ISO 9001 is one of the most coveted and highly esteemed quality management standards for industry, with certification held by as many as 1.1 million companies or organizations around the world.

The chief reason behind the popularity of the accreditation standard is that it attests to the application of rigorous quality management systems by an organization, sending the message to potential clients that it implements best practices internally.

In order to maintain the blue chip imprimatur of the standard, ISO applies a series of strict inspections to organizations applying for certification during the auditing process.

These audits involve the thorough scrutiny of an organization’s performance across a range of areas, including the internal dissemination of sound managerial practices, the quality of supplier-customer relations, as well as protocols for ongoing improvement.

A white paper recently released by Newforma notes that amendments to ISO 9001 unveiled in 2015 have only served to make the standard more exacting.

“ISO 9001 standards are only becoming more rigorous,” said the paper. “New 2015 standards require even more risk management integration across a company’s quality assurance/ quality control (QA/QC) management systems.”

These amendments mean that AEC companies holding or seeking accreditation will need to better understand and implement quality management systems (QMS), in order to ensure that they all pass muster once external auditors come knocking.

Independent of the heightened rigour imposed by the latest round of ISO 9001 amendments, AEC companies are already facing greater difficulty in the effective implementation of QMS systems, given the sheer proliferation of documentation and data as a result of technologies such as BIM.

“We’re at a critical juncture in the [design and construction] industry,” said Allen Preger, vice president of global customer accounts and a co-founder of Newforma, in the company’s recent white paper on ISO 9001 certification.

“In light of transformative changes it becomes critically important that firms revisit existing QMS procedures and put something new together that is repeatable.”

One highly effective means of enhancing QMS in the wake of the expanded data flows made possible by new technology, as well as the heightened rigour of revised certification standards, is to make processes more streamlined and economical.

Michael O’Toole, an associate in the Building CAD/BIM Design Services group of engineering consulting firm WSP Global, is part of the team that leads the auditing process for various divisions of the Canadian company.

Auditing work has become particularly frenetic and demanding for WSP of late due to an expansion drive that has seen the acquisition of major companies such as Flack + Kurtz and Parsons Brinckerhoff.

In order to expedite the auditing process, O’Toole said WSP reduced the number of procedures for certain quality systems from 20 to as few as nine by focusing specifically on anticipated areas of scrutiny.

“What we do is mimic what the external auditors do,” he said. “We need to ask what the auditor’s going to ask.”

Another highly effective means of improving quality management and ensuring ISO compliance lies in the use of project information management (PIM) software to manage the huge volume of documentation generated by modern AEC businesses.

“The problem that companies face is that they implement an older management system, then fail to stick to it because it’s too hard or time-consuming,” said Paul McConnell, marketing programs manager APAC, Newforma. “PIM makes it easier for people to deploy and maintain a quality management system that’s ISO certified, and stick to those ISO processes.”

Alistair Kell, director of information technology with UK architecture and engineering firm BDP, makes use of Newforma’s PIM platform to ensure ISO compliance.

Kell believes ISO compliance depends upon the strength of audit points for detecting process gaps that can be documented and subsequently corrected. He employs Newforma Project Center to organize and monitor a total of 46 quality audit points that are incorporated into the company’s standard project setups.

The PIM platform permits the scheduling and monitoring of progress on each of the 46 audit points, as well as enables QA auditors to better access relevant data during their inspections by providing links to tailored information.

The upshot of all this is a system that employs simple and efficient processes to provide companies with an in-depth overview of their quality management status.

“What we’ve developed now, which any project manager can use, is an ability to see compliance with any sector,” said Kell. “We have a much more granular means of looking at our compliance.”