Are Certification Bodies who promote software overstepping the mark or simply keeping up with the times?
Recently we have seen a number of the larger Conformity Assessment Bodies (more commonly known as Certification Bodies) either launch their own compliance management software solutions or strategically align themselves with a particular third-party software vendor.
And let’s be clear - these software solutions don’t just help the Certification Body (CB) better perform their ‘day jobs’ in carrying out inspections and testing, they unashamedly help their clients with their day-to-day compliance management activities like driving improvements, managing risks and controlling documents, etc.
Is this simply a case of our industry – and the CB’s in particular – keeping up with the times? After all, no one with all their marbles still believes that traditional paper-based solutions are adequate for properly managing compliance systems like quality, health & safety and environmental.
So if the CB’s are promoting to their clients a better, more efficient way to manage the end-to-end process, shouldn’t we all congratulate them?
But hold on a minute, what if the CB goes a step further and rather than simply recommending that “software is best”, they actually tell their clients which software solution they should use?
Doesn’t that overstep the mark?
According to JAS-ANZ (our local government body responsible for accrediting the CB’s), “accreditation is an endorsement of a CB's competence, credibility, independence and integrity in carrying out its conformity assessment activities.”
The standard in question here is ISO/IEC 17021:2011 Conformity assessment - requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of management systems.
Let’s take a deeper look…
Our interpretation of clause 18.104.22.168 of ISO 17021 is that whilst a CB can highlight areas where improvement may be possible, it cannot recommend how to implement the improvement by suggesting a solution. And then in clause 5.2.2 we see reinforcement of the need for the CB to act impartially.
So doesn’t the promotion of proprietary or specific third-party compliance management software contravene the requirement for the CB to be independent and impartial?
At the Crossroads
Perhaps the key question is where does this leave those CB’s who up until now have fiercely resisted the temptation to promote the benefits of software over paper – let alone align themselves to a particular software vendor?
Are they right - or simply failing to keep up with the times? And what’s the position of JAS-ANZ and the other accreditation bodies regarding this matter?