International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Fact Sheet

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Welcome

This page contains a brief introduction to the International Organization for Standardization, also known as ISO. Please feel free to contact us with any additions, corrections, or comments. Click here to access our feedback form.

Note: "ISO" is not used as an acronym. It is a word, derived from the Greek isos, meaning "equal", which is the root of the prefix "iso-" that occurs in a host of terms, such as "isometric" (of equal measure or dimensions) and "isonomy" (equality of laws, or of people before the law).

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Index

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bulletTop of Page
bulletWelcome
bulletISO Contact Information
bulletLinks
bulletA Note from Lars Flink of the Sweedish Standards Institute
bulletAn Introduction to ISO 9000 Standards
bulletBackground
bulletISO: A Short History
bulletISO Today
bulletThe Future of ISO 9000
bulletUnderstanding Quality Standards
bulletThe ISO Standards Explained
bulletSelecting A Standard

isocs2.jpg (20841 octets)
ISO headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland

bulletAn Introduction to The International Organization for Standards (The following text is ? ISO  and was last updated 1999-01-08 (8 January 1999). It has been used with the written permission of ISO. [Reference] It was posted here on 20010212.
bulletWhat are standards?
bulletWhat is ISO?
bulletWhy is international standardization needed?
bulletISO's achievements
bulletWho makes up ISO?
bulletWho does the work?
bulletWhat fields are covered?
bulletHow are ISO standards developed?
bulletHow is ISO's work financed?
bulletPartners
bulletEnquiries about standards
bulletConsulting and training services
bulletHow it all started
bulletQuickLinks?

ISO Contact Information

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International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
1, rue de Varemb?, Case postale 56
CH-1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland 
Telephone + 41 22 749 01 11; Telefax + 41 22 733 34 30;
E-mail [email protected]; Web http://www.iso.ch

Links

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As of February 2001, a search of the Internet for information on ISO would produce over 7 million links. In an effort to save you time, we've narrowed the search down to this manageable list: 

bullet* The Official ISO Internet Site [click here]
bulletIntroduction to ISO (very good resource) [click here]
bulletAFNOR Association fran?aise de normalisation [French | English]
bulletAmerican National Standards Institute [click here]
bulletBritish Standards Institution [click here]
bulletChina State Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision [Chinese | English]
bulletDIN Deutsches Institut f?r Normung (German Institute for Standardization) [German]
bulletSIS, Swedish Standards Institute [Swedish | English]

A Note from Lars Flink of the Swedish Standards Institute

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January 2001

Welcome to the New Year and the new Swedish standards body - SIS, Swedish Standards Institute. We are seven standards bodies (BST, HSS, IKH, SIS, SMS, STG, and TKS) together with two companies (SIS Forum AB and SIS F?rlag AB) that have merged into one/become one: SIS, Swedish Standards Institute.

Our vision is to be the most effective organisation for Swedish companies, authorities and organisations, where the knowledge of and the gaining of access to standards are concerned, along with the possibility to influence and take part in the work on national, European and global standards. We work hard in order to simplify matters for you, the interested party and to enable you to get the help and service you need.

The old standards bodies retain their addresses and telephone numbers up until June 2001 when at that time the whole organisation will be gathered at St Paulsgatan in Stockholm. The work on standardisation projects, in progress at present, will not be altered at the turn of the year.

Our information in English will be available from March the 1st.

We look forward to working with you in the new organisation.

Lars Flink

Managing Director

An Introduction to ISO 9000 Standards

Background

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The 21st century will bring new challenges and new opportunities to corporations worldwide. New markets will be intensely competitive and demand higher product quality standards from your company. Quality assurance and managing new quality goals will be essential for success. The ISO 9000 Series of Standards is a relatively new business tool.

The basic intent of the ISO 9000 Series of Standards is consistent customer satisfaction through the timely supply of products or services that conform to the requirements and expectations of your customers. Any other benefits your company may derive from your quality assurance efforts are secondary to the goal of consistently satisfying your customers.

If ISO quality assurance leads to satisfying existing customers, then it can also attract new customers.  An investment in a quality management system is also an investment in future sales success.

A successful quality assurance system does require an unequivocal commitment from company management to support the program and its implementation.

ISO: A Short History

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ISO has its roots in post-World War II Europe. The need to rebuild infrastructure, and retool industries, also created the need to develop common standards.

In 1946, the International Organization for Standardization was founded. Its stated purpose was to develop common manufacturing, trade and communications standards. Today, for example, we accept without question that sea and air containers can be handled worldwide. Or that the international telephone system will seamlessly connect any call from anywhere to anywhere. 

