History and database
An important information source of the demand for Quality Infrastructure services is the Survey of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The Survey provides an overview of the global dissemination of management system standards (such as ISO 9001 and ISO 14001).
The Mobil Oil Company started the Survey in 1990 shortly after the publication of the first ISO 9001 standard in 1987. In 1996, ISO itself took over the Survey and its documentation.  By now, ISO had published the annual Survey over 29 years. The current ISO Survey 2019 was published recently, in early September 2020.
Given that ISO does not perform certification itself, the organization needs to collect data from independent certification bodies. Therefore, ISO contacts accredited certification bodies for management systems annually with the request to complete a questionnaire. The survey questionnaire is sent exclusively to members of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF). Thus, the Survey collects data from independent and professionally competent institutions only.
Unfortunately, ISO does not publish a list of participating certification bodies. The reason behind this is that many certification bodies consider their client data a trade secret and try to avoid their clients to be poached by their competitors. In the explanatory note of the current Survey, the responsible ISO Project manager, Laurent Charlet, is pointing out that the country-level data, as in every year, are affected by the non-participation of some important certification bodies. For the year 2019, this is the case for certification bodies from Bosnia, Korea, Japan, The Netherlands, Turkey, the UK and the US.  The fluctuating participation of essential certification bodies limits the comparability of the data over time.
In the past, another problem in data collection was that the certification bodies reported different data than requested. It is important to distinguish between certified organisations (certificates) and production locations (sites). Although ISO asked for the number of certified sites, some certification bodies reported the number of certificates. To ensure comparability of data, ISO started changing the Survey in 2018 by asking for three separate data sets: 
- the number of valid certificates,
- the number of sectors per country covered by the certificates, and
- the number of sites per country covered by the certificates.
ISO repeated this method in the Survey 2019 to be able to compare the data of both years. However, the problem is that the sum of certificates per sector in a country does not always correspond to the total number of certificates in that country. Typically, about 10% of the certificates cannot be allocated to a specific sector.
ISO Survey 2018 and 2019
Starting from the general quality management standard ISO 9001, ISO has published an increasing number of types of specific management standards over the years. The data of the ISO Survey of the years 2018 and 2019 refer to the following twelve management system standards. (The year refers to the current version of the standard):
- ISO 9001:2015 – Quality Management System (QMS)
- ISO 14001:2015 – Environmental Management System (EMS)
- ISO/IEC 27001:2013 – Information technology — Security techniques — Information security management systems (ITMS)
- ISO 22000:2018 – Food safety management systems (FMS)
- ISO 45001:2018 – Occupational Health and Safety (OHSMS)
- ISO 13485:2016 – Medical Devices Quality Management Systems (MDMS)
- ISO 50001:2018 – Energy Management Systems (EnMS)
- ISO 22301:2019 – Security and resilience — Business continuity management systems (BCMS)
- ISO 20000-1:2011 – Information technology — Service management (ITSM)
- ISO 28000:2007 – Specification for security management systems for the supply chain (SMSC)
- ISO 37001:2016 – Anti-Bribery Management Systems (ABMS)
- ISO 39001:2012 – Road traffic safety management systems (RTSMS)
Figure 1: Distribution of certificates over standard types (World)
Figure 1 shows, for the year 2019, that the ISO 9001 with 883,521 certified companies or 65.1% of all certificates is still the most popular management standard globally. It is followed by ISO 14001 with 312,580 certified companies, representing 23% of all certificates. All other ten management standards together account for just 11.9% of the certificates.
Figure 2: Total valid certificates 2018 and 2019 (World)
The development from 2018 to 2019 shows an increase of 3.7% for certificates and an increase of 10.6% for certified sites.
As far as certificates are concerned, it is noticeable that the dominant standards ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 are hardly increasing at all, whereas ISO 45001, ISO 28000 and ISO 37001 are growing particularly strongly. The high increase of the certification of ISO 45001 is due by the fact that ISO published the OHSMS standard just recently in 2018.
Figure 3: Total number of sites 2018 and 2019
Overall, the data for certificates and sites show similar trends, even though the growth rate is generally higher for sites. However, the development of ISO 50001 shows a paradox. While the number for certified companies increased by 0.9% from 2018 to 2019, the number of sites decreased by 10.8% over the same period. This phenomenon is difficult to explain and points to possible shortcomings in data collection.
