ISO Certification Definition

ISO 9001 certification has become an important part of businesses worldwide as a seal of approval from a 3rd party body that a company runs to an internationally recognized Quality Management System. It can be used as proof of a company’s credibility and to install confidence in potential clients. It is therefore an important tool to tender for business. While the goal of every QMS should be customer satisfaction, the best way to demonstrate that an organization is following defined processes to achieve this end is when an independent body assesses the QMS and confirms that indeed an organization is making every effort to meet the requirements of the particular ISO standard. The most popular ISO standard, ISO 9001 Quality Management System is the core standard that most of the other well-known standards are based on. It is also the only standard for which an organization can be certified.

ISO Certification Definition

ISO 9001 Certification can be defined as:

..the provision by an independent body of written assurance (a certificate) that the product, service or system in question meets specific requirements.

An organization applying for ISO 9001 certification submits its functions, products, services and processes for Review through a fair and impartial process called auditing. The auditor presents a list of the findings including shortcomings (defined as “nonconformities”, “observations”, or “opportunities for improvement”) to the organization’s management. If there are no major nonconformities, an ISO certification is issued. Where major nonconformities are identified, the organization will undertake to correct the issues raised and once the certification body is satisfied that the organization has carried out sufficient corrective action, certification is granted.

An ISO 9001 certificates must be renewed at regular intervals recommended by the certification body, usually once every three years.

Who performs certification

Its important to note that while ISO develops International Standards, it is not involved in certification, an organization cannot be certified by ISO. Certification is performed by the certification bodies in various countries. A certification body, is an organization accredited for its competence to audit and issue certification confirming that an organization meets the requirements of a standard. Some countries have several certification bodies e.g Australia while some countries may have one certification body e.g the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) if the certification body for all of Zimbabwe.

Certification bodies have their own standard that they have to conform to. Certification Services are accredited to ISO/IEC 17021:2015 for its QMS e.g ISO 9001.

What is Accreditation

Something to note is that a certification body confers certification, but it is itself accredited to carry out its activities. The terms accreditation and certification are often used interchangeably, however they are not the same. Certification represents a written assurance by a third party of the conformity of a product, process, service or system to specified requirements. Accreditation, on the other hand, is the formal recognition by an authoritative body of the competence to work to specified standards. It gives assurance that a certified or inspector can be counted on to impartially determine if organizations, products and people conform to specified requirements.

Competence– Ability to demonstrate skills and knowledge

At this point its important to note that there are standards for which an organization needs to be accredited. ISO 9001 certification contrasts with measurement-based quality systems e.g ISO 17025 and ISO 15189 for which accreditation is required.

These are technical standards and there is need to prove competence, written certification is not enough. A technical based organization e.g a medical laboratory or other testing facility can choose to be certified to the generic ISO 9001, and this would give assurance to customers and other stakeholders of its business operations but it would not give credibility to its technical competence.

Accreditation bodies

The governing authorities, either government owned or under agreement with government, that establish the suitability of any participating certification body in that country to carry out ISO Standards audits. This is done by assessing systems and procedures, and monitoring performance. These may also perform auditing and accrediting to technical standards like ISO 17025 and ISO 15189. The accrediting body for Zimbabwe is South African National Accreditation Systems (SANAS) based in South Africa, SANAS is responsible for the accreditation of certification bodies for Quality Management Systems and Environmental Management Systems to ISO/IEC 17021, laboratories (testing and calibration) to ISO/IEC 17025 and medical laboratories to ISO/IEC 17025 and/or ISO 15189. In Australia the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ) accredits certification bodies and the National Association of Testing Authorities(NATA) provides accreditation of laboratories, inspection bodies, calibration services, producers of certified reference materials and proficiency testing scheme providers throughout Australia.


I hope this post has clarified the difference between certification and accreditation and can help you make a decision between the generic ISO 9001 certification and accreditation to a relevant technical standard (if available). You can search the certifying bodies and/or accreditation bodies you will need to work with in your country. If you need clarification on anything do feel free to leave me a message below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

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