ISO 9001:2015 and the telecoms industry – the easy and the hard

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Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Sheronda Jeffries explores the nuances and implications of the ISO 9001:2015 standard.

TL 9000 is a two-part quality management system standard aimed at meeting the supply chain requirements of the global information and communication technology (ICT) or telecom industry.  TL 9000:2016 (Release 6) is scheduled to be the first sector standard released based on ISO 9001:2015 allowing TL 9000 Certified companies more transition time than other industries like aerospace or automotive.

The standard consists of the TL 9000 Requirements Handbook, which contains all of the auditable requirements of ISO 9001 and additional requirements specific to the ICT sector such as:

  • Service Availability (24/7)
  • Program, product, project, and service planning
  • Continuity of supply
  • Maintenance, including long-term & end of life
  • Product security
  • Disaster recovery

The TL 9000:2016 (Release 6) Requirements Handbook is slated for publication in Q2/Q3 2016 with an effective date of September 2016 and for the first time, instead of the customary one year transition, TL 9000 certified organizations will be allowed two years to transition their existing certifications to the new release of the Handbook.  This will allow alignment with ISO 9001:2015’s three year transition as agreed by the International Accreditation Forum (IAF), the organization that provides oversight to Certification Bodies and Accreditation Bodies that grant TL 9000 certification.

How can ICT or telecom organizations best manage the ISO 9001:2015 and TL 9000:2016 (R6) transition?  Let’s look at two buckets:  easy versus hard.

The ‘easy bucket’ includes the concept of risk-based-thinking, which has been a major subject of concern and conversation for ISO 9001:2015 along with the introduction of “context.”

ISO 9001:2015 does not introduce the term “risk management” or terms like “risk mitigation” or “risk treatment.”  Instead ISO 9001:2015 introduces the term “risk-based thinking” and clearly states that the concept of “risk-based thinking” was implicit in previous versions.  The ISO 9001 standard now promotes a systematic approach to considering “risk” rather than treating the concept of preventing “risk” as a separate clause.  Although many believe that “risk” applies only to negative consequences, the effects of “risk” can be either negative or positive.

Most telecom organizations have long utilized “red-yellow-green” indicators on dashboards and performance reports.  In the past, yellow was an indicator for the need for caution or quite simply it was an indicator that there may be a need to take action to prevent potential nonconformities as in “preventive action.”  The adoption of the concept of “risk-based thinking” is in line with “red-yellow-green” indicators that are used throughout the telecom industry and quite frankly other industries as well.  This is a very basic application of risk-based thinking that is widely used and effective.

Many telecom organizations maintain certification or compliance with multiple management system standards. For example, Cisco Systems maintains ISO 9001, TL 9000, ISO 14001 and ISO 27001 Certifications.  So the inclusion of core text from Annex SL will make things a lot simpler.  In the telecom world, many organizations rely on tools and spreadsheets and the “high-level structure” (i.e. clause sequence, common text and terminology) will simplify the numbering and the text fields within the tools and spreadsheets.

The TL 9000 standard includes a focus on performance data that really fits well with the introduction of organizational “context” in ISO 9001:2015 – understanding the relevant needs and expectations of relevant interested parties.  TL 9000 has long included additional requirements or “adders” for “Customer Communication,” “Customer Input” and “Supplier Input.”  Additionally submission of monthly performance data allows TL 9000 Certified organizations to analyze their performance against their TL 9000 Certified competitors to evaluate whether their TL 9000 measurements performance meets “industry average” or is “best-in-class” or even “worst-in-class” for their products.

So transition to ISO 9001:2015 and TL 9000:2016 (Release 6) shouldn’t be that difficult – but what about the hard bucket?

One clause of ISO 9001:2015 contains the words “when addressing changing needs and trends.”  For ICT or telecom, change is a way of life – markets and products are rapidly changing.  With this in mind, telecom organizations may have some difficulty maintaining “organizational knowledge” when “addressing changing needs and trends” as change is almost constant in the industry.

Another consideration is that due to the rush to transition or re-certify by the IAF deadline, Certification Bodies will be backlogged and it may be difficult for telecom organizations to schedule their transition audits.  Quite frankly, there are not a lot of Certification Body auditors qualified to conduct TL 9000 audits.

Other changes will impact TL 9000 Certified organizations as they transition.  For example, the “Code of Practice for TL 9000 Certification Bodies” was revised to include a requirement that an installation or construction site be audited for initial certification at least once during each three-year certification cycle for specified organizations and a companion Code of Practice Checklist Guideline was created for Certification Bodies.  An optional TL 9000 Measurements Checklist was revised and enhanced and a post-Audit Feedback Survey to gather anonymous input from auditors, auditees, and observers about their Certification Body audit experiences was recently implemented.  Many of these changes were made as a result of the Validation Audits conducted by QuEST Forum.

The Validation Audits were undertaken by QuEST Forum to gather data to assess the effectiveness of the TL 9000 Certification process by confirming there are no major nonconformities in the requirements to be included in every audit, according to the “Code of Practice for TL 9000 Certification Bodies.”  Organizations evaluated were chosen at random, while ensuring a representative regional distribution.  Based upon the results, QuEST Forum continues working towards improvements in the TL 9000 Certification process.

The publication of the TL 9000:2016 (Release 6) Requirements Handbook continues QuEST Forum’s dedication to positively impacting the quality and sustainability of products and services in the ICT industry.  QuEST Forum will continue to examine and address key ICT issues affecting reliability, performance, and security in future releases of its TL 9000 standard and associated TL 9000 measurements.

Hopefully, this focus will allow TL 9000 Certified organizations to have a lighter bucket load during future ISO 9000 transitions. For more information on ISO 9001:2015, ASQ Quality Management Standards.


Sheronda JeffriesSheronda Jeffries is the Integrated Global Quality Chair for QuEST Forum, an industry collaboration of companies dedicated to ICT or telecom supply chain quality and performance, at the USTAG TC 176, ISO TC 176, ISO CASCO STAR and the IAF, where she serves as a Director representing Users and Industry.

Sheronda is responsible for providing internal consulting support at Cisco Systems and has more than 20 years experience serving as a third-party quality auditor and a consultant to Fortune 500 companies, specializing in quality management systems implementation and auditing. Her experience spans many industries, including ICT and telecom, plus the following types of manufacturing: electrical, mechanical, paper and plastic.

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