15 years ago almost nobody in the language industry cared about ISO certification. The general level of knowledge about ISO standards, particularly ISO 9000 – the so-called quality standard, was very limited, even though the ISO 9000 Quality Management standard dates back to 1987.
The international standard for our sector – EN 15038 Translation Services, was first published in 2006. This European standard was “upgraded” to the global level only last year when the ISO 17100:2015 standard was published.
Therefore the total number of agencies certified to the ISO 9000 and ISO 17100 standards is still very small. However, international organizations promote the idea: that ISO certification is an important symbol of the highest quality, setting apart a certified agency from the other players in the translation market.
Also the policies of many prominent ISO certified customers – global giants in various branches of industry – stress co-operation only with ISO-certified providers. For these reasons, the idea of ISO certification is gaining popularity among translation agencies.
The first experience of almost all applicants is very negative: the certification process is extremely formal. Company activities need to be broken down into established processes, which have to be described in great detail. Consequently, the amount of documentation required in the getting certified is very large – hundreds of pages have to be prepared, checked, and finally approved by top management of the company. Everybody asks, whether such a large amount of “wasted paper” is really necessary to get the certificate.
To make the situation worse, the branch certificate (ISO 17100 Translation services) depends on the result of a certification audit performed by an authorized certification body without any experience in the language industry.
This practice is different in other industries, for example, electric cable production. In this particular branch, the majority of certification audits in Europe are performer by BASEC – British Approval Service for Electric Cables, who hire industry experts as auditors.
In the language industry the situation is completely different. The auditors are recruited from experienced auditors who pass a very basic course on the requirements of the ISO 17100 standard. These auditors do not have any professional experience in the translation business. As a result, the ISO auditors tend to follow the general instructions for auditors, without any practical knowledge of the translation world.
Consequently, the auditor often decides to put stress on the more formal aspects, such as checking, in painful detail, the completeness of documentation, reports, evidence, analyses, etc., while neglecting the spirit of the requirements outlined in the standard.
Such an approach results in producing many additional documents as evidence that the standard is being observed.
Making this problem easier and less painful is very simple. Modern Translation Management Systems are fully compliant with the ISO standard. All the necessary reports can be easily generated in the system. All the required logs are saved in the system and can be accessed easily. The system itself guarantees the traceability of all operations.
From my own perspective, our company has been ISO-certified since 2006 and the certification audits were always been performed with the assistance of our TMS database. The auditor immediately obtained all the necessary records and documents on the screen. Printing out hard copies of the documentation was reduced to a minimum. The audits progressed quickly in a pleasant atmosphere because the auditor was certain that our company processes are well-defined and transparent.