Products are best able to meet the characteristic of Quality if they are produced in a controlled manner. Methods of control may vary enormously, typically from the skill of an artisan to the highly complex and technically advanced environment as may be encountered within a computer controlled and robot facilitated manufacturing factory..
Consumers need to have their expectations of quality met by their suppliers. If they are not satisfied they go elsewhere. This may be termed consumer power and organisations that are successful in meeting the needs of their clients are able to grow, and those that are unsuccessful often fail and cease trading. Nonetheless, consumers are coming to expect more than the right to exercise their freedom of choice. If expectations are not met then yes, they may well go elsewhere, but if extremely disappointed then they will demand their purchase money returned. Oftentimes, for practical and other reasons, this is just not possible and customers are thus poorly served.
To meet the above situation, and for other reasons, the international community has advanced the concept of Standardisation. This enables conformity and replica ability of products and components and gives confidence between purchasers and suppliers, at all stages of the process between design concept and delivered product, that that expectations will be met.
Naturally, it would be unreasonable to define a requirement and expect that controls and safeguards will be put in place and that the desired product will present itself at the end of perhaps a very long manufacturing process, as ‘right’. Life is not like that, and so a series of checks and balances are introduced along the Design-to-Use path that will ensure that expectations at all levels are met. The term given to the management of this process is Quality Assurance.
One of the cornerstones of quality assurance is the degree of belief that one must have in the process of checks and balances of the various constituents that enable a product to be made. On the basis that a producer is likely to sing his own praises an independent third party is often called upon to ‘certify’ that a product is OK. In recent years because of the millions of products that are made available it has not been possible to universally agree standards for all items under manufacture. Therefore the practice of certifying the management system under which the product is made, has developed.
However, all trade will present a conflict of interest and it is possible that a manufacturer will put his desire for profit ahead of his desire to produce a sound and technically competent product. Or, it is possible that a manufacturer may be so unaware of the technologies and requirements that are available that he would produce a sub-standard item not because of greed but because of general or specific ignorance. To reduce the risk of these and similar adverse situations resulting in poor products getting into the market place, a relatively new profession has developed and that is Quality Assurance and Certification.
The certification profession is generally a white collar one and is professional in that it concerns itself with paperwork, ethical issues and structures and organisations to ensure the achievement of its aims and general purposes. One of these is the need to attain consistency between the various operators within the certification profession. These certifiers are termed Certification Bodies, or Third Party Certification Bodies, and Registrars. The manner by which they are encouraged to be consistent in such a way that one body may behave and make judgements much the same as another, is called Accreditation.
Therefore, in summary of what has been described above; there are Consumers who buy products from Manufacturers who are certificated by Certification Bodies who are accredited by Accreditation Authorities. It is questioned if sometimes the personnel operating in one level is quite ignorant of the needs of those operating at another.
As is the way of the world, when there are common areas of interest, both personal and professional, there are formed associations and gatherings whereby mutual benefit may be gained. This is typical within industry and commerce and this has given rise to many trade associations, professional bodies, stakeholder groups and local and national government bodies. The raison d’êtres of these organisations is nearly always well meaning and public spirited but the achievement is not always so, and many organisations become introspective, self serving and potentially damaging to the interests they purport to uphold.
Such a situation is deemed to present a threat within the quality assurance profession where the interests of the profession are perceived to dominate, or even to exclude the interests of the general public. A significant indication of the self serving nature of these organisations is the elitist and exclusive nature of their membership. Often they exclude more than one representative of a group or particular demographic from membership. There are instances of constraints and controls being produced that far from advancing the position of the general public serve to maintain the position of the professional bodies that are generally self appointed to look after their interests.
This is deemed an unsatisfactory situation and it is to address this situation that International Accreditation Union (IAU) has been established.
One must recognise that although some organisations may have elements of unsatisfactory practice it does necessarily follow that they are totally without worth or merit. In fact the greater part of these organisations is technically sound and well meaning and employs sound practice. Therefore it will be IAU practice to pick the best of the best practices and avoid the mediocre and the worst.