Without agreed basic standards, chaos would quickly result. Standards are the ?nuts and bolts? connecting the global community. International trade operates on the tacit assumption that everything fits together. The international standardization that we now enjoy did not occur spontaneously. Standards were generally established outside the arena of geopolitics; consensus did not always come easily but commonsense, in the interests of all nations, seems to have prevailed since the late 1940s.

 ISO takes its name from the Greek word, isos, meaning equal. The English prefix, iso (from the same Greek root), also means equal and is found in such words as isobar (a line on a weather map connecting places having the same or equal  barometric pressure) and isostatic (under equal pressure from every side). For anything to be equal  it must contain uniform or standard characteristics.

ISO is therefore both a (French language) acronym for the International Organization for Standardization and an accurate description of its purpose. Now based in Geneva, Switzerland, ISO is comprised of over 100 member countries. Each country is represented by its appointed member body. This national body is the function that establishes and controls its own country?s national standards. Each nation has a single vote despite the often vast disparities in size, population and level of economic development among member countries. The United States is represented by The American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Member countries are not under any international legal obligation to adopt or locally enforce ISO standards. However, many countries chose to adopt ISO standards as their own national standards. Some do so only by key industries; others by wider mandates. ISO develops universal standards for all industrial and commercial activities, except in the electrical and electronic engineering industries. These are the responsibility of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), also based in Geneva. ISO and IEC work closely and cooperate on the development of common standards.

From its early beginnings in 1946, ISO has responded to the awesome task of bringing the world together through common standards. Today, ISO standards are found in almost every industrial and commercial endeavor from heavy manufacturing to world currency exchange rate calculations. Quality assurance standards are only a small but nevertheless an important part of the global ISO commitment to standardization.  

The development of quality assurance standardization was both hampered by, and benefited from, the Cold War. Many early national and international standards arose from quality control demands for military and civilian nuclear industry needs. These standards were either quality system requirements to be used by contractors or specification requirements for purchasers and suppliers. Most were also classified and therefore not available for wider industrial or commercial use.

The ISO 9000 Series of Standards in use today is, in part, a direct descendant of the U.S. Department of Defense MIL-Q9858 quality assurance program adopted in 1959. In 1968, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, more widely known as NATO, adopted the principles and much of the content of the successful Department of Defense program under a series of standards prefixed AQAP.

The first broad civilian use of quality assurance systems came in 1979 when the British Standards Institute (BSI) issued standards for industrial and commercial use. The development of the European Union was also a major catalyst in the logical growth of international quality assurance standards.

The 1970s also brought rapid global improvements in information and transportation technology. Computers, telecommunications satellites and widebody jets all changed the way the world did business. The need for harmonized product quality requirements and guidelines became increasingly obvious. Differing national quality standards were increasingly seen as serious barriers to global trade. Countries could no longer insist that their standards were superior to other national standards. Trade was becoming more complex and potentially more costly. The solution was to provide product standards and quality system guidelines to companies worldwide as the basis of export/import trade and domestic vendor/customer relationships.  Standards were now essential to facilitate world trade.  

It was not until 1987 that an ISO Technical Committee finally agreed to a common set of quality standards and published the ISO 9000 Series. The term ISO 9000 Family or Series refers to the comprehensive group of standards developed by Technical Committee 176 and published in its entirety as ISO/TC176.  Only ISO 9001, ISO 9002 and ISO 9003 are quality assurance standards. The other ISO/TC176 documents are guideline standards.

ISO standards are always published in English and French, two of the three ISO official languages. The third official language, Russian, is also used extensively. Any standard adopted by a member country must be translated and published in the official language of that country. 

ISO Today

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ISO 9000 is now a vital part of the way the world does business. It is a universal quality ideal that is widely understood and transcends language and cultural barriers.

Many U.S. companies adopted an ISO 9000 standard through the loss of a key customer or on the mistaken assumption that ISO 9000 registration would be a requirement for doing business in Europe or Asia.

Other companies have become convinced that ISO 9000 registration is good for business and a valuable process management system. Registration continues to skyrocket. Tens of thousands of businesses in the U.S. are now registered. Thousands more are in ISO compliance or are introducing ISO 9000 quality assurance systems.

Most ISO certification is in the manufacturing sector but new ISO success stories in construction, service, healthcare, and even the hospitality (hotel) industry, demonstrate the flexibility and usefulness of the ISO 9000 series.

The Big Three automakers (Ford, Chrysler and General Motors) have their own quality system for its suppliers. QS-9000 includes all the elements of ISO 9001 with additional automotive manufacturing standards for use by the thousands of suppliers in the auto and truck manufacturing industries. American-made autos have largely overcome many of the disastrous quality image problems that plagued the auto industry in past decades. Japanese auto manufacturers now use the American developed QS-9000 standards for many of their own global operations.

