ISO Compliance: What Is It & How Does It Impact Your Business?

Michael Nyhuis

Meeting International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards represents best practices across a range of operational areas; as a result, ISO compliance has become a preoccupation for many organizations.

Popular ISO standards cover essential areas like quality management, IT security, service quality and environmental impact. They are developed by experts from the ISO’s 167 member bodies and continually reviewed and improved over time.

These varied topics are all integral to the ongoing success of modern organizations.

Organizations can drive sustainable improvements to their business operation by being ISO compliant. Organizations can use an ISO framework to achieve best practices across various areas, from maintaining product consistency to improving service performance.

ISO compliance isn’t mandatory; there is no “ISO regulation,” so no regulatory imperative to comply. But ISO compliance standards are trusted by organizations from across the world, making ISO compliance a boost to business reputation as well as to operations.

This guide will explain why ISO compliance matters and explore examples of key ISO standards. What is “ISO compliant”; what does it mean, and how can you achieve it?


What Is ISO Compliance?

ISO compliance is achieved when an organization meets the requirements outlined in a specific standard developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). ISO has developed thousands of standards that cover all areas of business. These ISO frameworks are used by organizations to embed internationally standardized business practices.

While we discuss the benefits of ISO compliance in-depth below, it's important to point out here that ISO compliance will drive improvements to internal business operations and enhance external reputation. To be ISO compliant means the organization utilizes processes and procedures developed by experts. When upscaling or optimizing operations, ISO compliance helps organizations align with international standards.


What Are ISO Compliance Standards?

We first need to look at ISO standards to explore what it means to be ISO compliant. The ISO defines them as “a formula that describes the best way of doing something.”

ISO compliance standards cover a wide range of different business processes, services and products. ISO standards include:

  • Quality management standards
  • Environmental management standards
  • Health and safety standards
  • Energy management standards
  • Food safety standards
  • IT security standards

Common ISO Compliance Standards

What are some examples of ISO standards that cover all of these areas?

Some of the most popular ISO standards are listed below:

ISO 9001 (Quality Management)

ISO standard 9001 is one of the best-known standards for creating a quality management system. In fact, ISO 9001 is often synonymous with quality management systems across business. The standard is known for its flexibility, as it can be utilized throughout many settings and industries. 

Being ISO 9001 compliant gives organizations a system to evaluate performance and drive continuous improvements. The aim of ISO 9001 compliance is to improve the quality of service or product sustainability.

ISO 27001 (Information Security and IT)

Compliance with ISO 27001 helps organizations create and maintain an information security management system (ISMS) that will strengthen their defenses against cyber threats. ISO 27001 compliance means an organization has clear IT security controls in place to protect operations, hardware, and employees from cyber attacks.

ISO 45001 (Occupational Health and Safety)

Here, ISO compliance will help organizations to build an effective Occupational Health and Safety Management System. ISO 45001 focuses on protecting and improving both physical and mental health within the workplace. Being ISO compliant requires that organizations perform an internal audit of workplace hazards, as well as of future risks and challenges. Compliance with ISO 45001 ensures health and safety is an integral part of strategic decisions.

ISO 22301 (Business Continuity)

ISO 22301 provides an ISO framework for organizations to embed a reliable Business Continuity Management System. It’s recognized as the international standard for procedures to mitigate potential business disruption. Being ISO 22301 compliant provides reassurance to partners in the supply chain that an organization can cope with disruption.

ISO 14001 (Environmental Management)

ISO 14001 provides organizations with a framework for creating an Environmental Management System. ISO compliance requires organizations to set out environmental policy and objectives. This helps focus efforts, keeping environmental considerations at the forefront of business decisions.

Compliance with ISO14001 also helps organizations prepare for environmental emergencies within risk management plans. This can lower the risk of business disruption. Organizations can also make efficiency savings by assessing the use of resources and reducing wastage.

ISO 20121 (Sustainable Events)

Meeting ISO compliance standards here will help organizations that run large-scale events, or manage tourism, to ensure their events are run safely, efficiently and in line with ethical and sustainability goals.

ISO 50001 (Energy Management)

ISO compliance with standard 50001 will help organizations to develop an energy management system (EnMS) that improves energy use and efficiency.

ISO 26000 (Social Responsibility)

In line with a broader push towards ESG-focused operations, many businesses and organizations looking to operate in a more socially-responsible manner seek ISO compliance with standard 26000.

ISO 26000 provides guidance rather than certifiable requirements. It helps organizations to turn their organizational principles and environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives into action, sharing best practices.

ISO 37001 (Anti-bribery)

Transparency, trust and good governance are the building blocks of an ethical, compliant organization. ISO compliance with standard 37001 will help your organization to prevent, identify and tackle bribery via best practice training, risk assessment and due diligence.


Maintaining ISO Compliance

Once compliant, many organizations will achieve ISO compliance certification. This process sees an accredited third party perform an audit to confirm compliance. Businesses can be compliant with ISO standards without achieving certification. However, ISO compliance certification acts as a clear trust signal to prospective customers and partners.

ISO compliance generally isn’t a one-time thing, as organizations are encouraged to perform ongoing compliance monitoring. A key part of ISO standards is the act of reviewing and maintaining compliance. This way, an environment of continuous improvement to processes and procedures can be achieved.

A system to collect detailed documentation, internal audits, and operational records is needed for ISO compliance monitoring. A popular method is using compliance software to collect, store and analyze this data. These measurements are critical if the organization has achieved ISO compliance certification, as they will need to complete periodic audits from the accredited third party to retain their certification.


