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ISO for SMEs: boosting procurement and green growth prospects

Posted on: 2011-10-20 17:35:36

Salvatore Vuono /

Why should SMEs consider applying for international management standards?  

A leading expert in the field, Jane Dronsfield, writes about the benefits of ISO for SMEs in an increasingly competitive market – and how it’s not as difficult or costly to gain as some might think.

Procurement is a necessary process for organisations to ensure that they get the right supplier, via the fairest selection methods – a supplier who meets the required standards of quality and offers the best value for money. As a capable small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), you may be convinced that you are that supplier – but you need to prove it by applying to tender. And this can be a complex, time-consuming and costly undertaking, especially for the majority of SMEs who do not employ internal experts across the three areas of health and safety, environment and quality.

With certification from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), you can bypass many procurement processes, making bidding for contracts quicker, easier and cheaper. ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 automatically prove that you meet certain standards in health and safety and environmental and quality management, removing the need to answer lengthy questionnaires about your business processes or compile reams of paperwork. The defence industry is a lucrative market. The MOD alone currently publishes more than 25,000 contracts each year, worth over £18 billion, for equipment and supplies. 

Furthermore, in working to secure ISO certification, your business itself will improve, becoming more efficient, safe, cost-effective and customer-focused. Every aspect of your management processes will be evaluated on an on-going basis, with problem identification and solving built into your business processes. 

So, with all these advantages, why are all SMEs not applying for ISO accreditation? The answer is mainly because they believe that it will be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to achieve. And the truth is that, if they use the wrong consultants, they may be right. The most logical step towards ISO accreditation is implementing a suitable Integrated Management System (IMS) that formalises all your business processes in health and safety and environmental and quality management and sets you up for continuous improvement. 

However, most small companies do not run an IMS because they cannot afford to employ experts in all of the above areas; and, since most business consultants do not offer an IMS either, you would likely need to employ a separate set of consultants to cover each discipline, which would be very expensive. Many SMEs therefore avoid Integrated Management Systems – which is a shame, as an IMS often makes it much quicker and easier for small businesses to put simple processes in place in order to meet both legal and ISO requirements. 

SMEs who operate responsibly usually already have most of the necessary processes in place. What they are more likely to lack is the formal paperwork, policies and standard procedures that prove their adherence to these standards. Look for an IMS product aimed at SMEs. It should promise simple solutions, offer value for money and, above all, be tailored to your needs. ISO requires a certain quality of standards, not the simple standardisation of processes. 

This means that your users’ needs must be met, but you have the freedom to design your own solutions for how best to meet those needs and the required standards of quality. Finally, make sure that your IMS will prepare you for ISO certification. 

The newly launched SHEQ (Safety, Health, Environmental and Quality) for SMEs aims to take clients up to the point at which they can apply for the external ISO audit necessary for accreditation. Not all Integrated Management System do, however; which means that, while they might make you more efficient and effective, you would be missing the opportunity that ISO accreditation can give you to position yourself for remarkable growth in this expanding and increasingly competitive market. 

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