ISO 9000 works. Companies voluntarily use ISO 9000 quality assurance. There are no Federal or State laws requiring ISO compliance. (The U.S. Federal government encourages its departments to adopt voluntary consensus standards and a 1995 law requires those departments that do not do so to provide a written explanation.) 

They key to its global success is its flexibility. One size does not fit all. ISO 9001 is essentially a twenty step program for changing and maintaining desired company behavior. Each company has the ability to build on the key principles contained in their ISO 9000 standard with procedures that meet their specialized needs.

The principles of ISO quality assurance work equally as well in Indiana as they do in India.

The Future of ISO 9000

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ISO 9000 is here to stay. It has proven its worth worldwide and is accepted as not just ?another management fad.?  It is a gateway to new markets and customers. It will continue to grow as a vital global trading requirement.

It will also continue to strengthen the domestic production capabilities of successful companies. As the world grows smaller through new technology, and as more non-stop flights connect major foreign cities, quality assurance will become a basic tenet for business success. Companies that cannot convince their customers of ISO quality assurance standards will inevitably lose business to their new competitors. As tariff barriers continue to fall, those new competitors may not be across town but on a different continent and may speak a different language. Tomorrow?s customers may rate the ability to delivery conforming product ahead of location and national loyalties.

The world grows smaller as the 21st century approaches. ISO 9000 will bring customers closer to suppliers. It will also bring competitors closer to traditional customers and markets.

Understanding Quality Standards

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?Quality? is an easy concept to understand but difficult to define. Most contemporary definitions are subjective in nature. In the context of an ISO 9000 standard, ?quality? is defined as:

Quality: ?The totality of characteristics of an entity that bear on its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.?

Simply put, ?quality? is the sum total of all the parts of an entity that directly or indirectly affect its actions or ability to meet the goals or expected result. Quality is therefore not only the result itself; it is also all the activities that lead up to that result. (Note: An ?entity? in this definition can be a process, a product, a company or organization, a system, a person, or any combination thereof.)

Understanding the accepted and narrower product (or service) definition of ?quality? is nevertheless important. It is usually defined as a ?fitness for use? or ?fitness for purpose.? A manufacturer that consistently produces product that is unfit for use is unlikely to stay in business. Most manufacturers base production activities on agreed technical standards so as to produce a standard result. Specifications are often technically complex, and production well managed, leading some executives to question the need for additional ISO 9000 quality assurance standards.

However, ISO 9000-1 (the basic guidance document in the ISO 9000 Series) states, ?Specifications may not in themselves guarantee that a customer?s requirements will be met consistently.? It is important to recognize that ?quality? under ISO guidelines is not exclusively the result of product standards and/or technical specifications. Quality is also a separate but an interconnected result of an effective quality management system.

ISO 9000 standards are founded on the principle that consistent product quality is achieved by the parallel applications of a quality system and product standards. The latter provides the technical standards under which the production process operates to produce the desired result.  However, a quality system is not related to the any particular technical standard. It is a method under which your company uses ISO 9000 standards to identify and empower the management systems needed to design, produce, deliver and support  products that conform with customer expectations. 

Product standards are specific to that product. The Quality System enhances every activity, irrespective of the specific product. ?Quality,? under the ISO definition, is therefore achieved through the control of two types of standards: technical and behavioral.  Both are equally important but neither is overly reliant on the other.  Managing technical quality has historically relied on inspection ?after the fact.? Managing human error has traditionally relied on the apportionment of blame, sometimes with disciplinary consequences. ISO 9000 principles seek to move past these traditional approaches by systemizing quality control and reducing negative quality events. It is a system of total process overview with the ability to quickly intervene when quality problems arise.

ISO 9000-1 bases effective quality control on four fundamentals:

bullet

Quality due to definition of needs for the product

bullet

Quality due to product design

bullet

Quality due to conformance to product design

bullet

Quality due to product support

 The first two fundamentals rely on product standards and technical specifications. The others rely primarily on the quality system. An effective quality assurance management program essentially contains an equal commitment to product specifications and the human production processes. 

The frequently used term, ?Quality Assurance,? is not necessarily interchangeable with ?Quality.?  Quality is the end result of effective Quality Assurance efforts. Quality assurance is defined as:

Quality Assurance:  ?all the planned and systematic activities implemented within the quality system, and demonstrated as needed, to provide adequate confidence that an entity will fulfill requirements for quality.?

The intent of your quality assurance system is to prevent problems. By preventing problems, you reduce and hopefully eliminate, the production of nonconforming product that does not meet the expectations of your customers (or ?conform? to specifications).

For your quality assurance efforts to prevent problems from occurring, it is critical that you are able to detect them when they do occur. You must then identify the cause, remedy the cause, and prevent recurrence. If you do not, you do not have a true quality assurance system. Without the ability to identify and correct nonconforming events (quality failures), all other quality activities will be jeopardized. 