Why Does ISO Compliance Matter?

ISO compliance matters because the ISO standards are respected in the global business community. Therefore, ISO compliance is a way for organizations to enhance their reputation; shorthand for the quality and compliance of their approach to business.

It matters because ISO compliance is internationally recognized as being able to drive clear improvements to business operations. In business, standards are needed to ensure a consistent level of service quality.

Although the term ISO regulation is a misnomer, as ISO compliance itself isn't a legal requirement, the standards will naturally align with different regulations across industries. For example, an organization may use an IT security standard to bolster cybersecurity, helping to achieve GDPR compliance.

ISO compliance can be an efficient path to driving lasting improvements in specific business areas. When upscaling or reviewing a business operation, ISO standards provide clear insight into what is best practice and are therefore an important tool in change management. Organizations gain clarity through reviewing old processes through the lens of ISO compliance and best practice and embedding new ones that meet ISO compliance standards.

Beyond operational improvements, ISO compliance can enhance the reputation of businesses. Consistency is important in most industries. The consistency and rigor implied by ISO compliance is an indication that measures are in place to ensure consistently high-quality products and services.

The ISO standards may provide frameworks for business disruption processes or IT security policies. All are important in ensuring an organization's risk management is robust. Because of this, organizations will often require ISO compliance as a prerequisite within the tender process.


What ISO Compliance Means for Business

There are thousands of different ISO standards, many covering different business practices and industries. From environmental standards to cybersecurity, the result of ISO compliance varies with the standard.

Although there are numerous ISO standards, the key standards are utilized by many companies. These most popular ISO standards are renowned for their flexibility, which can be embedded across different industries and settings.

Here we explore how compliance with some of the most popular ISO standards can benefit your business.

Maintain Product and Service Quality (ISO 9001)

A quality management system helps organizations improve core processes within the business. ISO 9001 compliance helps to strengthen policies and procedures across the whole business operation, from development to service delivery.

Strengthen Cybersecurity Standards (ISO 27001)

Organizations of all sizes increasingly rely on digital technology to operate and process data regularly. Organizations should have an information security management system (ISMS) in place to secure IT networks and lower the risk of sensitive information breaches. Compliance with ISO 27001 will support organizations in developing a robust ISMS.

Having an ISMS in place helps to lower the risk of data breaches and provide procedures for reacting to severe cyber incidents. This is an important part of GDPR compliance and should be central to IT governance and digital risk management. ISO compliance will give your organizational leaders assurance that your ISMS is accredited to a recognized standard.

Ensure Business Continuity in Times of Disruption (ISO 22301)

Implementing procedures to identify and mitigate disruptions to operations is an important part of building business resilience. Clear plans to resolve business disruptions will save organizations time and lost profits. Business continuity plans should form a key part of risk management strategies in all sizes of organization.

ISO compliance here will see your organization meeting ISO 22301 standards, and consequently having confidence that your business continuity planning is up to scratch.

Improve Workplace Conditions (ISO 45001)

Maintaining a healthy workplace should be a core aim for all modern organizations. Strong health and safety procedures are required to meet regulatory obligations and help mitigate hazards in the workplace. By being proactive in risk management, organizations can reduce workplace injuries and maintain the well-being of employees.

Meeting ISO compliance standards here means achieving ISO 45001, which will help you to build an effective Occupational Health and Safety Management System.

Lower the Organization’s Environmental Impact (ISO 14001)

Environmental impact is fast becoming a key consideration for both customers and prospective business partners. The use of resources, the release of emissions, and the creation of waste are key considerations for any corporate responsibility program.

Organizations are often required to meet strict environmental laws and regulations. With this in mind, it is vital to efficiently embed environmental considerations in strategic planning.

The ISO framework created by standard 14001 will enable your organization to create an Environmental Management System. ISO compliance will require that you set out your environmental policy and objectives, providing good discipline for any business looking to improve their ESG performance.


The Benefits of ISO Compliance

ISO standards are recognized across the business world, and for a good reason. They are developed with input from industry experts and are reviewed regularly to align with changing business practices.

When building procedures and systems within organizations, it’s worth understanding industry best practices and how ISO compliance can enhance your approach. By adopting tried and tested processes and working towards ISO compliance standards, organizations can make more efficient strategic decisions.

ISO compliance can drive improvements to the operation of the business and is also a clear trust signal for prospective partners.

Benefits of ISO compliance include:

  • Embed best-practice procedures and processes across the company
  • Promotes a process of periodic review and improvement within companies
  • Designed with input from expert bodies and regularly updated to reflect changes in business
  • ISO compliance is recognized across the world by organizations, governments, regulators, and companies
  • Compliance with ISO standards often helps companies comply with industry or legal regulations
  • ISO frameworks and standards are applicable across different sectors and sizes of company
  • ISO compliance delivers a clear trust signal to prospective partners and customers


Easily Control Complex Compliance Commitments

Organizations often need to manage numerous areas of compliance at once. Whether tracking legal regulations, ISO standards or other frameworks, keeping on top of compliance can feel daunting.

Diligent Compliance software makes tracking all compliance, including ISO compliance, straightforward. Perform compliance monitoring against regulations and ISO standards and keep records and documents all in one place. Perform internal audits, spot gaps in compliance, and identify trends.

Request a demo with Diligent today to understand how compliance software can support your ISO compliance management, and make your compliance journey overall, simpler and more effective.

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Michael Nyhuis
Michael Nyhuis is the former Director of Audit & Compliance at Diligent and a modern governance expert with over 25 years of experience.