We have set guidelines for ourselves as an accredited certification body: the DQS Auditing and Certification Regulations. They are based on ISO/IEC 17021-1, the set of “requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of management systems”. In this context, accreditation means licensing and monitoring by a higher authority such as DAkkS. It is a mark of quality for certification providers and has become an almost universal requirement for the market.
Certification is a cyclical process in which certain activities are performed repeatedly. First, the certifying body takes down the organization’s fundamentals – the scope, organization size, industry, etc. They help narrow down the audit duration and the auditors’ qualifications. However, to prepare a detailed offer that addresses your organization’s unique needs with all appropriate services, we also ask about your organization’s expectations: What needs do you expect to fulfill by strategically employing management systems? What goals do you hope to meet by achieving certification?
DQS aims to have the planning for all its certification audits completed 120 days before the audit begins. To work that far ahead, DQS relies on a system of automated process steps that puts all the required information at the auditors’ fingertips before, during and after the audit. Another key factor in the planning phase is our dialog with you. We communicate with you in putting together an audit team, getting your contacts involved in the project and quickly identifying and including the parts of your organization that you want to be certified. Preparatory planning meetings and workshops have proven to be invaluable, particularly for combined audits, complex multi-site audits or elaborate sampling procedures. The planning teams in DQS Customer Service are supported by recognized industry and standards experts who are often auditors themselves. A pre-audit, or pre-assessment, has proven to be a useful tool in many cases. This optional service identifies strengths and weaknesses and so helps organizations focus on key areas as they prepare for the actual certification.
The certification process itself begins with a system analysis. This step is required for all initial certifications and some re-certifications. In a system analysis, DQS auditors assess your system documentation and study the results of in-house audits and management reviews. Their task is to determine whether your organization’s management system is sufficiently developed and ready for certification.
In the system audit, the auditor or auditors assess the effectiveness of the management system in place at your production or service location. Unlike a system analysis, which focuses on structures and documentation (“What is described?”), a system audit focuses on what people in your organization actually do. It can be more or less involved. In small organizations, one auditor may arrive at an assessment result within a single day; in large, multinational organizations, teams of ten or more auditors may spend several weeks onsite. All the findings from observations, inspections and interviews go into the audit result, which is presented and explained to the client at the closing meeting.
These results are then passed on to DQS, who evaluates them in its capacity as an independent certification body and only then decides whether to issue a certificate. This step includes a technical review in which we determine whether the audit was conducted properly, whether all the necessary documents were provided in full and whether the audit demonstrated that the management system properly satisfied the standard’s requirements. The client then receives the finalized audit report.
If the auditor recommends issuing a conditional or unconditional certificate after the system audit and the technical review confirms the recommendation, DQS will issue a certificate and publish it in its online certificate database.
The certificate is a tangible record of an objective assessment that an organization operates one or more management systems appropriately and effectively and has established the organizational structures needed to meet certain customer expectations or legal requirements.
For many DQS customers, however, certification is only one facet of an audit. They understand that audits also identify risks or give rise to suggestions for improvement. After all, when DQS auditors conduct an audit, they evaluate the effectiveness of the management systems, consider how future change can be effected within the organization’s current change process framework and actively engage with management. Through their efforts, they help organizations achieve compliance, attain strategic goals and earn the lasting confidence of their business partners.
Certificates for accredited standards are generally issued for three years. To stay valid for the entire period, however, they have to be verified every year. That’s why DQS auditors conduct abbreviated surveillance audits in the first and second years after certification to assess the effectiveness of essential system components, evaluate measures taken to correct or prevent mistakes or examine other factors.
At the end of the three-year cycle, DQS conducts a recertification audit. It is just as extensive as the system audit for the initial certification; however, in the second, third and subsequent cycles, auditors take account of the management system’s greater maturity and deeper capabilities. The annual review, in other words, supports an organization’s evolution; it motivates management, drives continual improvement and prevents blind spots.
Many organizations, particularly those that are ambitious and competitive, seize the opportunity to broaden their range of audit methodologies and incorporate other models such as EFQM or guidelines such as ISO 9004. Many DQS customers have pursued this path to organizational excellence.
DQS is committed to only employing auditors who have the technical qualifications, experience, talent and social skills to conduct audits. Many auditors are deeply familiar with the industries they audit – either from many years of past experience or from still being active in the field. In short, DQS auditors are highly proficient in auditing management systems. This confidence gives them the ability to add a new audit method to the mix or to take an entirely different perspective: for example, looking at processes from the output side back to the inputs, tracing the path of finished products back to their component parts, and taking a particularly close look at handovers and transitions.