The successful introduction of a viable quality system for your company can only be accomplished by embracing the totality of the ISO 9000 philosophy. Elements of the systems may be progressively introduced in a timely manner but there also needs to be a clear commitment to the total concept of quality management at all company levels.

The ISO Standards Explained

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The original ISO Series, issued in 1987, was revised and reissued in 1994. The external quality assurance standards, ISO 9001, ISO 9002 and ISO 9003, contain specific elements that a company?s quality system must contain for compliance and subsequent certification. However, the standards do not specify how a company is required to implement the essential elements. The requirements are generic and broadly suited to any industrial or economic activity.

ISO standards are not intended to enforce a worldwide uniform quality assurance method. Companies are encouraged to adopt the standard best suited to their needs and then adapt a quality system that complies with the essential ISO elements but is also consistent with the individual requirements of each company.  A flexible quality system is intended to conform with the company?s processes and not to force company to change its basic production methods. 

There are three basic ISO quality standards groups. These are defined as:

bullet

Primary Standards for external quality assurance in response to customer requirements and/or internal quality assurance used by management as an independent control tool (also known as Conformance Standards);

bullet

Secondary Standards to provide guidance in the selection and applicability of primary standards (also known as Guidance Standards); and

bullet

Support Standards to provide technological support in the development of a quality system. Support standards are generally issued under the ISO10000 Series and not under the ISO 9000 numbering system.

Selecting A Standard

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The purpose of the three primary or conformance standards is to demonstrate confidence to the company?s customers that its quality system will provide a mutually satisfactory and consistently delivered product or service.

The three standards (ISO 9001/9002/9003) are not different levels of quality; the standards differ only in their scope. This offers the flexibility required to adapt an effective quality system to different company needs.

Reference ISO QUALITY SERIES STANDARDS Type
ISO 8402 Quality Vocabulary (1994) Reference
ISO 9000 Quality    Management and quality assurance standards Secondary
Part 1:    Guidelines for selection and use (1994)
Part 2:    Generic guidelines for the application of ISO 9001,
               ISO 9002 and ISO 9003 (1993)
Part 3:    Guidelines for the application of ISO 9001 to the
              development , supply and maintenance of software
              (1991/reissued 1993)
Part 4:    Application for dependability management (1993)
ISO 9001 Quality Systems?Model for quality assurance in design,
development, production, installation, and servicing
(1994)
Primary
ISO 9002 Quality Systems?Model for quality assurance in production,
installation, and servicing   (1994)
Primary
ISO 9003 Quality Systems?Model for quality assurance in final
inspection and test   (1994)
Primary
ISO 9004 Quality management and quality system elements
Part 1:    Guidelines (1994)
Part 2:    Guidelines for services (1991/reissue 1993)
Part 3:    Guidelines for processed materials (1993)
Part 4:    Guidelines for quality improvement (1993)
* ISO 9004-1 is not a Conformance Standard. It is an internal
quality management standard. Its elements are not intended
for external quality assurance systems.
Primary*
ISO 10005 Quality Management?Guidelines for quality plans (1995) Support
ISO 10007 Guidelines for configuration management Support
ISO 10011 Guidelines for auditing quality systems
Part 1:    Auditing (1990/reissue 1993)
Part 2:    Qualification criteria for quality system auditors
(1991/reissue 1993)
Support
ISO 10012 Quality assurance requirements for measuring equipment
Part 1:    Management of measuring equipment
Support
ISO 10013 Guidelines for developing quality manuals Support

For example, ISO 9001 includes a Design Control element while ISO 9002 does not. A company that does not have a product design function might prefer the ISO 9002 standard for its quality system. Customers may also demand a particular certification standard from all their vendors. If your company has not determined its applicable standard, consider your customers? needs first. If you are required to deliver product that conforms to one standard, then that is the standard you should use.  If not, consider the following explanations of each primary or conformance standard:

ISO 9001, Quality systems?Model for quality assurance in design/development, production, installation and servicing is the most comprehensive primary or conformance standard. It includes all the elements or key parts of ISO 9002 and ISO 9003 and also requires a that quality system be in place for company design, development and servicing activities. ISO 9001 is commonly used in manufacturing and processing companies where it necessary to control product quality throughout the entire production cycle, from design and raw materials to shipping and after-sales servicing. It is also used where a customer contract specifies product design and/or the raw materials to be used in the production process. 

ISO 9002, Quality systems?Model for quality assurance in production, installation and servicing is similar to ISO 9001 but does not include the design function. It is useful for any company that does not design product but instead operates only production processes in accordance with designs and technical specifications supplied or approved by their customers. 

