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ISO/IEC 17021:2015 Accreditation of CABs Delivering ISO 44001:2017 Collaborative Business Relationship Management Systems Certification

Alan Webb
Development Project Manager
United Kingdom Accreditation Service

ISO 44001:2017 Collaborative Business Relationship Management Systems provides requirements for the establishment and control of collaborative business relationships utilising a formalised and measurable process for joint working. Industry recognises the advantage of shared objectives and resources to reduce liability and competition through contracted arrangements over project lifecycles. ISO 44001 introduces a systems approach to developing and sustaining relationships using process-based tools that align organisational culture and behaviours and implement joint objectives and value generation.

Multiple accreditation bodies have been examining the development of accreditation programmes to support the delivery of ISO 44001:2017 certification. It has presented new challenges not encountered with other management systems where the conformity assessment body (CAB) needs to verify:

  • Culture and behaviour is consistent with stated objectives.
  • Partner organisations implement joint working arrangements as defined by the management system and subsequent contracted arrangements. To achieve certification it would be expected that an organisation seeking certification is able to demonstrate participation with a collaborating partner.
  • The standard introduces an 8-stage operational lifecycle which may not be fully implemented, for example a long-term relationship may not have reached the stage 8 exit. In such cases the CAB is unable to verify process outputs achieve the stated intent. Irrespective of implementation it would be expected that the CAB confirms the controls and arrangements of all 8 stages are contractually agreed by collaborating parties.

The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) implemented a pilot programme to gain understanding of the new area of accreditation that highlighted organisational culture is key to assuring the success of collaborative relationships. CABs will need to demonstrate that evidence collected enables informed judgement about:

  • Effectiveness of communication to inform stakeholders of the objective, value and vision to assure common focus.
  • Effectiveness of leadership through defined roles, responsibilities, and appointment of resources to support the objective of the relationship.
  • Mechanisms that capture and resolve issues whilst promoting positive working, innovation and trust that enable all parties to fully contribute.
  • Mechanisms for joint risk management with respect to the objectives and aims of the collaboration and the identification and mitigation of interdependency and relationship risks.
  • Mechanism for continual improvement of the management system and the relationship

Collaboration brings together multi-disciplined teams and organisations that need to establish and follow a common goal, and the CAB needs to demonstrate that its audits enable informed judgements about:

  • Methods of measuring and reporting of organisational, team and individual performance and motivation that influence the relationship and its objectives.
  • Integration of operations and personnel to reduce isolation and independent practices.
  • Ethnic and regional culture applicable to the operation of the relationships.

Management system audits sample process outputs to confirm objectives are being met, however as noted above there may be occasions when the latter stages of the collaborative lifecycle have not been implemented by a client. Such outcomes should not prevent the award of certification provided the CAB can justify grant of certification, for example a single organisation in a long-term collaboration. In such cases the CAB will need to demonstrate it has assessed all 8 stages of the life cycle and that auditors have confirmed/predicted effectiveness of behaviour and engagement for the latter lifecycle stages. ISO/IEC TS 17021-12: 2020 reflects these enhanced skill requirements, which are expected to be reflected in the CAB competency programme.

The UKAS pilot identified that ISO 44001:2017 utilises existing management principles to implement and control joint working. Some CABs classified ISO 44001:2017 scope to the QMS codes defined in IAF ID 1:2020. The Institute for Collaborative Working reinforced that certification needs to provide assurance of the management function utilising a formalised process that crosses the boundary of all technical sectors to which it is applied.

The impact of COVID-19 resulted to delays in the pilot and it is predicted that accreditation of successful CABs could be implemented by autumn 2021.

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