Reverse the Worldwide Decline of ISO 9001 sign now

To: ISO Secretary-General Alan Bryden

Dear Mr. Bryden:

We the undersigned wish to respectfully raise our concerns regarding the decline in ISO 9001:2000 certification growth from 1994 to the present. We feel this is an issue that has serious ramifications, but which has not been properly addressed to date.

Based on data provided by previous five annual ISO Surveys, as published by your organization, the number of ISO 9001 certificates continues to grow. In 1994 there were only a total of 70,364 certificates issued worldwide, and in 2002 that number grew to 561,747. We do not wish to diminish the size or importance of that expansion.

However, to date ISO has not addressed a significant problem raised by its own Survey numbers. While focusing on total certificates, ISO has not analyzed the growth rate of ISO 9001 certificates. A study conducted by Oxebridge Quality Resources (US) found that the growth rate of ISO 9001 certificates is in sharp decline, and according to data provided by The ISO Survey 12th Cycle, 2002 proved to be the worst year ever for growth. The data is as follows:

1994.. 51.1\%
1995.. 35.2\%
1996.. 37.2\%
1997.. 37.3\%
1998.. 21.7\%
1999.. 26.4\%
2000.. 18.9\%
2001.. 24.8\%
2002.. 10.0\%

We wish to emphasize that this data is based on numbers provided by ISO itself, as published in the previous five ISO Surveys, and not from any other sources.

We feel that ISO has wrongly focused its attention on the growth of total certificates, and not on the growth rate itself. By doing so, ISO fails to take an objective look at the state of ISO 9001 in the world, and risks passing by opportunities to improve the state of ISO 9001 when such opportunities would be most beneficial.

Statements by ISO executives have not helped matters. In 2002, you stated "... it is certainly gratifying to note another growth year for certification to ISO's management system standards that underlines their increasing importance and use worldwide for the development and promotion of quality and environmental protection, not only in industry, but also in services and the public sector."

Unfortunately, this statement is not true. A decline in the growth rate indicates a declining interest in ISO 9001, and does not underline [ISO 9001s] increasing importance. Furthermore, based on an analysis of certificates by IAF code distribution, public and service sector penetration of ISO 9001 had actually decreased since the previous year.

1998.. 7.6\%
1999.. 3.4\%
2000.. 3.9\%
2001.. 5.5\%
2002.. 4.3\%

In an editorial published in the September-October issue of ISO Management Systems, editor Roger Frost stated:

Just about every year for the last four or five, someone has passed on to me the rumour that ISO 9000 is on its last legs.Whether or not one believes that ISO 9000 certification is a good thing, it is an indication as to the degree of use of the standard and the fact is that ISO 9000 certification continues to rise. According to The ISO Survey, the number of certificates worldwide grew in 2001 to 510,616, an increase of 101,985 certificates (+ 24.96\%), the highest growth recorded in all 11 cycles of the survey carried out since January 1993. To persist in the face of such data in announcing the demise of ISO 9000 is a good example of the strength of belief if not something else over fact.

(The article included a sarcastic cartoon that characterized ISO 9001 critics as ignoring ISO Survey data in order to support their negative assertions.)

Mr. Frosts statement makes two significant errors. First, as other ISO press releases have done, it relies on the increase in total certificates to indicate growth. If companies relied solely on the fact that they made a profit, and never analyzed the amount of that profit, or if one years profits were less than the previous years, many would not survive. This is the most basic economic principle.

Second, the statement that 2001 showed the highest growth recorded in all 11 cycles of the survey carried out since January 1993 is simply incorrect. The true measure of growth is not the year-end total, but the percentage of increase over the previous year. As a raw number, yes, a gain of 101,985 certificates is the highest single year total increase. But as a percentage of growth, 24.96\% is only the sixth highest figure since 1993.

Making matters worse is that in the United States, ANSI repeated this error, but further misrepresented the truth by stripping the context even further:

[2001] was an increase of nearly 25\% since last year, making it the highest increase recorded by far in the survey's history." (Source:

These types of editorials and statement have a more serious consequence, as other important voices within the ISO 9001 community pick up on the tone, and repeat the sentiment. In a far more pointed comment published in the November 2003 issue of Quality Digest, ANSI-RAB President Robert H. King wrote that people questioning the growth of ISO are alarmists with an interest in fueling controversy who have exploited these misunderstandings to gain competitive advantage.

The ongoing mischaracterization of those concerned with the growth of ISO 9001 is misguided, cynical trouble-makers is unfair and unfortunate. It must be corrected.

Mr. Frost rightly reminds his readers that one of the Eight Management Principles upon which ISO 9001 is based is Factual approach to decision making. Effective decisions are based on the analysis of data and information. But while Mr. Frost uses this statement to support his assertion that all is well with ISO 9001, he fails to reflect on the facts, data and information --- provided by ISO itself --- that disprove his thesis.

Another issue of concern is the lack of in-depth analysis within The ISO Surveys reporting of withdrawals. According to ISOs own data, the following represents the current rate of annual decertification:

2000.. 1.5\%
2001.. 3.3\%
2002.. 3.1\%

Since 1993, the overwhelming percentage of reasons given for certificate withdrawal has been attributed to no reason given. As of 2002 36,942 certificates --- or 73.6\% of all withdrawals --- had been withdrawn without a reason. That ISO has not seen fit to apply any Pareto analysis to this figure in over ten years is disturbing, especially given the quoted Management Principle above. The reasons for decertification are important factors in determining ISO 9001s own customer satisfaction, and in deciding what actions must be taken to improve the growth rate.

We do not wish to present our concerns as merely those of doomsayers warning of a falling sky. But an objective analysis of the data shows a decline in the growth of ISO 9001 certificates worldwide, an increase in withdrawals, and a lack of any analysis of either statistic. We are gravely concerned over ISOs lack of response to this data.

We the undersigned therefore request the following:

(1) That the focus of analysis of The ISO Survey data not be confined to counts of total certificates issued or withdrawn, as is the case now;
(2) That ISO undertake a more objective review of The ISO Survey Data by analyzing the annual growth rate;
(3) That all future editions of The ISO Survey include charting of the worldwide growth rate for all years since 1993;
(4) That the analysis of the data include objective commentary on the growth rate;
(5) That ISO set goals for annual ISO 9001 certificate growth, and apply suitable analysis and corrective action when those goals are not met;
(6) That ISO publicly emphasize the importance of analyzing the rate of growth to its member bodies;
(7) That ISO make efforts to require subordinate organizations, through the IAF and its member bodies, to improve the data on certificate withdrawals, and the reasons therefore;
(8) That ISO reverse its course on emphasizing only positive aspects of The ISO Survey data, and include objective, detailed commentary on both positive and negative trends revealed by the data.

We believe that without making efforts to stop the declining rate of growth of ISO 9001, within the near future ISO 9001 will have lost too much worldwide influence and those that have invested in it will no longer see the many benefits that ISO 9001 has to offer.

Millions of dollars, if not billions, have been invested in the reputation and reliability of the ISO 9001 standard. We respectfully ask that ISO address these concerns to ensure the future viability of the standard, and the health of those companies who have adopted it.

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Carly ZimmermanBy:
Petition target:
International Organization for Standardization


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