ISO 9003, Quality systems?Model for quality assurance in final inspection and test is the least stringent  primary standard. Its elements provide for quality assurance only during the final inspection and testing cycle of a company?s product. This standard is suitable for products and services that are not unduly complex in nature. Unlike ISO 9001 and 9002, the standard does not provide any in-process quality controls. The identification of nonconforming product is made only at the final stage of the production process immediately prior to shipping product to customers. 

Carefully consider your application before deciding on a standard. Most manufacturing and other production process activities are better suited to the ISO 9001 standard (or ISO 9002 if their is no design or development activity in the company). The simplicity of ISO 9003 may be a tempting compromise for some companies but it can also be an expensive proposition.

ISO 9001 and ISO 9002 give you the tools you require to introduce a quality system throughout the production process. Progressively, the system will reduce and eventually even eliminate in-process quality failures resulting in a significant drop in nonconforming product throughout the full production cycle. But identifying problems only at the point of final inspection and testing does nothing to correct costly mistakes. It only prevents nonconforming product from reaching the customer.

ISO 9003 is ideally suited to companies with simple production processes where nonconforming product can be easily reintroduced into the production process for reworking, and can be done so without significant financial loss. Other operations are better suited to ISO 9001 or ISO 9002 standards.

It is important to choose the standard that suits your company?s needs. The primary or compliance standards are designed to provide the basic building blocks for customizing a quality system. It is not necessary to document every production task or operation if the lack of such documentation does not adversely impact on the goal of external quality assurance. Avoid the trap of creating a paperwork nightmare. Procedures and task instructions must meet specific quality control objectives. A quality management system is not an end in itself; it is a tool designed to complement existing company production methods.

The principles of ISO external quality assurance are broad and flexible. An effective quality system works for the company and its customers. It should not become an all-consuming activity that impedes production or other company activities.

An Introduction to
The International Organization for Standards

The following text is ? ISO  and was last updated 1999-01-08 (8 January 1999). It has been used with the written permission of ISO. [Reference] It was posted here on 20010212.

What are standards?

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Standards are documented agreements containing technical specifications or other precise criteria to be used consistently as rules, guidelines, or definitions of characteristics, to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose.

For example, the format of the credit cards, phone cards, and "smart" cards that have become commonplace is derived from an ISO International Standard. Adhering to the standard, which defines such features as an optimal thickness (0,76 mm), means that the cards can be used worldwide.

International Standards thus contribute to making life simpler, and to increasing the reliability and effectiveness of the goods and services we use.

What is ISO?

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The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies from some 130 countries, one from each country.

ISO is a non-governmental organization established in 1947. The mission of ISO is to promote the development of standardization and related activities in the world with a view to facilitating the international exchange of goods and services, and to developing cooperation in the spheres of intellectual, scientific, technological and economic activity. ISO's work results in international agreements which are published as International Standards.

ISO's Name

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Many people will have noticed a seeming lack of correspondence between the official title when used in full, International Organization for Standardization, and the short form, ISO. Shouldn't the acronym be "IOS"? Yes, if it were an acronym ? which it is not.

In fact, "ISO" is a word, derived from the Greek isos, meaning "equal", which is the root of the prefix "iso-" that occurs in a host of terms, such as "isometric" (of equal measure or dimensions) and "isonomy" (equality of laws, or of people before the law).

From "equal" to "standard", the line of thinking that led to the choice of "ISO" as the name of the organization is easy to follow. In addition, the name ISO is used around the world to denote the organization, thus avoiding the plethora of acronyms resulting from the translation of "International Organization for Standardization" into the different national languages of members, e.g. IOS in English, OIN in French (from Organisation internationale de normalisation). Whatever the country, the short form of the Organization's name is always ISO.

Why is international standardization needed?

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The existence of non-harmonized standards for similar technologies in different countries or regions can contribute to so-called "technical barriers to trade". Export-minded industries have long sensed the need to agree on world standards to help rationalize the international trading process. This was the origin of the establishment of ISO.

International standardization is well-established for many technologies in such diverse fields as information processing and communications, textiles, packaging, distribution of goods, energy production and utilization, shipbuilding, banking and financial services. It will continue to grow in importance for all sectors of industrial activity for the foreseeable future. The main reasons are:

