The International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) was founded as a means to answering the universal question of “what is the best way of doing this?” Early beginnings saw the organisation focused on creating standards for measurement. However, the last 50 years has seen these standards extend into almost all facets of our everyday lives. It should therefore come as no surprise that ISO has to date published 22,552 International Standards. These standards represent consumer confidence in the safety, reliability and quality of goods and services and governments depend on these standards when setting out to develop regulations. According to ISO, “International Standards on air, water and soil quality, on emissions of gases and radiation, and environmental aspects of products, protect the health of the planet and people, beyond bringing economic benefits.”
While the obvious perception is that ISO is perfect for big business, think again! ISO could be the solution we are all looking for to stimulate and grow the South African economy. It may seem like a stretch, but it is no secret what an important role the small business sector in South Africa plays in driving economic growth and employment. According to the Banking Association of South Africa, Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) are estimated to make up 91% of formalised businesses, provide employment to about 60% of the labour force with total economic output accounting for roughly 34% of GDP.
Unfortunately, small and medium enterprises in South Africa face several challenges including crime and corruption, low production capacity, lack of management skills, inadequate skilled labour, limited access to finance, credit and markets, poor recognition by large business and government and little regulatory compliance. In view of the significant potential SME’s hold for the South African economy, it is essential to consider how these challenges can be overcome and perhaps that one of the most obvious would seem to be the adoption of ISO standards from an early stage in the SME’s development.
“While we acknowledge the role that ISO plays in big business globally, there appears to be a misperception that ISO is not relevant to small and medium businesses. When in fact the requirements are meant for all organisations, irrespective of size,” says Muhammad Ali, Managing Director and Lead ISO Auditor for WWISE (Worldwide Industrial and Systems Engineers). “ISO International Standards help businesses of any size and sector reduce costs, increase productivity and access new markets, the very challenges being faced by our SME’s in South Africa”.
ISO themselves support this statement and provide the following list of ways in which ISO standards can benefit small to medium businesses:
- Build customer confidence that products are safe and reliable
- Meet regulation requirements, at a lower cost
- Reduce costs across all aspects of the business
- Gain market access across the world.
Let’s for one moment consider what could happen if small and medium businesses in South Africa were to focus on just one standard, ISO 9001:2015 – Quality Management Systems (QMS) which specifies requirements for good management practices in order to achieve quality. ISO states that “The use of product and service standards, quality management system standards and quality improvement approaches are all means of improving your customers’ satisfaction and the competitiveness of your organisation (which are not exclusive of each other).”
It seems logical then that the implementation and adoption of QMS in a small or medium business would result in an improved overall performance and a basis for sustainable development. Perhaps too, more acknowledgement from big business and government when tendering for business.
Evidence that supports this logic is Mafoko Security Patrols (MSP), a medium sized organisation that successfully implemented ISO 9001:2015. Ali explains, “MSP were struggling to maintain their quality management system. The system that they had did not work for the company, nor did it fit their dynamic culture. Furthermore, there was a lack of understanding of ISO by employees who found the system they had prior, to be stifling, and the documentation process for clients to be an extremely intensive, tick box exercise.”
WWISE were introduced to MSP through an external certification auditor in 2017. “Along with a team of two Industrial and Systems Engineers and two ISO Consultants, we were able to change MSP’s Quality Management System (QMS) in just four months to one that was much better suited to the organisations culture and dynamics along with an easy way to maintain it. For MSP, the values of the QMS and the implementation, maintenance and transition to ISO 9001:2015 from the 2008 version was practical and soon produced excellent efficiency and record control,” adds Ali.
Two years later, MSP deploys 6,000 guards nationally in South Africa and has seen a 12% increase in client satisfaction. With the leadership being more aware of the process there has also been a noted improvement in employee engagement with the process, and a significant 7% decline in customer complaints. On average key performance objectives have improved by 9%.
“We regard the MSP ISO 9001: 2015 implementation as a success in the service industry, where WWISE spearheaded the adaptation of QMS and drove acceptance of the standard throughout the MSP business. This case proves that it is not the purpose of ISO 9001 to impose a totally new way of managing your organisation. Those wanting to take the next step will need to look at what they are doing now and the results they are achieving. A thorough analysis is required to determine which requirements of the standard apply to your organization and whether they are being met or not,” ends Ali.