Technical support services in management systems - Comments



On this occasion I want to express an opinion on the way in which competition is developing in the market for support services in terms of standards-based management systems.

There are various types of support services for management systems that organizations are able to access, including testing, calibration and inspection services, among others. However, on this occasion I am going to refer to those related to consulting services, technical training and certification bodies of management systems. I am also referring to accreditation bodies, as (indirect) providers in these services.


Within the evolution of management system standards, which began very slowly, since the publication of the first standards of the ISO 9000 Family in 1987, the ISO 14000 standards in 1996, and which gradually accelerated until today where we have several dozens of these standards, both the so-called Type A, which are those that establish requirements and are therefore certifiable, and the Type B that provide guidelines, but not requirements, so they are not certifiable.

This spectacular development of management system standards is, or may become, of enormous value to the various productive organizations that, with these supports, can establish this diversity of management systems, and in an even better way, with the development of the concepts of integration of management systems, with the support of Annex SL of the "ISO/IEC Directives Part 1 - Procedures for technical work - ISO Consolidated Supplement - ISO specific procedures" and the Harmonized Structure for management system standards, also called "High Level Structure" (HLS), which has been published as Appendix 2 of that Annex SL, which have been applied by ISO and which I have mentioned in other posts.

However, within this growth, both in the standards of management systems, the interest of organizations to establish this type of systems, as well as those involved in support services, such as consulting, technical training, calibration, measurements and tests, certification and accreditation, a phenomenon is occurring that draws my attention in terms of the lack of coordination between these actors and the mediocrity, lack of professionalism, knowledge or ethics of many people and institutions that have dedicated themselves to technical training or support in terms of standardized management systems, including auditors training.

From my personal point of view, in these years the foundations have been laid for a future disaster in relation to these management systems, since thousands of people are continually being trained in these disciplines, but in general, as far as I can see, pretty poor way.

Every day there are more people who have completed courses or training programs on management systems, and many of them claim to be experts on these issues, when actually all they have done is read and try to understand some of the requirements established in one or more of these standards, but from there to being experts, there is a huge difference. Obviously, there are some people who have a very high level of knowledge and experience in these matters, but a very low proportion of those who call themselves experts and who are even providing training and consulting services, or carrying out activities such as auditors and accreditation evaluators.

This phenomenon of poor technical training, particularly in management systems, has been going on for many years, and by mentioning this situation I am not trying to blame someone, but so that it can be identified as a problem and that we can look for some remedy.


I believe that the original objective of establishing these management system standards should be to provide support to the various productive organizations, to generate activities, tools and methodologies that allow them to achieve appropriate control of their processes, in relation to their corresponding (s) management system(s), which is (are) of interest to each organization, in order to bring it (them) to a level of excellence through continuous improvement, and thus achieve increasing reliability in its products and results.

Instead, it seems that this objective is to form a select club of members around the certification schemes, in which, when more members enter, a new scheme is created to certify, in order to filter newcomers again and return practically to the initial group, under an increasingly complex scheme and technically dependent on these "leaders", to maintain control of the markets.

It is very clear that for many organizations, perhaps most of those that provide support services related to standardized management systems, each new standard of some management system means just one more field of commercial activity to do business, to sell standards, technical training courses, consultancies, certifications or accreditations.

Obviously, I am not against this type of training, consulting, certification and accreditation companies doing business, since it is perfectly valid, and in fact, as I have mentioned, I dedicate myself to two of these activities, since personally I supply technical training and consultancy services in the field of management systems.

However, from my personal point of view, the important thing is that priority has been given, from these schemes, to the easy business, as is currently taking place, supplying services in a deficient or mediocre manner, with the sole objective of generating good business in the short term, as long as organizations do not realize that they are not obtaining better results when operating their management systems, that actually they are not managing to enter into a scheme of continuous improvement, that their staff is not improving their level of competence and therefore do not improve their overall performance in relation to their management system or systems. At that moment, and I believe that this has already arrived for some organizations, they realize that they have fallen into a sense of deception in which several companies have been milking resources (generally large), for training, consulting and certification programs, among others, but that they have not obtained the improvement in their performance and the economic benefits, due to the reduction of costs and increase in sales and confidence of their clients, which theoretically they should be achieving, and which they had been offered.