bulletWorldwide progress in trade liberalization
Today's free-market economies increasingly encourage diverse sources of supply and provide opportunities for expanding markets. On the technology side, fair competition needs to be based on identifiable, clearly defined common references that are recognized from one country to the next, and from one region to the other. An industry-wide standard, internationally recognized, developed by consensus among trading partners, serves as the language of trade.
bulletInterpenetration of sectors
No industry in today's world can truly claim to be completely independent of components, products, rules of application, etc., that have been developed in other sectors. Bolts are used in aviation and for agricultural machinery; welding plays a role in mechanical and nuclear engineering, and electronic data processing has penetrated all industries. Environmentally friendly products and processes, and recyclable or biodegradable packaging are pervasive concerns.
bulletWorldwide communications systems
The computer industry offers a good example of technology that needs quickly and progressively to be standardized at a global level. Full compatibility among open systems fosters healthy competition among producers, and offers real options to users since it is a powerful catalyst for innovation, improved productivity and cost-cutting.
bulletGlobal standards for emerging technologies
Standardization programmes in completely new fields are now being developed. Such fields include advanced materials, the environment, life sciences, urbanization and construction. In the very early stages of new technology development, applications can be imagined but functional prototypes do not exist. Here, the need for standardization is in defining terminology and accumulating databases of quantitative information.
bulletDeveloping countries
Development agencies are increasingly recognizing that a standardization infrastructure is a basic condition for the success of economic policies aimed at achieving sustainable development. Creating such an infrastructure in developing countries is essential for improving productivity, market competitiveness, and export capability.

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Industry-wide standardization is a condition existing within a particular industrial sector when the large majority of products or services conform to the same standards. It results from consensus agreements reached between all economic players in that industrial sector - suppliers, users, and often governments. They agree on specifications and criteria to be applied consistently in the choice and classification of materials, the manufacture of products, and the provision of services. The aim is to facilitate trade, exchange and technology transfer through:
bulletenhanced product quality and reliability at a reasonable price;
bulletimproved health, safety and environmental protection, and reduction of waste;
bulletgreater compatibility and interoperability of goods and services;
bulletsimplification for improved usability;
bulletreduction in the number of models, and thus reduction in costs;
bulletincreased distribution efficiency, and ease of maintenance.

Users have more confidence in products and services that conform to International Standards. Assurance of conformity can be provided by manufacturers' declarations, or by audits carried out by independent bodies.

ISO's achievements

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Below are some examples of ISO standards that have been widely adopted, giving clear benefits to industry, trade and consumers.

bulletThe ISO film speed code, among many other photographic equipment standards, has been adopted worldwide making things simpler for the general user.
bulletStandardization of the format of telephone and banking cards means the cards can be used worldwide.
bulletTens of thousands of businesses are implementing ISO 9000 which provides a framework for quality management and quality assurance. The ISO 14000 series provides a similar framework for environmental management.
bulletThe internationally standardized freight container enables all components of a transport system - air and seaport facilities, railways, highways, and packages - to interface efficiently. This, combined with standardized documents to identify sensitive or dangerous cargoes makes international trade cheaper, faster and safer.
bulletm, kg, s, A, K, mol, cd are the symbols representing the seven base units of the universal system of measurement known as SI (Syst?me international d'unit?s). The SI system is covered by a series of 14 International Standards. Without these standards shopping and trade would be haphazard and technological development would be handicapped.
bulletPaper sizes. The original standard was published by DIN in 1922. Now used worldwide as ISO 216, standard paper sizes allow economies of scale with cost benefits to both producers and consumers.
bulletA well-designed symbol conveys a clearcut message in a multilingual world. The same symbols for automobile controls are displayed in cars all over the world, no matter where they are manufactured.
bulletSafety of wire ropes: used on oil rigs, on fishing vessels, in mines, in all types of building operations, for lifts and cable cars, etc. ISO International Standards systematically define basic characteristics such as size, surface finish, type of construction, tensile grade of the wire, minimum breaking load and linear mass. Standardization of performance or safety requirements ensures that user requirements are met while allowing individual manufacturers the freedom to design their own solutions for meeting these basic needs. Consumers then benefit from the effects of competition among manufacturers.
bulletThe ISO international codes for country names, currencies and languages help to eliminate duplication and incompatibilities in the collection, processing and dissemination of information. As resource-saving tools, universally understandable codes play an important role in both automated and manual documentation.
bulletThe diversity of screw threads for identical applications used to represent an important technical obstacle to trade. It caused maintenance problems, and lost or damaged nuts or bolts could not easily be replaced. A global solution is supplied in the ISO standards for ISO metric screw threads.

Who makes up ISO?

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ISO is made up of its members which are divided into three categories:

A member body of ISO is the national body "most representative of standardization in its country". Thus, only one body in each country may be admitted to membership of ISO.

A member body takes the responsibility for:
bulletinforming potentially interested parties in their country of relevant international standardization opportunities and initiatives;
bulletensuring that a concerted view of the country's interests is presented during international negotiations leading to standards agreements;
bulletproviding their country's share of financial support for the central operations of ISO, through payment of membership dues.

Member bodies are entitled to participate and exercise full voting rights on any technical committee and policy committee of ISO.

