JUNE 18, 1992, is not only an important date for Shui On Building Contractors, it is a milestone date in the Hongkong construction industry. This was when the Hongkong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA) issued the company with the first ISO 9002 Certificate awarded to a building contractor in Hongkong. Almost three years ago, the Hongkong Housing Authority (HKHA) stipulated that all its approved building contractors must implement the ISO 9001 or 9002 Quality System before they could tender on HKHA's projects after March 31, 1993. The decision was made on the basis of the company's philosophy in striving for excellence as well as the understanding that quality is defined by the customer, not the company. Embarking on the road to certification began in May 1990, with the formation of the quality management committee made up of the general manager, quality assurance manager and other senior staff appointed by the managing director. The company also commissioned the Hongkong Productivity Council as a consultant to review the company's procedures, give orientation briefings and set about developing the required quality system documents. Full-scale implementation of the developed quality system began on July 15, 1991. The ISO 9002 Standards, although described in general terms, spell out the backbone of a comprehensive management system. Some of the requirements have seldom been enforced or been taken seriously by the construction industry. This imposed a lot of challenges during the development and implementation of the required quality system. For example, because there were no precedents to follow, the company had to search to find the exact requirement of the standards and strike a balance between the cost of enforcement against the degree of compliance and the flexibility in application. It had to train each individual with delegated responsibilities so that they were familiar with their duties and be capable of carrying them out. The existing multi-layered sub-contracting system in Hongkong is also a great barrier in the quality drive. The company had to keep the paper work from its subcontractors to an absolute minimum. In many cases, traditional practices and attitudes had to be changed. The company had to assist suppliers in providing information for documents they had never handled before. The company's quality system has now been in operation for almost nine months since certification. The number of its projects has increased from five to eight. Some of the benefits observed by the company's management include the following: Improved site environment through better storage and handling of materials. This result is reflected in the HKHA's Site Safety Campaign of 1992, in which the company won seven of the 10 awards. Reduced material wastage through tighter incoming inspection and inventory control. More disciplined staff due to availability of procedures and clearly defined responsibilities as well as regular internal and third-party audits. Better document control through a systematic handling process and filing system. Enhanced communication among project and management staff through internal audits, non-conformance reporting and correction, as well as regular management review of the quality system. Improved workmanship in new projects when compared with those in the past. The company is collecting relevant data to confirm and quantify some of the above observations, especially in the savings of rectification costs on defective materials and workmanship. Due to the continuous elevations in the expectation of quality work from the company's clients, and the complexity of book-keeping such costs, it is envisaged that reliable statistics to confirm the benefits of ISO 9002 may not come to light for at leasttwo years. But the company firmly believes that such time will come when its quality system is efficient and effective. The company's priority is set on the continual enhancement of the system and in the dissemination of the quality concept to all its staff as well as its sub-contractors and suppliers.