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The market as the main driver for conformity assessment

Industrial environment changes fast and drives businesses to new strategies in order to respond to new market requirements. In the last 50 years, organizations shifted from a standards based strategy in the post war period towards a risk based strategy in recent days. International standardization and in conformity assessment kept up with the trend.
Errors committed in manufacturing has been an impetus for creating technical standards. For example, in the beginning of the industrial revolution several pressure vessels failed and exploded, causing many casualties. Industry responded by creating technical standard defining specifications to what components, installations and facilities were to be built. In the post war period, complying with technical standards assured not only save design but introduced standardization of products who led to competitive advantage. Thousands of standards were made by technical committees defining all kinds of products in mechanical, electrical, nuclear domains…
From a simple screw to a mega power station, industry was committed to a standards based strategy whereas compliance assessment was performed by specialist bodies issuing technical reports proving compliance to the standard or not.
Compliance based strategy since the 60’s
By the sixties, quality requirements detailing what industries had to do to achieve performance were adopted in the standards. Later on to avoid duplication of effort, suppliers’ methods were assessed against a generic ISO standard. The purpose was to provide a common contractual document demonstrating that industrial production was controlled. The introduction of certification in conformity assessment was a marketing tool. Obviously, an independent third party was needed to ensure fairness.
During several decennia companies developed and worked compliant to their own production standards in order to meet customer requirements. Documented procedures and registrations of the company’s management system provided (shelf-load) evidence of compliance.
Conformity assessment was addressed in external auditing. Compliance audits were performed by independent auditors asking: “tell me what you do, show me where it is written and prove me that it is done that way?”
Continuous improvement based strategy in 2000
In 2000 a radical change in thinking placed the concept of process management in the centre of business management and performance. The goal was to have effective business via system management and process performance metrics. Expectations of continual process improvement and tracking customer satisfaction were made explicit in business strategy.
Conformity assessment shifted from a compliance check towards a judgement on what is effective and efficient (do the right things and do the things in a right way) the question was more “will this process help you achieve your objectives? Is the process performing well, or is there a better way to do better? “
Risk based strategy in 2015
The financial crisis showed the vulnerability of our global world creating growing concern for risks. Companies are interconnected what makes them very competitive but also vulnerable. For some organizations the consequences of delivering nonconforming products or services can result in mayor inconvenience or can be fatal to customers, interested parties or business partners.
In conformity assessment the audit verifies the rigor and degree of formality (qualitative or quantitative) needed to the management system to act as a preventive tool for managing quality risks. The question is more “knowing the context of the organization what are the risks? What processes are vulnerable? How robust are the measures taken?
What is next?
As seen in this short overview conformity assessment follows the industrial megatrends from standard based towards risk based strategy in order to help organizations to survive the changing context. It would be interesting to know what the next megatrend will be.

Paul Olivier

AVI Group Manager (Certification)
SCPM Auditor

Jan Olieslagerslaan 35
1800 Vilvoorde Brussels