Advisers review systems
By JOHN SERJEANT
OBJECTIVE evaluations done by outside consultants, who are perceived by workers as independent observers, play an influential role in a company's preparations for ISO 9000 certification.
''Consultants are not necessary if a company has its own competency,'' Warrence Lai, quality assurance services department manager of consultants SGS Hong Kong, said.
''However, most companies use them, unless they already have a really good system that complies with ISO 9000.
''Also, a lot of the ISO requirements need someone with experience to deal with them.'' As ISO 9000 becomes more common, many companies will have employees who have some knowledge of the requirements, but it would be unusual to find someone with an overall grasp.
To instal and develop a system, a person needed quality assurance background, Mr Lai said.
In that case, consultants would only be needed to offer advice, and run workshops to help explain the ISO requirements.
''Sometimes consultants are useful to help mediate in internal politics, or to solve disputes,'' Mr Lai said.
''They are also independent so their decisions are more objective.'' Mr Lai has previously helped nearly 20 companies to achieve certification.
They were mainly publicly-listed companies, and included the largest toy manufacturer in Hong Kong.
Determining what was appropriate for a particular company was always a priority, he said.
This involved examining all aspects, including future business plans and a company's subsidiaries so as to feed ISO requirements into the organisation's strategy.
In the case of Quebish, time was spent reviewing procedures established by the operations' manager who had previous ISO experience.
''Most procedures addressed ISO requirements, although there were some system gaps where it did not make sense for management not to do things in the most efficient way,'' Mr Lai said.
''There was too much emphasis on records themselves, rather than a system to control documents that needed to be controlled.'' Due to customer pressure, Quebish aimed to get ISO certification first and only then did it plan to improve and slim down the system.
A team of two to three people from SGS spent three days assessing the company and its existing system.
The team talked to workers, assessed their technical knowledge and learned about work procedures.
Storage facilities, material inspection systems and availability of test equipment were evaluated.
In addition, evidence of the system of document control and details of existing documentation were examined.
This did not take long, because the existing system procedures were available for reference.
''In an electronics company, the main points needed for ISO should already be in place, although they may not be complete,'' Mr Lai said.
''For example, inspection procedures will be laid down, but the equipment to be used may not be specified and there may be no mention of tolerances.
''Also, the staff may not be sure if they are using the right calibration method.
''The whole aim of document control is to ensure that the right people have the right information at the right time.'' When problems were identified, the team drew up an overall plan and the way to achieve it.
''We prefer to give guidelines and then let the managers and supervisors select their own way of meeting the ISO 9000 requirements,'' Mr Lai said.
This was partly for psychological reasons.
If they were allowed to select their own method, it would be their own ideas and not those of SGS. Hence, they would be more motivated to carry out recommendations.
''However, there are occasions when we feel some people will lose their way and, in such cases, we offer them a choice of firm alternatives,'' he said.
Once Quebish management had begun work on the project, Mr Lai returned to his office and only became involved if he was needed because of a complicated problem or a dispute between departments.
Manuals and system procedures were examined in May last year and amendments and additions recommended.
Revisions were checked in September, at which stage a team of two undertook an assessment of the company's operations in Hong Kong and China.
Thereafter, Mr Lai only needed to pay a few visits.
He offered help to solve problems that had been noted.
During the six months after certification, Mr Lai trained Quebish staff so they could undertake an internal audit.
The training was aimed at providing knowledge of ISO 9002 to staff so they would know corrective measures for issues identified in an audit.
About 16 staff in Hong Kong and China are now capable of carrying out audits.