Guest Post by James Kline (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
I am a Senior member of ASQ, a quality professional association. I have two ASQ certifications. One, the Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence (MQ/OE), is the highest general certification ASQ offers. The other is a Six Sigma Green Belt (SSGB). Over the past year or so, I have become concerned about the viability of ASQ. Some friends now liken ASQ to a Moose Lodges. While some lodges are still around, they are pretty much relics of earlier generations.
With the publication of the ISO 9001:2015 certification figures for 2017, the concern increased. This article looks at this issue and what the ISO 9001:2015 figures say about the disruptive environment ASQ faces.
ISO 9001:2015 Certification
In 2015, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) revised its quality management certification standard ISO 9001. Certification for the new standard was to be completed by the middle of September 2018. While the 2018 figures are not available, the 2017 figures are. They show a drop in ISO 9001:2015 certification worldwide of 5%, or by 47,433. In the United States it dropped 18%, or by 25,000. In the U.S. this is the lowest number since 2010 and almost half of the peak in 2006.
The loss can be compared with four other certifications whose increase worldwide was double digit or more than 1,000. ISO 14001 is the environmental certification. It increased by 5% or by 16,463. ISO 50001 is the energy management certification. It increased by 13%, or by 2,654. ISO 27001 is the information security certification. It increased by 19%, or by 6,211. Finally, ISO 13485 is the medical device quality management (MDQM) certification. It increased by 7% or, by 1,935.
The first thing the figures show is the sectorial nature of the growth. ISO 14001 is the environmental certification. Environmental concerns are growing. ISO certification provides public relations benefits. The energy and information (cyber) sectors have been subject to cyberattacks. Further, in the United States they have been designated part of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Having ISO certification makes it easier when dealing with regulatory agencies. The medical sector of the global economy is a key growth area. As baby boomers retire, demands for health care increase. This increase pushes the investment in medical technology and the need to ensure products are of high quality. The second thing the figures show is the world-wide growth for MDQM covers just 4% of the ISO 9001 loss. The 9001 certifications loss is not likely to be offset by increases in other quality management certifications.
Oxbridge, a consulting firm, believes the decline in the 9001 certifications is the result of two major changes ISO made. First, it allowed consultants to dominate the standard development process. This resulted in long-winded, expensive and vague standards. The second was the imposition of “risk-based thinking” (RBT). Because of these decisions, Oxbridge predicts that by 2020, 9001 certifications in the U.S. will drop below 10,000. A figure not seen since 1995.
These decisions and the certification loss impact ASQ in two major areas. These are brand integrity and technical relevance.
ASQ Brand Integrity
For a professional association to have meaning to its members the quality of services must be high and provide value. Thus, obtaining a professional certification from ASQ must mean more than a similar certification from some other organization. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The author worked for the United State Postal Service (USPS). USPS has a Lean Six Sigma (LSS) program. Several USPS managers obtained LSS Green Belts. When I talked with them about quality related issued, it was like I was speaking a foreign language. An LSS certifications at USPS was merely a ticket to be punched. Neither postal Green or Black Belts knew any thing about MQ/OE. In fact, my ASQ certifications were viewed as of lower quality than USPS’s.
The USPS example is not isolated. Any one can obtain a quality certification from a consulting firm. The cost of such certification is generally less than what ASQ charges. As the emphasis on quality decreases, a quality certification will be a ticket to be punched, as opposed to a statement of professional competence. As this occurs, cost will determine who to obtain the certification from. That shift will cut into ASQ’s revenue stream.
Over the years, ASQ has allowed its certification brand to become diluted. It, like ISO, gave too much responsibility to outside parties. There is no way it can get this genie back in the bottle.
Another issue ASQ faces, is technical relevancy.
ASQ Technical Relevance
With ISO’s inclusion of RBT in 9001:2015, a sea change was initiated. This change was solidified with the inclusion of risk assessment in 19011:2018. From here on out, anyone providing ISO certification must examine the risk management systems of the organization. The emphasis on risk shifts the traditional focus away from quality. Ultimately, quality will become a subset of risk management.
As the importance of risk management increases and quality decreases, the relevance of ASQ diminishes. In short, ASQ is being disrupted by a dynamic risk concerned environment. Unfortunately, ASQ has been slow to respond.
For instance, even though ASQ had members on the 19011 technical committee, ASQ did not immediately provide training on the new standard. The failure to quickly respond opens the way for entrepreneurs to fill the void. Greg Hutchins, the publisher of Risk Insights, just published a book on the new 19011 standards. It was completed shortly after the revision issuance. He also updated his ISO 31000 book within months of its new standards. With every risk-oriented revision, entrepreneurs and consultants can bring a product to market quickly. By using the e book format, these books can reach a larger audience than ASQ. Further, because of the risk orientation, ASQ, a quality-oriented organization, has no substantive technical advantage. This undercuts ASQ’s technical relevance, membership value and revenue stream.
Organizational disruption is part of the evolution of economic systems. This disruption can affect organizations of any composition. ASQ is an example of a professional association which is being disrupted. The 2017 ISO 9001certification results bring this point home. Worldwide 9001 certifications declined by five percent. In the United States the decline was 18%. This puts the number of certified companies at the 2010 level. Oxbridge predicts that ISO 9001 certifications in the United States will drop below 10,000, a number not seen since 1995.
Oxbridge says the drop is caused by two ISO decision. The first was to allow consultants to have considerable say in the development of the standards. This resulted in confusing and complicated standards. The other was to move to RBT.
These changes have significant implications for ASQ. First, consulting firms offer certification like ASQ’s, at lower prices. As the 9001 certifications fall, so does the emphasis on quality. As this emphasis declines, quality certifications become more a ticket to be punched, than a statement of professional competency. Cost, then, becomes the determining factor on who to obtain the certification from. As a result, ASQ will lose certification dollars. This reduces its revenue base.
Another disruptive factor is ISO’s change to risk-based standards. This shifts the emphasis from quality to risk. Quality will eventually become a subset of risk. This shift means that ASQ, a quality-oriented organization, has less technical relevance. In this area especially, ASQ has been slow to respond. Despite having members on the 14001 technical committee, ASQ failed to provide training immediately after the 2018 revisions were published. This allowed authors like Greg Hutchins to bring risk updated books to market a head of ASQ. This undercuts ASQ technical and professional relevance, not to mention its revenue stream.
Only time will tell whether ASQ becomes the professional association equivalent of the Moose Lodge. At this point, the odds are that it will.
James J. Kline is a Senior Member of ASQ, a Six Sigma Green Belt, a Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence and a Certified Enterprise Risk Manager. He has work for federal, state and local government. He has over ten year’s supervisory and managerial experience in both the public and private sector. He has consulted on economic, quality and workforce development issues for state and local governments. He has authored numerous articles on quality in government and risk analysis. firstname.lastname@example.org