Figure 4: Country top ten of ISO Survey 2019
|Country||Certificates||Sites||ISO Certificate Ranking||Exports Ranking|
|United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland||25.292||36.222||7||10|
|United States of America||20.956||32.053||9||2|
|Total top ten||608.490||830.220|
|Total of all countries||883.521||1.217.972|
Figure 4 shows that ten countries represent more than 2/3 of all certificates and sites worldwide. The People’s Republic of China is especially important, representing 31.7% of all certificates and 23.1% of all sites.
Comparing the ranking of total valid certificates per country with the absolute export volume reveals some interesting differences. Italy, India and Spain have many more certified companies than other nations with similar export performance. Conversely, the number of certified companies in the USA and France is relatively small compared to their export strengths. The same applies to other successful exporters, such as South Korea. Netherlands and Mexico, which do not appear in the top ten of the ISO certification ranking.
Differently sized companies and different corporate cultures concerning the use of ISO management system standards could provide explanations here.
Figure 5: Sectoral distribution of ISO 9001 certificates 2019
|1||Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry||4524||0,4%|
|2||Mining and quarrying||4053||0,4%|
|3||Food products, beverage and tobacco||23538||2,3%|
|4||Textiles and textile products||11488||1,1%|
|5||Leather and leather products||2093||0,2%|
|6||Manufacture of wood and wood products||4454||0,4%|
|7||Pulp, paper and paper products||8957||0,9%|
|10||Manufacture of coke & refined petroleum products||1744||0,2%|
|12||Chemicals, chemical products & fibres||27274||2,6%|
|14||Rubber and plastic products||43593||4,2%|
|15||Non-metallic mineral products||10187||1,0%|
|16||Concrete, cement, lime, plaster etc.||10648||1,0%|
|17||Basic metal & fabricated metal products||107564||10,4%|
|18||Machinery and equipment||64774||6,2%|
|19||Electrical and optical equipment||77329||7,5%|
|22||Other transport equipment||10162||1,0%|
|23||Manufacturing not elsewhere classified||11457||1,1%|
|29||Wholesale & retail trade, repairs of motor vehicles, motorcycles & personal & household goods||80320||7,7%|
|30||Hotels and restaurants||4631||0,4%|
|31||Transport, storage and communication||27700||2,7%|
|32||Financial intermediation, real estate, renting||9659||0,9%|
|38||Health and social work||14566||1,4%|
|39||Other social services||8441||0,8%|
|Sector not known||228250||22,0%|
For ten ISO management system standards, the ISO Survey 2019 provides data on the allocation of certificates to different economic sectors (ISO 22000 and ISO 13485 do not include data on sectors) – see Table 5 above. Here, the manufacturing industry and construction dominate with about 47%. Companies in the service sector account for 28% of the certificates and agriculture and mining for only 3.1%. However, 22% of the certificates could not be allocated to a specific sector by the certification bodies.
The ISO Survey is the best available database for validated ISO certifications. By compiling and publishing the data, ISO provides essential information on the status and development of the quality infrastructure. The publication of the data as downloadable EXCEL files is user-friendly and facilitates analysis.
At the same time, the ISO Survey suffers from various weaknesses which limit the validity of the data. A fundamental problem is the data acquisition via a survey. It is not transparent which certification bodies participate in the ISO Survey in a particular year. Therefore, changes in the data can be due to fluctuating participation of individual certification bodies, potentially resulting in misinterpretation of the survey data.
The methodical adjustments in the ISO Survey 2018 by distinguishing between certificates and sites have certainly helped to improve the data quality. On this basis, it is expected that data comparison over time will be easier. Likewise, the comparison of the numbers of certificates and sites can also indicate where ISO can improve data collection.Overall, the data of the ISO Survey show that the ISO 9001 standard continues to play a dominant role. At the same time, the growth in the number of companies certified with ISO 9001 is low, indicating the maturity of this product in its life cycle. On the other hand, the diffusion of different management standards is dynamic, covering novel and specific needs of companies. Unfortunately, the ISO Survey does not provide information on the extent to which companies use several management standards in parallel.
 ISO, ISO Survey, Certification and Conformity
 Paris, Christopher 2019. ISO Survey 2018 Analysis: Facing 20% Loss of ISO 9001 Certs Worldwide, ISO Dismantles Data Trending
 ISO 2020, The ISO Survey of Management System Standard Certifications 2019, Explanatory note
 ISO 2019, The ISO Survey of Management System Standard Certifications 2019, Explanatory note
Feature photo by iStock.com/marchmeena29