The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) plays a significant role in establishing best practices for various industries—from healthcare and technology to manufacturing and agriculture. Its frameworks set out an accepted way of performing certain activities, which drives quality, safety, and efficiency, while also fostering national and international cooperation.
Achieving ISO certification means that organizations know what to expect from a partner or supplier. ISO standards mean that products and services are delivered with the same specifications, its management systems will meet global standards, and certificated organizations can be trusted in their commitment to continual improvement.
But how does the International Organization for Standardization achieve this? And how do its practices help organizations meet their objectives?
Understanding the International Organization for Standardization
The International Organization for Standardization is an independent, non-governmental certification body. It was founded in 1947 as a collaboration between national standards bodies from across the globe. There are currently 167 members, composed of a single representative for each member nation.
These representatives develop international standards that specify how to perform certain activities. Some ISO standards relate to specific activities, such as making and supplying medical equipment, and others support broader organizational goals, such as occupational health and safety and information security.
With its headquarters in Geneva, the ISO is a central hub for international standardization. Its members meet annually to review existing standards and consider the need for new specifications. They work with subject matter experts and industry leaders to ensure that the frameworks meet benchmarks for quality, safety, and efficiency.
Why Is It Called ISO?
The name ‘ISO’ might appear to be an abbreviation for ‘International Standards Organization,’ but this is a common misconception.
The official name in English is the International Organization for Standardization, but it goes by other names around the world. For example, it’s the Organisation Internationale de Normalisation in France and the Internationale Organisation für Normung in Germany.
To create consistency between member countries, its founding members chose a name that could apply universally. If not for this, its name would either be rooted in one specific language or each member nation would have its own acronym, such as the IOS or the ION. As such, the ISO isn’t an abbreviation at all, and the name reportedly comes from the Greek word isos, meaning equal.
This approach ensures that the ISO and its standards are easily recognized and referenced worldwide.
Are There National Standardization Bodies?
While the ISO operates on a global scale, there are also national standardization bodies that focus on the legal requirements and practical interests of their country. In the US, standards are developed by the ANSI (American National Standards Institute).
National standards are often similar to those developed by the ISO, because of their close connection. Specifications are often developed at a national level first, and they’re used as the basis for ISO standards. Other times, the ISO establishes the frameworks, which members then integrate into their domestic practices.
What Is an ISO standard?
An ISO standard is a set of guidelines explaining how to perform certain tasks safely, effectively, and reliably. Each standard is developed by members of the International Organization for Standardization with support from industry representatives and subject matter experts.
Standards can contain technical specifications for specific products or provide a framework for broader operational procedures. Although the majority of standards are technical, the second category is far more popular, because they are industry-neutral and describe best practices that apply in far more circumstances.
These frameworks are known as MSSs (Management System Standards), and they’re what organizations are usually referring to when discussing ISO compliance and certification.
The most common standards in this category are:
- ISO 9001—Quality Management
- ISO 27001—Information Security Management
- ISO 14001—Environmental Management
- ISO 45001—Occupational Health and Safety Management
- ISO 50001—Energy Management.
What Does the International Organization for Standardization Do?
The ISO develops and maintains international standards across a range of industries. It currently oversees more than 24,000 of these, with around a thousand new frameworks developed each year. Each standard is also subject to review—typically every five years—to ensure that it’s still relevant and aligned with best practices.
In addition to standards, the ISO also produces technical reports, specifications, and guides that contain various resources to help organizations understand and implement its frameworks.
Members of the ISO meet each year at a General Assembly to discuss the organization’s strategic objectives. There is also a 20-person council composed of a rotating group of members that provides guidance and governance, as well as technical committees that represent different sectors and specialities.
What Is ISO Certification?
ISO certification is a formal recognition given to organizations that demonstrate compliance with particular types of standards known as ‘Requirements Standards’. Although ISO standards are voluntary, organizations often choose to certify so that they can showcase to potential clients that they follow best practices. Certification proves that the organization is committed to high standards and that it will provide efficient and reliable services.
Achieving ISO certification signifies that the organization operates according to internationally recognized best practices. It provides assurance to stakeholders, customers, and partners that the organization is committed to quality, efficiency, and continuous improvement.
Learn more about ISO certification.
How to Become ISO Certified
Organizations can achieve ISO certification by undergoing a third-party assessment. This involves an independent certification body assessment to ensure the organization’s processes, systems, and documentation meet the standard’s specifications.
Although auditors use the ISO standards to perform their assessments, the standardization body does not perform certification audits. These are instead performed by accredited certification bodies, such as Orion Registrar.
As an ANAB-accredited certification body, we ensure rigorous and trusted evaluations that meet international standards and best practices.