So, what result can we expect from this situation? The way I see it, in the short term, some companies do excellent business selling low-level technical services, but in the long term, organizations become disenchanted with these activities and their costs, which encourages them to get out of these business. scheme, and stop contracting this type of services, and the benefit and the business are lost for all those involved.

Now, if we stabish a priority to truly supporting the various organizations to develop schemes for the professionalization of their personnel, knowledge management and methodological development to operate their management systems, perhaps the business in the short term would not be so spectacular, but we would be supporting all organizations to reach a level of satisfaction for their performance, reliability and reputation achieved, more than in the number of certificates they can boast. It could be thought that by applying this approach, organizations would be requiring this type of support services continuously, in order to maintain their pace towards excellence, which would mean that in the long term there would be a possibility of continuous growth for all these businesses.

Consulting services are another field that has grown in a disorderly manner. At least in Mexico, we have a large number of consultants who have dedicated themselves to this activity after taking just a training course on a management system and after losing their job. I also know that it is a free activity, but hiring a technical support service with a person without knowledge or experience cannot bode well for whoever hires him.

In the same way, there has been so much growth of certification bodies, both in Mexico and worldwide, that an oversupply of this type of service has been generated, for which, although there are more and more management system standards, giving a fierce and sometimes unethical competition, to win customers. For many certification bodies, documenting "non-conformities" to an evaluating customer can mean losing that customer, because unfortunately the officials of the organizations in the certification process are generally more interested in obtaining their certificate than in having a functional management system. For this reason, it has become customary for some of them to document "observations" instead of "non-conformities", so that the customer believes that it is a situation for improvement and not a deficiency in their management system.

Another phenomenon that is taking place, in combination with what was mentioned in the previous paragraph, is that there are currently many consultants who have agreements with certification bodies, which sometimes, without any ethics, cover the deficiencies in the work of those incompetent consultants, using that famous mechanism of documenting "observations", and in this way it is not clear to the customer if the failure was due to the consultant's deficiency, or due to some person from the evaluated organization or just an improvement opportunity, and the employees of organizations in the certification process, for the most part, prefer this deceptive scheme, since it also covers their possible failures and negligence.

These "arrangements" are made on a daily basis, and the accreditation bodies accept it, since they also take care not to lose customers, in this case the certification bodies.

I know that I am not discovering the black thread, as we say in Mexico, or trying to rediscover the wheel with these comments, but I consider it appropriate to mention it, because these activities, carried out this way, are causing costly damage, both for many organizations and their interested parties. This means millions of people defrauded around a certification scheme.

Now, in specific reference to the technical training service, in these decades enormous networks of companies have been formed that, under diferent "certification" schemes that have managed to position themselves in these markets, have made many potential clients believe that without this type of certification or recognition, the technical training they may receive is invalid.

I do not know if when these schemes began in their countries of origin (because referring to Mexico, my country, none of these schemes is Mexican), they tended to be very demanding with the level of programs, topics and information to include, in the control and follow-up of the various courses, as well as with the preparation, evaluation and recognition of the instructors or trainers. I also don't know if they act like this in their own countries of origin, but today, with the focus of generating control of the markets at a global level, most of these associations or companies simply act as mercenaries, although it is a strong word, which through some generally high fee, they deliver a kind of Letter of Marque, so that their courses, generally mediocre, can be provided by various local companies, many times without adequate controls, but that they can show in the records or certificates issued, that they are "recognized”, “approved” or also “certified” by this or that association or company. The biggest problem we have is that for many and perhaps most organizations, that "approval", "recognition" or "certification" is worth more, even if it is on a simple paper, than in the effective learning and increased competence that they can have in their staff.

Something similar is happening in the case of accreditation and certification bodies, which have made their customers or potential customers feel that they are the owners of the technical information of the standards on which they certify or accredit, which is very far from the truth, and in general the courses they provide on management systems also leave much to be desired, in addition to the fact that they sometimes generate a conflict of interest for these organizations, in their  certification or accreditation processes.

