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What is the value of ISO 9001?

One of the ideas behind Design+ is to look outside the immediate world of electronics design to the opinions and strategies in some of the adjacent disciplines. This month, Tim Fryer takes a look at standards, BYOD and 'strategic thinking'.

Since 1987, when ISO published its first series of ISO 9000 quality management standards, more than 1million organisations in 178 countries have achieved ISO 9001 accreditation.

What has persuaded so many people to invest significant amounts of time and money into this process – and what benefits have they gained? Should you be interested in doing the same for your organisation?

Yasser Ramirez, head of finance at contact centre 60K, admits that it is a time-consuming and expensive exercise. "At even the smallest business, certification can take up to 16 weeks; at the largest organisations, it is typically a nine month process. During this time, key staff are diverted from their day-to-day duties. Then there is the cost of involving external advisers, to conduct pre certification audits, the actual certification audit and then ongoing surveillance. Then, once every three years, you need to be recertified."

It is easy to see why many remain sceptical about the value of ISO 9001 accreditation. What are the concrete business benefits? You know you do a good job for your customers; do you need a kitemark to tell you that?

"At 60K, we weighed the arguments for and against the investment and decided to go for it," said Ramirez. "Ultimately, although we have been measuring the quality of our work against external benchmarks right from the formation of our business in 2008, we felt it was crucial to have qualified, globally recognised, third parties to attest that our services comply with the quality standards of worldwide organisations. We gained ISO 9001:2008 certification in April 2010. Now, four years on, we can look back and evaluate whether the investment of time and money has produced the expected benefits."

ISO is a network of the international standards institutes of 162 nations. Formed in February 1947, it has a central secretariat in Geneva that coordinates the system. ISO 9001, of which ISO 9001:2008 is the latest version, is concerned with quality management. This means what the organisation does to enhance customer satisfaction by meeting customer and any regulatory requirements and to continually improve its performance in this regard.

Over the years, there have been many surveys conducted into the benefits which organisations gain from ISO 9000 certification. To give just one example, UK based ISO consultant QMS surveyed 596 certified organisations in the last quarter of 2012. Of the respondents, 78% reported that, since implementing an ISO 9001 management system, they have made significant changes to their processes.

QMS also reported that, in addition to gaining quality management skills, organisations had become more efficient, employees were more motivated, customers were more satisfied and more customers were retained. For many companies, this translated into increased productivity, sales and profits. Only 5% reported no benefits.

Ramirez commented: "We would agree that this has been the case for 60K. The process of gaining ISO 9001 certification helped us to become more organised and effective and provided a significant lift to employee morale. We are, in general, a positive and self confident company, but gaining this global quality standard gave us real confidence in what we are doing. Perhaps most importantly, existing and new clients tell us how reassuring it is for them to know they are dealing with a company that offers the highest quality services.

"It has been a very positive experience and one I would urge other businesses to embark on. My final tip to anyone considering taking this path is to remember that ISO certification is not about scrapping everything you have done to date; it is about looking at your existing processes, mapping them against ISO requirements and then working to fill any gaps. Taking this approach can greatly reduce the time it takes, whilst ensuring you still receive the many benefits ISO 9001 delivers."

Geek is good
Digital technology experts gathered at a round table debate held by hosting and cloud firm UKFast in its Manchester office to discuss the changing perception of 'the geek' in the UK.

Learning to code and spending time programming are no longer the activity of 'geeks and nerds' as digital natives are driving the demand to improve their skills and potentially bridge the UK's massive skills gap, according to the panel.

Lawrence Jones (pictured), founder and CEO of UKFast, said: "Being a geek is finally cool. Look at the Victoria's Secret model who's also a programmer – everyone wants to be a 'geek' now and it is fuelling the demand that we need to fill the constantly growing tech skills gap.

"We work really closely with schools, colleges and universities across the country and the young people we've spoken to are crying out to learn how the internet works, how to create their own apps and programs.

Manchester Digital founder Shaun Fensom believes that this is pivotal in the success of the country's future. He said: "The penny has finally dropped that teaching kids coding is a good idea. Back in the 1980s, it was fantastic; everybody was learning how to code, but that just disappeared. We wouldn't have a games industry if it hadn't have been for that.

"There has been a culture change in that the notion of geek is cool, coding has finally taken root and that can only be good because we have a skills crisis in terms of the supply of the technical skills, and the demand is growing, rather than getting smaller."

Herb Kim, founder of the Thinking Digital Conference, believes the pace of change within the technology industry is so rapid that we will never be able to keep up. He said: "The pace of change now has outstripped any human's ability to actually keep up with it and, yes, if you think about the amount of data we have to absorb, we're failing at it clearly. I think we're at a point where the pace of change isn't just faster, but it's faster than our capabilities to deal with it."

BYOD is coming – ready or not!
With the news that more than 40% of companies do not consider the 'bring your own device' (BYOD) trend to be on their agenda, IT and communications industry experts are warning that, sooner or later, they will have to face up to BYOD, whether they want to or not.

BYOD describes the growing trend among employees to use their own IT resources – laptops, netbooks, smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices - for work purposes, both in the office and while out and about or working from home.

A report by says that, in addition to the 40% of companies that don't have BYOD on their agenda, 34% of respondents felt apathetic or had 'mixed feelings' about the topic. Only a quarter of individuals were positive about BYOD and said their employer had embraced the idea.

Chris Papa, managing director of communications and cloud computing specialist Qubic, commented: "While BYOD has proven to be popular with staff and has boosted productivity and increased job satisfaction where it has been adopted, there are certain issues that have to be addressed.

"There are questions about ownership, security and data protection, as well as a need to ensure a clear BYOD policy is in place. It is understandable that many don't want to tackle these issues, but they need to wake up to the fact that BYOD is coming, whether they like it or not. Sooner or later, they are going to have to deal with it.

"Employees are using their own devices and bringing them into work, regardless of their employers' views. Undecided employers will have to climb off the fence and either prohibit BYOD for work completely, blocking access to their systems and their clients' data, or apply sufficient controls to protect their own and their clients' data."

Qubic suggests that employers can mitigate some of the risk by using a cloud based virtualised model in which no sensitive data sits on local platforms. Any work, whatever device is used to access it, is stored on a server and only the virtualised application gets accessed from the mobile device. In this way, data remains largely secure and it ensures that data need not be stored on any local device that can be misplaced, such as CDs, laptops or USBs. As long as users have access to a dedicated mobile app or web browser, they can use company data and virtualised applications.

Despite the fact that several respondents to the survey reportedly went so far as to describe BYOD as 'bring your own disaster', their organisations are going to have deal with the issue as their staff will, undoubtedly, start trying to access enterprise applications and data on their smartphones and tablets – if they haven't already.

Papa concludes: "The employer and employee must have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Of paramount importance is ensuring that the benefits BYOD has to offer, do not compromise the security of the workplace."

Tim Fryer

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