A correspondent member is usually an organization in a country which does not yet have a fully developed national standards activity. Correspondent members do not take an active part in the technical and policy development work, but are entitled to be kept fully informed about the work of interest to them.

ISO has also established a third category, subscriber membership, for countries with very small economies. Subscriber members pay reduced membership fees that nevertheless allow them to maintain contact with international standardization.

Who does the work?

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The technical work of ISO is highly decentralized, carried out in a hierarchy of some 2 850 technical committees, subcommittees and working groups. In these committees, qualified representatives of industry, research institutes, government authorities, consumer bodies, and international organizations from all over the world come together as equal partners in the resolution of global standardization problems. Some 30 000 experts participate in meetings each year.

The major responsibility for administrating a standards committee is accepted by one of the national standards bodies that make up the ISO membership - AFNOR, ANSI, BSI, CSBTS, DIN, SIS, etc. [See the Links Heading on this page for definitions and links to these organizations] The member body holding the secretariat of a standards committee normally appoints one or two persons to do the technical and administrative work. A committee chairman assists committee members in reaching consensus. Generally, a consensus will mean that a particular solution to the problem at hand is the best possible one for international application at that time.

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The Central Secretariat in Geneva acts to ensure the flow of documentation in all directions, to clarify technical points with secretariats and chairmen, and to ensure that the agreements approved by the technical committees are edited, printed, submitted as draft International Standards to ISO member bodies for voting, and published. Meetings of technical committees and subcommittees are convened by the Central Secretariat, which coordinates all such meetings with the committee secretariats before setting the date and place. Although the greater part of the ISO technical work is done by correspondence, there are, on average, a dozen ISO meetings taking place somewhere in the world every working day of the year.

Each member body interested in a subject has the right to be represented on a committee. International organizations, governmental and non-governmental, in liaison with ISO, also take part in the work. ISO collaborates closely with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) on all matters of electrotechnical standardization.

The publication ISO Memento provides information on the scope of responsibility, organizational structure and secretariats for each ISO technical committee. Detailed rules of procedure for the technical work are given in the ISO/IEC Directives. A list of the 500 international organizations in liaison with ISO's technical committees and subcommittees is given in the publication ISO Liaisons.

What fields are covered?

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The scope of ISO is not limited to any particular branch; it covers all technical fields except electrical and electronic engineering, which is the responsibility of IEC. The work in the field of information technology is carried out by a joint ISO/IEC technical committee (JTC 1).

How are ISO standards developed?

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ISO standards are developed according to the following principles:
bulletConsensus
The views of all interests are taken into account: manufacturers, vendors and users, consumer groups, testing laboratories, governments, engineering professions and research organizations.
bulletIndustry-wide
Global solutions to satisfy industries and customers worldwide.
bulletVoluntary
International standardization is market-driven and therefore based on voluntary involvement of all interests in the market-place.

There are three main phases in the ISO standards development process.

The need for a standard is usually expressed by an industry sector, which communicates this need to a national member body. The latter proposes the new work item to ISO as a whole. Once the need for an International Standard has been recognized and formally agreed, the first phase involves definition of the technical scope of the future standard. This phase is usually carried out in working groups which comprise technical experts from countries interested in the subject matter.

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Once agreement has been reached on which technical aspects are to be covered in the standard, a second phase is entered during which countries negotiate the detailed specifications within the standard. This is the consensus-building phase.

The final phase comprises the formal approval of the resulting draft International Standard (the acceptance criteria stipulate approval by two-thirds of the ISO members that have participated actively in the standards development process, and approval by 75 % of all members that vote), following which the agreed text is published as an ISO International Standard. It is now also possible to publish interim documents at different stages in the standardization process.

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Most standards require periodic revision. Several factors combine to render a standard out of date: technological evolution, new methods and materials, new quality and safety requirements. To take account of these factors, ISO has established the general rule that all ISO standards should be reviewed at intervals of not more than five years. On occasion, it is necessary to revise a standard earlier.

To date, ISO's work has resulted in some 12 000 International Standards, representing more than 300 000 pages in English and French (terminology is often provided in other languages as well).

A list of all ISO standards appears in the ISO Catalogue.

How is ISO's work financed?

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The financing of ISO closely reflects its decentralized mode of operation with, on the one hand, the financing of the Central Secretariat activities and, on the other hand, the financing of the technical work as such.

The financing of the Central Secretariat derives from member  subscriptions (80 %) and revenues from the sale of the Organization's standards and other publications (20 %). The subscriptions required of members for financing the operations of the Central Secretariat are expressed in units and calculated in Swiss francs (CHF). The number of units that each member is invited to pay is calculated on the basis of economic indicators: gross national product (GNP), and value of imports and exports. The value of the subscription unit is set each year by the ISO Council.

