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Grant Ramaley


IAF Creates New International Certification Database

Will provide easy validation of accredited certifications

Published: Thursday, January 14, 2016 - 11:06

On Dec. 23, 2015, a vote was taken among 78 nations with accreditation bodies that are part of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF). From the vote it was determined that a new international database for quality management system (QMS) certifications should be created.

The intent of the database is to allow anyone with access to the internet to simply look up whether or not a QMS certificate was issued by an accredited conformity assessment body (CAB), sometimes referred to as a “registrar.” Although companies pay large sums of money to be certified for conformance to a standard, in the past it has been difficult to distinguish the certificates issued by accredited CABs from the certificates issued by non-accredited CABs. Appearances are often deceiving. In addition, there are some certificates issued by CABs who are unknown to the IAF. In short, a QMS database of accredited certifications provides a single spot for purchasers or others who need to verify the source of a company's accreditation.

The Importance of Accreditation

A company can increase confidence in the products and services it provides by becoming certified for conformance to a standard, a code of practice, or regulatory requirements; conformity assessment bodies (CABs) perform the necessary auditing and certification services to prove such conformance.

A CAB can increase confidence in the services it provides by becoming accredited by an accreditation body, which proves that the CAB complies with best practice and is competent to provide reliable, impartial service.

Most accreditation bodies belong to the IAF, which verifies that an accreditiation body's practices and procedures conform to ISO requirements.

Why the IAF

According to the last published ISO Survey of Management System Standard Certifications, there are more than 1.6 million accredited QMS certificates in circulation worldwide. The survey reports on certificates to ISO management system standards, which include those covering quality, food safety, medical devices, and information security, among others. Important to note, the survey only counts certificates issued by CABs that have been accredited by members of the IAF.

The reason ISO looks only at IAF-based certificates in the survey is because it recognizes that accreditation adds a valuable level of confidence to any certificate. In a recent email, ISO told Quality Digest that “ISO strongly promotes that all conformity assessment bodies (certification bodies, inspection bodies, and laboratories) as well as accreditation bodies should operate in accordance with the relevant ISO/CASCO standards (CASCO Toolbox). These standards are competency-based standards and bodies that implement them correctly can be considered to be competent to perform certification and/or inspection, and to do this competently… [Because] the IAF requires that certification bodies and their clients meet the relevant ISO standards we only include accredited certificates issued by IAF members.”

This is why the IAF was deemed the most appropriate entity to develop the new database. They underwrite more accredited management system certificates worldwide than any other international organization.

What will the database look like?

The approved proposal suggests using the English language along with as many other languages as possible, for the database is intended to serve all inquiries worldwide. The IAF proposal suggests having .pdf copies of the actual certificates, which will allow visual confirmation in addition to access to specific information considered most relevant to industry as well as certain types of regulators (who are the most likely users).

Figure 1: Database overview (click here for larger image).

The plan for the certification database for accredited certification will only allow IAF-accredited CABs to upload certificates to the IAF database. Because nearly all quality management system certifications are issued by accreditation bodies that are members of the IAF, more than 1.2 million certificates could potentially be available for use by industry.

What will it cost?

Balancing the cost of development within a nonprofit organization has proven to be challenging. Historically, industry has paid $40 to $400 to have their certificates uploaded and maintained in other databases of this type. However, none of them were ever a single international database. It has been argued that a fee as low as 1 percent of the cost of an audit would be too much to pass on to industry. However, the same figures were used to argue that a mere $100 is nothing when compared with a $10,000 audit. After all, for some companies, having a source that shouts out that your QMS is certified and your certificate is legitimate was why the first $10,000 was spent in the first place. It’s too early to tell, but it’s likely the CABs will pass along the costs of supporting the database as a type of management fee.

Conformity assessment body concerns

In the past, CABs were reluctant to share data about their certification clients for fear those clients would be poached by competing CABs. Therefore, the IAF has enlisted CAB representatives who are helping shape the database to minimize this type of misuse. A CAB representative I spoke with on the project felt this is not something that will prevent a successful launch. I was told many CABs already publish their clients’ information online in one form or another, because the certified companies want their certifications to be verified as legitimate. This is certainly an area of concern that should be resolvable. The bigger issue is whether the largest CABs would participate, or whether individual organizations could submit their certificates and data to the IAF directly, as a proof that they are legitimately certified companies. The cost of managing individual uploaded certificates is a concern to IAF because it would likely drive up the cost of managing the database for everyone else. These issues are part of the conversation.

Monitoring the supply chain will be easier

Making 1.6 million certificates accessible will make it possible to rapidly screen ISO certifications from one location. On occasion in the past, regulators have nearly approved medical devices for use in the public health system, based on faked certificates that were later deemed illegitimate. The new IAF database will allow manufacturers and regulators to quickly check those certificates without the inconvenience of going to multiple websites, as seen in this article from 2013. Although it’s possible to chase down the credibility of many certificates now, the new database will enable users to validate the legitimacy of a certificate with a few taps on a smart phone. The supply chain will be held accountable as never before. Legitimate audits will become even more valuable as the rest fade from existence. The brighter light of a well-earned certificate will shine from this new database.

The database particulars are still being worked on and there is no scheduled release date as yet, but stay tuned for further details as to when this database will be made available to the public.


About The Author

Grant Ramaley’s picture

Grant Ramaley

Grant Ramaley is the director of regulatory affairs for Aseptico Inc., a manufacturer and marketer of dental support equipment in the United States and Canada since 1975.  Ramaley also is co-chairman of the Regulatory Affairs and Standards Committee for the Dental Trade Alliance, Convener for the ISO 13485 Working Group at the International Accreditation Forum, and Technical Committee Advisor to the Asian Harmonization Working Party.


ISO Experience with CERTO is Accelerating IAF Progress

ISO and IAF are close partners. The problems ISO discovered with their work on CERTO is providing valuable input to IAF.  It allows IAF to avoid repeating the mistakes.  IAF may seem slow by some, but they have grown to include 100 countries.  Approximately 60 having signed their Multilateral Recognition Arrangement.  They have now, the largest technical trade agreements on earth for a wide range of ISO Quality System Certifications.

I have very impressed with the leader representatives of the CABs who are assisting with the development of the database.  Those working on the database agree that the incentive to participate should eventually wear down those that would choose to remain on the wrong side of the Grand Canyon.


IAF Creates New International Certification Database

While I have been pushing for the creation of such database for over a decade and believe the database should emulate the Aerospace OASIS with all the features this one has, I am still sceptical this will happen any time soon.

Let's remember that, back in 2014 we were also led to believe that ISO was moving forward with the CERTO database just to see our hopes shattered a few months later.

Just recently, one of the IAF subcommittes posted the following comment: 

There is no consensus in CABAC regarding the proposal for a global database of management systems certificates, with some members supporting it and others not. CABAC urged IAF to communicate with CAB associations to understand why some had reservations and try to overcome these reservations.

So, we should understand and realize that there is a Grand Canyon gap between wanting the database to exist and making it happen. 

This is great - on paper.

This is great - on paper. Especially here in the UK, unaccredited certification (or worse still, 'alternative' accreditation) is bad for the market and intiatives which help legitimate certificates stand out is a good thing. However, as an employee of a Certification Body, my initial question for the IAF would be how will you protect Certification Bodies? What will stop rival Certifiation Bodies simply treating it as a marketing list? You would only need one certification number to then guess the sequence of certificate numbers issued thereafter. Hopefully this is something the IAF have thought of, as otherwise the idea will fall flat with no support from CBs.