The TDC's Trade Enquiry Service was certified for ISO 9002 by the Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA). The agency undertakes independent third-party audits of quality management systems in Hong Kong and China against the ISO series of international standards. It provides certification to companies in all sectors of industry. HKQAA chief executive Howie Ng Ho-wai said the agency looked at quality systems with the emphasis on control, conformity and consistency in management. 'That's the spirit of ISO. The business process is what we emphasise, whether the output is through services or products,' he said. 'For example, when the TDC receives an enquiry, exactly how that enquiry is processed from point A to B and so on - the flow of the enquiry - is what we're interested in.' A successful audit results in a recommendation to the HKQAA board for the award of certification. Certified companies are listed in a special register published by the HKQAA. The list can be used by local and overseas buyers. Mr Ng said the TDC, like other organisations gaining certification, would be continuously monitored by the agency to ensure it adhered to the ISO standard. 'We will continue with assessment visits,' he said. 'We want to ensure that any changes as a company progresses comply with ISO requirements - our task is to ensure the integrity of ISO. 'In this way, I think ISO is not an ending point for companies. It is a starting point for improving and strengthening the company. 'In any organisation there is always room for improvement. In fact, continuous improvement is a philosophy of total quality management.' Starting with an enquiry, companies must follow certain steps when seeking certification. There must be: An informal preliminary meeting with the HKQAA. An optional preliminary visit by the HKQAA to the client. A formal application for certification. A full review of the quality manual to confirm conformity with ISO. An optional pre-audit visit by the HKQAA to the client. A certification audit visit to carry out a full audit of the company's quality management system to ISO requirements. A certificate awarded. A continuing assessment visit by the HKQAA within three months of the certification audit. Subsequent continuing assessment visits, usually at four to six-month intervals. The time taken before a company achieves certification varies from six months to three years, depending on the commitment of the applicant and the extent of preparatory work necessary.