The ISO member bodies bear the expenditure necessary for the operation of the individual technical secretariats for which they are responsible. It is generally estimated that the operating expenditure of the Central Secretariat represents about one-fifth of the total cost of financing the ISO administrative operations.

To that, one must also add the value of the voluntary contributions of some 30 000 experts in terms of time and travel. While no precise calculation has ever been made to assess in figures this contribution of fundamental knowledge to the work of ISO, it is nevertheless certain that this expenditure amounts to several hundred million Swiss francs each year.

Partners

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International partners

ISO collaborates with its international standardization partner, the IEC, whose scope of activities complements ISO's. In turn, ISO and the IEC cooperate on a joint basis with the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). Like ISO, the IEC is a non-governmental body, while the ITU is part of the United Nations Organization and its members are governments. The three organizations have a strong collaboration on standardization in the fields of information technology and telecommunications.

ISO is building a strategic partnership with the World Trade Organization (WTO) with the common goal of promoting a free and fair global trading system. The political agreements reached within the framework of the WTO require underpinning by technical agreements. ISO is being recognized as providing a special technical support role in relationship to the new and expanded WTO programmes.

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Regional partners

Many of ISO's members also belong to regional standardization organizations. This makes it easier for ISO to build bridges with regional standardization activities throughout the world. ISO has recognized regional standards organizations representing Africa, the Arab countries, the area covered by the Commonwealth of Independent States, Europe, Latin America, the Pacific area, and the South-East Asia nations. These recognitions are based on a commitment by the regional bodies to adopt ISO standards ? whenever possible without change ? as the national standards of their members and to initiate the development of divergent standards only if no appropriate ISO standards are available for direct adoption.

In addition, ISO liaises with some 500 international and regional organizations interested in specific aspects of its standardization work.

Enquiries about standards

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Enquiries about standards involve those of ISO and a number of recognized standards agreed within other international technical organizations. There are, in addition, several hundred thousand standards and technical regulations in use throughout the world containing special requirements for a particular country or region. Finding information about all these standards, technical regulations, or related testing and certification activities, can be a heavy task.

ISONET, the ISO Information Network, is there to assist customers in retrieval of information required. This is a worldwide network of national standards information centres which have cooperatively agreed to provide rapid access to information about standards, technical regulations, and testing and certification activities currently used in different parts of the world. Members of this network - usually the ISO member for any given country - act effectively in the dissemination of information and in identifying the relevant sources of information for solving specific problems. Each national member of ISONET has a dual responsibility. By joining ISONET it has become the international reference point for information about the standards, technical regulations and certification systems which operate in its own country. Secondly, it is expected to provide its own nationals with an efficient information service on national, foreign, regional and international technical rules.

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Information on ISONET members is presented in the ISONET Directory, which gives the addresses of ISONET members, their information centres and sales services, and lists the types of information they are able to provide. The Directory also includes, where relevant, the names and addresses of the enquiry points established under the WTO* Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (WTO TBT) and under the WTO Agreement on Sanitary Phyto-Sanitary (WTO SPS).

World Trade Organization

Consulting and training services

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ISO and many of its members are actively involved in consulting and training services which include seminars on the application of standards in quality assurance systems, technical assistance to exporters concerning standards requirements in other countries, workshops on consumer involvement in standardization, and conferences and symposia covering recent developments in testing and certification.

For the particular needs of its developing country members, ISO operates a special programme consisting of training seminars, publication of development manuals, and various other kinds of expert assistance. This programme, which is supported by governmental aid agencies and ISO members from several industrialized countries, provides an important mechanism through which developing countries may accelerate the advancement of their national standardization and quality assurance systems.

The international collaborative network of standardization and standards-related activities is open to all interests and is directly accessible through the ISO members or the ISO Central Secretariat in Geneva.

How it all started

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International standardization began in the electrotechnical field: the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) was created in 1906. Pioneering work in other fields was carried out by the International Federation of the National Standardizing Associations (ISA), which was set up in 1926. The emphasis within ISA was laid heavily on mechanical engineering.

ISA's activities ceased in 1942, owing to the Second World War. Following a meeting in London in 1946, delegates from 25 countries decided to create a new international organization "the object of which would be to facilitate the international coordination and unification of industrial standards". The new organization, ISO, began to function officially on 23 February 1947.

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The first ISO standard was published in 1951 with the title, "Standard reference temperature for industrial length measurement".

Read Friendship among equals ? Recollections from ISO's first fifty years for a historical perspective of ISO.

The above text under the heading "An Introduction to the International Organization for Standards" [link] is ? ISO  and was last updated 1999-01-08 (8 January 1999). It has been used with the written permission of ISO. [Reference] It was posted here on 20010212.

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This page complies with Planning & Development Standards - Revision 20010209fr1010

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