The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a global leader in developing standards across industries to keep our products and processes safe, effective, and sustainable. Many ISO standards like ISO 27001 and ISO 9001 2015 offer certification; whether you’re seeking certification or just the assurance and reputation boost that accompanies ISO compliance, an ISO audit can benefit your organization in numerous ways. In this article, we’ll educate you about ISO audits, break down the different types of audits you might employ, and provide you with a guide for preparing for both internal and external ISO audits.
What Is an ISO Audit?
An ISO audit is an audit of your organization’s compliance with one of the standards set forth by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). ISO is a non-governmental organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, which develops standards and control frameworks that guide industry best practices in fields from information security to car-seat safety. An audit measures your company’s systems against any ISO standard; beyond compliance, a few standards can be ISO certified via third-party audit.
Why Is an ISO Audit Important?
ISO audits are important for a few reasons; an audit can tell you whether you are meeting requirements for ISO compliance and can expose the weak spots in your organization’s operations, so that you can develop the strongest risk management strategy possible. An ISO audit can be a part of the initial phases of a risk assessment plan, but it can also assist you in developing new systems or approaching new customer bases. The right audit schedule can also launch you towards ISO certification.
What Are the Types of ISO Audits?
There are four types of ISO audits: internal, external, certification, and surveillance. Your choice of audit type will alter depending on your compliance and certification goals, your scope, scale, and budget.
1. Internal Audits
An internal ISO audit can be conducted by a designated auditor within your company — if ISO compliance is your goal, an internal audit may be satisfactory for ensuring your company is adopting ISO standards as a model for best practices. Using an internal audit checklist to see how your organization’s systems measure up to ISO guidelines. Internal audits are also important preparation for certification, surveillance, or recertification audits.
2. External Audits
External audits are conducted by third-party auditors to assess an organization’s ISO compliance. There are a few types of external audits, including audits of customers and suppliers, since many ISO standards require compliance by all members of the supply chain. Certification and surveillance audits also fall under the umbrella of “external audit.”
3. Certification and Recertification Audits
ISO standards that offer certification require a special certification audit — when you seek certification for a standard like ISO 27001, a certification body will conduct an audit and issue a certificate of compliance that is good for three years. In turn, your organization guarantees to keep up the processes, product controls, and systems that are covered by that certificate. For ISO 27001, you would be bound to maintain your information security management system for three years.
4. Surveillance Audits
Once your organization has achieved ISO certification, you must schedule surveillance audits with the certification body at least once per year. A surveillance audit includes reviews of management, any steps the organization has taken to mitigate or correct prior nonconformities, and a review of how the organization has responded to recommendations from internal audits.
How Can ISO Audits Be Conducted?
Depending on the audit type, an ISO audit can be conducted onsite or remotely. An internal audit can be carried out by the organization as a self-audit, and can be conducted onsite or remotely. Some external audits can also be conducted remotely. However, any certification or surveillance audit must be conducted by a registrar onsite.
What Happens During an ISO Audit?
ISO audits focus on systems, products, or processes; the exact steps will differ depending on whether an auditor is assessing an information security management system (ISMS) or product safety. Regardless of whether you are conducting an internal or external ISO audit, the auditor will test your systems against an audit checklist, determine whether daily operations adhere to the standards, and assess progress in mitigating prior gaps or nonconformities.
How Do I Prepare for an ISO Audit?
When conducting an ISO audit, preparation is key — each audit you conduct helps you prepare for the next one. Internal audits help you prepare for surveillance audits, and surveillance audits help you prepare for recertification audits. We’ve outlined some tips for your first ISO audit below.
5 Tips to Prepare for an ISO Audit: A Helpful Checklist
1. Create an Audit Schedule
Create a schedule for your audits, including a timeline for certification, if that is your goal — and stick to it. Start with your schedule for internal audit, build in flexibility for time to complete projects or mitigate problems, and progress towards an estimated timeline for engaging a certifying body.
2. Compile Audit Checklists
Audit checklists walk you step-by-step through the audit process applicable to the ISO guidelines you are using. In broad strokes, the audit checklist ensures that you understand how the audit fits into your business’ overarching goals and context. In detail, it covers each component of the specific ISO standard for which you seek compliance, and assesses whether you are meeting those requirements or need modification to your systems, processes, or products.
3. Determine Your Goals
If your goal is to achieve certification, it is best to keep that goal in mind when you create your audit schedule. Certification can take time, especially as you conduct a gap analysis and mitigate nonconformities. Being aware of your goal to certify will help you to streamline your energies and save time and money during ISO audits.
4. Get Organized
If you are inviting a third-party auditor into your work environment, it helps if that space is well-organized and clean. Having your documents ready for review will shorten the time it takes to conduct the audit, and help your auditor streamline the work to provide the best possible feedback for improvement.
5. Conduct Internal Audits First
Again, an internal audit is your best preparation for external, certification, or surveillance audits. Auditors want to know about your progress towards your goals and improving your systems to align with ISO standards. An internal audit will start that process and demonstrate to your auditors that your organization is serious about ISO compliance.
What ISO Standards Apply to Information Security?
The ISO 27000 family of standards, specifically ISO 27001, pertain to Information Security Management Systems (ISMS); this family of standards provides a detailed overview how to develop, assess, and maintain a secure information management system for your organization, preventing breaches and data leaks, optimizing your implementation of cybersecurity measures, and ensuring your compliance with strict data security laws like GDPR.
What Is ISO Certification?
ISO offers certification for a number of standards, including ISO 27001 and ISO 9001 2015; certification requires an external audit by a qualified third-party auditor called a registrar. Certification can be lengthy and costly up front, but your certification lasts you three years and can greatly enhance your reputation; certain clients require or request ISO certification, as well.
How Long Does It Take to Become ISO Certified?
There’s no set time frame for becoming ISO certified, because it will depend on your organization’s prior preparation, specific needs, and scale. If you are starting from scratch in developing your ISMS or need an overhaul of your systems, it will take longer than an organization that already has a healthy ISMS, is compliant with ISO 27001 or is compliant with adjacent standards like NIST CSF. However, it is safe to plan for at least 3-6 months to prepare for your certification audit. Those months of preparation will include multiple internal audits and potentially external audits of customers and suppliers.
How Automation Can Help You Be ISO Certified and Compliant
Becoming ISO certified and compliant has numerous steps and shouldn’t be rushed, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Automation can make your job much easier and help you keep track of the details of your ISO compliance journey. Employing the right compliance management software can help you manage the spreadsheets, audit checklists, control assessments, audit schedules, and other moving parts to make your ISO audit smoother and more efficient.