On the other hand, as a complement to this problem, the easy and low-cost use of advertising courses on some social networks, particularly on management systems, has promoted the increase of companies and people offering free courses or courses at absurdly low prices. I am convinced that everyone has that freedom for supplying his/her courses or services at the prices he/she consider they are worth, but it is a fact that this situation generates unfair competition, since their potential customers believe that those are training courses that will cover their needs of technical training, without considering that, with very limited exceptions, if there are any, “what does not cost is not worth it”. And by participating, they find that the vast majority of these courses are simply information that is transmitted, which sometimes can be valuable, although it is generally incomplete or out of date, and without establishing a true teaching and learning process, to ensure that that information is not only received by the participant in this type of course, but is also analyzed, worked on and learned by each of the participants, to generate a relevant increase in the level of knowledge and competence in each of them. And when interested people finally  find a training course that is free and valuable, they also find that it is a tricky course to hook them for other services or products, with which said course is not free either and generally creates additional inconvenience.

Generally, when in these cheap "courses" only information is transmitted, the participant is left alone, who will sometimes read that information, very rarely analyze it and almost never have the focus, drive and support to achieve true learning about the topics covered by that material. Therefore, in most cases, the information received will become, in a short time, a simple useless load stored in the memory of the electronic device used.

Technical training for work in management systems should be designed so that each person who works in an organization that has established, or is establishing a management system based on one or more standards, can receive sufficient education or training. so that you can understand and apply concepts that allow you to perform your functions and activities related to your management system(s) with a reasonable level of reliability.

I have taken the liberty of mentioning these points, since the large number of people who claim to be experts in some standards or in standardized management systems, or are certified auditors in various management systems and who, in addition they do not have the ability to structure and deliver a valuable course, lack basic knowledge about these management systems and their supporting standards, and some who believe they have great knowledge because they memorize the various clauses of one or a few standards, but do not miss the opportunity to demonstrate they don't even understand some or most of the requirements of those standards.

I believe that we are invaded by thousands of false experts in these management systems based on standards, who lack a solid base of knowledge, and that every time they make decisions related to these systems in which they have assigned responsibilities, they do so by applying their limited knowledge or poor understanding.

We might think that this is a problem just for these people, but when we already have them in practice establishing management systems, developing documented information, carrying out audits and verifications, as well as planning, establishing and verifying corrective actions, or even certificating management systems or accrediting certification bodies, we see that it is a serious collective problem and that it is very important that, somehow, we solve it.

In no way do I want to say that all the people who work in these fields are incompetent, since it is clear, as I already mentioned, that there are many people who are competent, ethical and with a high professional level. Unfortunately, I do not believe the proportion of these people exceeds 20% of the total number of people whose professional activity is related to management systems. And I am referring to people with all kinds of functions, from those who are part of the top management of organizations, in what corresponds to them to apply these standards, managers, technical and specialized positions, to operational personnel, beside those functions mentioned before, the consulting, training, auditing, certificating and accrediting ones.

If we consider that the population that carries out their professional activities applying one or more requirements of management system standards is currently millions of people in each country, I think it would be worrying to know that we also have immersed some millions also of incompetent people there working with these management systems.

Nor should we think that everyone should be an expert in all technical aspects and requirements of standardized management systems with which their professional activity is related in some way. It is important that each person knows what is necessary, and has sufficient technical training, to carry out the activities that have been entrusted to him/ her to carry out his/ her work effectively and reliably. No more than that, unless he was being groomed for new responsibilities, and no less.

The important point of this topic is that people who want to be trained in these topics related to standardized management systems, can initially identify in what aspects and at what level they require or want to be trained, if that training would be in individual or group basis, if it would be presence based or in distance modality, and with that already structured ideas in mind, look for a good training option. For that, I strongly recommend that you do not look for a free or very cheap option, and that you do not fall for the disappointing certifications granted for taking a particular course. For example, a very common deception is that of companies that offer auditor training courses with a certificate endorsed by "X" organization. Do not go with that deception. Every time you take a training course, your provider may issue a document that guarantees that you participated in that course, or that you met all the necessary requirements to pass said course, by means of a certificate of participation, a diploma or a certificate of compliance. If we believe that you take an auditor training course, you may be given a certificate for it, but by no means does having that certificate mean that you are a qualified auditor. Many people and many organizations fall into this deception and use people as auditors, often poorly trained and without sufficient experience, but who present a certificate of these characteristics. If you are not evaluated according to ISO 19011:2018 standard, you are being misled.

I am presenting this information about support services, so you will not be surprised and know what you can find. If any recommendation is useful to you, dear reader, if you participate professionally in these fields of knowledge, never stop learning, and take advantage of the experience that you generate in your life. I wish you much success, for the good of you, your organization and your country.



Ernesto Palomares Hilton