meeting international best practices.
    • ISO compliance does not involve a formal certification process but relies on internal audits and self-assessments to ensure conformity with ISO standards.
  2. ISO Certification:
    • ISO certification, also known as ISO registration, is a formal process by which an independent third-party certification body assesses and certifies that an organization’s management system, processes, or products conform to specific ISO standards.
    • Achieving ISO certification involves a rigorous external audit by accredited certification bodies. These audits verify that the organization has implemented the required processes and complies with the relevant ISO standard.
    • ISO certification is often seen as a more official recognition of an organization’s commitment to quality, environmental responsibility, or other specified aspects covered by ISO standards.
    • Organizations may use ISO certification to demonstrate their commitment to quality and meet customer requirements. It can also be a valuable marketing and competitive advantage.

Basically, ISO compliance is the internal commitment and practice of following ISO standards, while ISO certification is the external verification, through a formal audit, that an organization complies with these standards. ISO certification is a more formal and recognized way to show conformity with ISO standards and can be used to build trust with customers and stakeholders.


Benefits of ISO compliance

ISO compliance offers numerous benefits to organizations, and here are five key advantages:

  1. Improved Quality and Customer Satisfaction: ISO compliance, particularly ISO 9001 (Quality Management System), focuses on enhancing product and service quality. By adhering to these standards, organizations can implement better quality control processes, leading to consistent and improved product or service quality. This, in turn, increases customer satisfaction, as customers receive reliable and high-quality products or services.
  2. Increased Efficiency and Cost Savings: ISO standards often include guidelines for process optimization and waste reduction. Complying with these standards can result in increased operational efficiency, reduced production costs, and improved resource utilization. As a result, organizations can realize significant cost savings.
  3. Competitive Advantage: ISO compliance can set organizations apart from their competitors. It demonstrates a commitment to best practices, quality, and consistency, which can be an important differentiator in the marketplace. ISO compliance is especially beneficial when seeking contracts or customers who prioritize working with organizations that adhere to recognized standards.
  4. Risk Management and Mitigation: ISO standards, such as ISO 31000 (Risk Management), provide frameworks for identifying, assessing, and managing risks. By following these standards, organizations can better anticipate and manage risks, reducing the likelihood of disruptions and financial losses.
  5. International Recognition and Market Expansion: ISO is globally recognized and accepted. Compliance with ISO standards can provide organizations with international credibility, making it easier to enter and compete in international markets. It demonstrates to global customers and partners that the organization meets internationally accepted standards for quality and best practices.

These benefits may vary depending on the specific ISO standard that an organization follows and the industry it operates in. However, these advantages highlight the potential improvements in quality, efficiency, competitiveness, and risk management that ISO compliance can offer.


Types of ISO Compliance Standards

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed a wide range of standards that cover various aspects of business, industry, and technology. These standards are often categorized into different families based on their focus. Some of the major types of ISO compliance standards include:

  1. Quality Management Standards (ISO 9000 family):
    • ISO 9001: This standard focuses on quality management systems and is used by organizations to ensure that they meet customer and regulatory requirements while continually improving their processes and services.
    • ISO 9000: These are foundational standards within the ISO 9000 family and provide guidance on fundamental concepts and terminology.
  2. Environmental Management Standards (ISO 14000 family):
    • ISO 14001: This standard addresses environmental management systems and helps organizations minimize their environmental impact, comply with regulations, and achieve sustainability goals.
    • ISO 14004: A complementary standard offering guidance on the implementation of ISO 14001.
  3. Information Security Standards (ISO/IEC 27000 family):
    • ISO/IEC 27001: Focusing on information security management systems (ISMS), this standard helps organizations protect sensitive information and manage risks related to data security.
    • ISO/IEC 27002: Provides a code of practice for information security controls.
  4. Occupational Health and Safety Management Standards (ISO 45000 family):
    • ISO 45001: This standard addresses occupational health and safety management systems, helping organizations establish safe working environments, prevent accidents, and comply with health and safety regulations.
  5. Food Safety Standards (ISO 22000 family):
    • ISO 22000: Concentrating on food safety management systems, this standard is crucial for organizations in the food industry to ensure the safety and quality of their products throughout the supply chain.
  6. Energy Management Standards (ISO 50000 family):
    • ISO 50001: Focusing on energy management systems, this standard helps organizations improve energy efficiency, reduce energy costs, and minimize their environmental footprint.
  7. Automotive Quality Standards (IATF 16949):
    • Developed for the automotive industry, this standard is a supplement to ISO 9001 and outlines specific quality management system requirements for automotive suppliers.
  8. Medical Device Quality Management Standards (ISO 13485):
    • Designed for the medical device industry, this standard specifies requirements for quality management systems to ensure the safety and effectiveness of medical devices.
  9. Social Responsibility Standards (ISO 26000):
    • This standard provides guidelines on social responsibility and sustainable business practices, helping organizations operate ethically and contribute positively to society.
  10. IT Service Management Standards (ISO/IEC 20000):
    • Focusing on IT service management, this standard helps organizations ensure the quality of IT services, align IT with business objectives, and improve customer satisfaction.
  11. Risk Management Standards (ISO 31000):
    • ISO 31000 provides principles and guidelines for risk management, helping organizations identify, assess, and mitigate risks across various aspects of their operations.

