Given the current conditions of the UK economy, many small businesses are struggling to stay above water. For these businesses, Quality Management and quality assurance has become more important than ever.
Consumer confidence is vital to growth and must be delivered. This means mechanisms to ensure quality, such as accreditation, have become vital. But are businesses aware of the benefits, and are they in a position to take advantage of them?
Accreditation and accredited certification
A recent independent survey, showed that awareness of accreditation is rising dramatically amongst Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) but still the actual number is low. In 2004, only 8% of SMEs were aware of it, rising to 24% by April 2009. However, 90% of those sourcing from accredited suppliers said they felt more confidence in procurement, and 97% said they saved money. So what is accreditation, and what does it mean for business?
Accreditation is a mechanism that demonstrates the competence of an organisation. It therefore provides confidence to purchasers that a company that has achieved accreditation or accredited certification will deliver a product or service that meets requirements. The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is the sole body recognised by the UK Government for assessment and verification – against internationally-recognised standards – of certification, inspection, testing and calibration services. In other words, UKAS ‘checks the checkers.’
Certification applies to standards relating to business operation, the most commonly used being ISO 9001 for Quality Management Systems and ISO/IEC 14001 for Environmental Management Systems. Inspection regimes cover product design, products, materials and equipment, installations, plant processes and services. Some of these areas will be subject to legislation that demands regular inspection, such as the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. Product testing and calibration are used to demonstrate that a product meets a specification. This might be a customer requirement, a part of a product development regime, or even a legal obligation. Over 1,500 facilities in the UK have been accredited by UKAS to the laboratory standard ISO/IEC 17025.
How does this help business?
Firstly accreditation is a valuable tool in de-risking procurement. Sourcing can be fraught with unknowns, and auditing and second-party assessment can be time-consuming and costly. It can also impact on risk management. Sourcing from accredited suppliers is one way of ensuring providers of goods and services are fit for purpose and have undergone rigorous, impartial, third-party assessment.
Hitting the bottom line
Gaining accreditation or accredited certification might seem an unnecessary distraction. In fact it can save time and money, expand customer base and free organisations to concentrate on core business.
For example, accredited certification to a quality management system (QMS) standard such as ISO 9001 provides regular, objective “check-ups”, helping management identify and implement operational improvements. In addition to increasing process efficiency, having an effective QMS reduces costs by limiting product failure and down time.
Businesses accredited by UKAS have proved they comply with that industry’s best practices and demonstrated the ability to deliver consistently reliable, impartial, and accurate services, meeting internationally-recognised standards. Businesses choosing accredited suppliers can be sure they’re receiving the best and most appropriate service for their needs.
Owing to increased client confidence in the accreditation process, business productivity can be increased as the number of time consuming client-audits is reduced.
Widening markets at home and abroad
58% of SMEs now demand that suppliers have a certified quality management system in place. Specifiers for public sector contracts often demand accreditation automatically, meaning becoming accredited makes a real difference when tendering. Where this concerns testing or inspection, it is starker still; 91% of regulators and 64% of public sector clients require suppliers of testing, inspection or calibration services to be accredited for some areas of business.
Being internationally recognised means accreditation can open markets abroad. Multilateral Recognition Agreements mean both that companies with UKAS accreditation or accredited certification can pitch for overseas work and that UK companies can have confidence in results from overseas accredited facilities.
The MRA, that is operated by ILAC (International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation) covers 82 different economies. This means that, as a business, you are in a position to trust the test or inspection reports from accredited laboratories throughout the world.
When it all goes wrong: insurance and due diligence
As the benefits of accreditation have become more recognised, insurers have started to notice. Currently, insurers are also interested in clients’ risk culture. This means clients that demonstrate an attention to quality management and internal processes are likely to benefit. Some insurers already offer lower premiums to businesses that can demonstrate sound risk management principles, such as accredited certification.
Sometimes, things go wrong. But regular impartial assessment is one way to demonstrate that compliance and due diligence are built into management processes. Even where companies cannot be accredited themselves, using accredited services can also show this.
A huge majority of SMEs that use accredited suppliers are reporting an increase in confidence and financial benefits. But it is clear many companies are not aware of the benefits and protections accreditation can bring to their business or supply chain. Offering the possibility to save both money and time, accreditation has the potential to be a valuable tool.
For more information on UKAS or accreditation, visit the UKAS Website or call 020 8917 8400.
Article provided by Jon Murthy, UKAS Marketing Manager.