To certify, or not to certify, that is the question

Gemino Managing Director Christian Schwendy on the decision to target ISO 17100 certification

Quality management, quality standards and certification – what significance do these have for a language service provider?

In our industry, the need for quality is undisputed. But what exactly does “quality” mean? Crudely speaking, quality is when the end product meets the client’s expectations. To make sure that happens, a language service provider has to work on the efficiency and economy of its processes and find procedures it can rely on. And, if the client is happy, what exactly is the point in ISO certification?

This was an opinion I held for a long time – but, today, I know that such a view is too short-sighted. At the end of the day, it isn’t about “quality” in general, it’s about security: ensuring the greatest possible prospect of achieving quality in every single project, for every single client. Again and again. For years. Or even decades. The vast majority of language service providers aren’t in a position to deliver quality with this high degree of consistency. If you condense this idea, it’s actually about the certainty that, as a language service provider, you get as much right as possible and thereby justify your clients’ confidence over the long term. Regulations can provide this security. Surely this means that a registration in accordance with the standard (as opposed to full certification) should be enough, as long as the end result meets expectations – right?

In fact, I started to look into the topic of quality management and certification several years ago and one thing soon became clear: standards only provide a framework which, in turn, allows a company to make the essential specifications for its work practices. These specifications can help to achieve a defined quality on a regular basis and minimize systemic risks to quality.

After inspecting the relevant standard at the time, DIN EN 15038, we saw that our work processes were already fully compliant, and the necessary adjustments and registration (including signature of a voluntary declaration) were merely a formality. For many years, I regarded actual certification (with an audit by an independent auditor) as an additional expense and administrative burden with no certainty of added value. As a result, we wrote our quality handbook and developed it as an organic system in our daily work. Systematic, but without unnecessary bureaucracy.

Over time, both existing and potential clients repeatedly asked about certification. This brought home to me the importance of certification as a “security aspect” for our clients, who themselves often operate within a certified or regulated environment. The reasons are obvious: sensibly defined processes provide the necessary foundation upon which stable quality can be ensured. Of course, this can never be a guarantee – but it is an essential prerequisite. This is precisely why an ISO 17100 certification makes sense: not only does it oblige compliance, it also obliges evidence of this compliance.

Last year, a valued client of ours conducted a comprehensive audit of our company with regards to the ISO 17100, ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 standards – and the results were positive. This audit finally triggered the decision: “let’s just do it now”.

Which is exactly what we did.

A big thank you to our team!
Christian Schwendy

ISO 17100 certificate Gemino GmbH