These are just a few examples of the many ISO compliance standards available. Each standard addresses specific areas of management, quality, safety, and sustainability, providing organizations with a framework to meet international best practices and demonstrate their commitment to excellence in various fields. Organizations can choose the standards that are most relevant to their industry and objectives to achieve ISO compliance and certification.


Maintaining ISO Compliance for Your Business

Maintaining ISO compliance means consistently adhering to the requirements and principles outlined in ISO standards relevant to your organization’s operations and industry. You’ll want to ensure you have teams regularly checking on business operations supporting your business continuity management and compliance management. Without adequate controls in place being effectively leveraged, your risk of noncompliance and potentially, a data breach, increasess dramatically.

Failure to maintain ISO compliance can lead to various negative consequences for your organization. These consequences can range from internal operational issues to external risks and impacts on your reputation and business relationships and a loss of competitive advantage.

Maintaining ISO compliance for your business can be effectively managed through a systematic approach involving six key steps:

  1. Understanding the ISO Standard: Begin by thoroughly understanding the specific ISO standard that applies to your business, such as ISO 9001 for quality management, ISO 14001 for environmental management, or ISO 27001 for information security. Know the standard’s requirements, objectives, and the scope of your compliance.
  2. Establish a Management System: Develop and implement a well-documented management system that aligns with the ISO standard‘s requirements. This system should encompass policies, procedures, work instructions, and forms necessary for compliance.
  3. Employee Training and Awareness: Ensure that your employees are knowledgeable about the ISO standard and their roles in achieving compliance. Offer training and resources to enhance their understanding and encourage active participation.
  4. Internal Audits: Conduct regular internal audits to evaluate your organization’s adherence to the ISO standard. These audits should be objective, systematic, and thorough. Identify non-conformities and areas for improvement.
  5. Corrective and Preventive Actions: Address any non-conformities and improvement opportunities identified during internal audits through corrective actions to address immediate issues and preventive actions to prevent future non-conformities.
  6. Management Review: Periodically hold management reviews to assess the effectiveness of your management system and its alignment with the ISO standard. These reviews should be used to make informed decisions for continuous improvement.

By following these six steps, you can maintain ISO compliance effectively and ensure that your organization continues to meet the requirements of the standard. This systematic approach helps instill a culture of continual improvement and quality throughout your business, while also keeping your management system aligned with ISO standards.


Get a Free Demo for ZenGRC

ZenGRC is a comprehensive Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) software platform that plays a pivotal role in preparing for and maintaining ISO compliance. It offers a centralized hub for all ISO-related documentation, policies, procedures, and requirements, making it easily accessible and understandable for your teams. With its task and workflow management features, ZenGRC allows organizations to create and delegate compliance-related tasks, ensuring that responsibilities are clear and deadlines are met. Additionally, it supports risk assessment and mitigation by helping organizations identify, evaluate, and manage risks associated with ISO compliance, enhancing the overall control of potential issues.

When it comes to audits, ZenGRC simplifies the process by scheduling and tracking internal and external audits, making audit findings and corrective actions easy to manage. The platform’s policy and procedure management tools enable the creation, review, and monitoring of ISO-compliant policies and processes. In summary, ZenGRC provides the structure, organization, and automation needed to streamline ISO compliance efforts, helping businesses stay compliant and continually improve their processes to meet ISO standards.

To learn more about ZenGRC and see it in action, schedule a demo.