The widespread adoption of third-party certified quality management systems has been one of the most beneficial institutional innovations of recent times. While the principle of independent quality validation is a very old one, the modern standards-based approach is relatively new. The precursor of the current model, the British Standard BS 5750 of 1979, was an adaptation of the US Department of Defense MIL-Q-9858 quality standard of 1958. The passage of a military standard into civilian form came via a request from the automotive industry to provide a means of improving contracting relationships with suppliers. By 1987, BS 5750 had been adopted by the International Organisation for Standardisation as ISO 9000 and since that time more than a million organisations throughout the world have been certified to it.
Certification to the ISO 9000 model has become a requirement for any business that takes a systematic and rigorous approach to managing quality and seeks to demonstrate that commitment to its current and potential trading partners. In many industries, certification to ISO 9000 has become an entry condition for doing any business at all.
The Australian Productivity Council has been actively engaged in the propagation of ISO 9000, together with the health and safety and environmental management systems derived from it, since the very beginning. In helping organisations to improve their quality performance, the APC has an unmatched experience, reaching all the way back to its Productivity Group activities in the 1950s. In fact, the APC was active in quality promotion, training, publishing, program development and system implementation even before the Australian adoption of ISO 9000 and it has undertaken thousands of assistance projects since that time.
Standards-based quality systems have delivered substantial gains in productive efficiency; within individual firms through the close management of resources and the reduction of failure costs through preventative techniques, and between firms through their impact on a range of transaction costs.