There is a maxim that suggests “as goes education, so goes ISO.” What this means is that the experiences seen in the world of higher education often preface what will happen within the ISO accreditation scheme.

The higher education institutes, you may recall, suffered from a plague of “diploma mills” long before the ISO scheme saw its first certificate mill. In those cases, pop-up “colleges” or “universities” would offer low-cost, wholly unaccredited degrees for lawyers, doctors and nearly every other profession. Many claimed they awarded these degrees based not on actual accredited study, but “life experience.” Many suckers fell for it.

Now we see the same thing happening in the ISO scheme, as unaccredited or self-accredited certificate mills offer low-cost ISO 9001 or other certs based not on actual audits, but quickie drive-by review of random documents which the mills may have prepared for the client themselves. In some cases, they just issue a cert and don’t even pretend to do an audit; pay by mail, so to speak.

The International Accreditation Forum (IAF) is tasked with overseeing the world’s accreditations, at least within the ISO scheme, and has failed miserably. It was created out of a conflict of interest after an initial plan for ISO to manage accreditations itself was scuttled (ISO didn’t want to face legal liability should defective products be released by ISO 9001 certified companies, so it retreated from the plan.) IAF was formed by ANAB’s predecessor (RAB) and a few other accreditation bodies, under the promise that they could “manage themselves, thank you.”

That hasn’t worked, and under the leadership of IAF’s Elva Nilsen and ANAB’s Randy Dougherty, the IAF grew into a monstrously conflicted, multi-tentacled monster that fast-tracks violations rather than polices them. The IAF spawned a host of “regional accreditation groups” like the EA, APAC and IAAC each of which is supposed to police accreditations in specific regions of the globe, but each of which only works to protect accreditation bodies and certification bodies from true oversight. The IAF and its regional bodies routinely reject complaints of CB or AB malfeasance, no matter how much evidence is provided, even in cases where allegations of crimes are reported. Nilsen, meanwhile, collects a massive salary through her consulting company, the main beneficiary of IAF’s annual revenue.

Focused solely on protecting its members, the IAF has thus allowed the unaccredited mills to thrive, allowing them to pose as a credible alternative to the IAF scheme. IAF has made accreditation meaningless, and so more and more people are questioning why they should pay a premium for accredited certifications if they can “get their corruption wholesale” from mills.

Training Bodies Follow Suit

The educational institutions then saw the growth of quasi-accredited or unaccredited “lower” training bodies, who offered limited courses or certification programs that just fell beneath the scope of traditional higher learning accreditation.

Again, the ISO scheme followed suit. Originally, the auditor training provider RABQSA was accredited by JAS-ANZ, and every ISO 9001 Lead Auditor was known to have an accredited certificate. RABQSA became Exemplar Global, which has since dumped its accreditation entirely. Over the in UK, the auditor certification body IRCA never bothered to get accredited at all, following the education industry’s “certification model” that suggested it would survive just fine on its own reputation.

Now, it’s not likely that any ISO 9001 auditor has any accredited training at all, which tracks with the decline in the performance of auditors, and the overall dismal state of audits. Training was bad enough when it was accredited; now, it’s worse.

OK, Google…

Enter Google, which may have just killed accreditation once and for all. The tech leviathan has announced that it will offer “Google Career Certificates” based on “professional training.” It then said that for its own hiring, it will accept these certificates in lieu of accredited degrees.

The Google announcement follows the same pattern as the mills: it promises lower costs and faster results. According to a quote from, a Google representative said:

College degrees are out of reach for many Americans, and you shouldn’t need a college diploma to have economic security. We need new, accessible job-training solutions–from enhanced vocational programs to online education–to help America recover and rebuild.

This stands to permanently up-end the higher education industry. If employers are willing to accept their own unaccredited training certification programs (or those of others), then there’s no need to attend an accredited university. If Google is successful — and they very likely will be — then it won’t be long before other industries follow.

Which means that for the ISO scheme, accreditation may be dead and simply not know it. Google’s move proves that companies can rely on their brand strength alone, and that expecting expensive and ineffective outsiders to provide validation for a brand is no longer necessary.

IRCA has shown this, with its wholesale rejection of accreditation. For years, rumors have swirled that BSI — the largest registrar on the planet — would dump its IAF-matrixed accreditation, and rely solely on the reputation of its brand as its mark of validity. Why pay EA or IAF or anyone for accreditation oversight when the IAF has proven wholly incapable of keeping the mills at bay?

If BSI were to leave the IAF scheme — by dropping its various UKAS / ANAB accreditations — it would destroy it. Every other registrar would flee the sinking ship in months. Nilsen would have to sell her airplane.

Again, the IAF created this nightmare by refusing to do its job. It’s supposed to ensure trust in resulting ISO certificates, so that certificates are only granted to companies that truly comply with standards, and only by bodies that themselves comply with accreditation standards. This means no conflicts of interest, no collusion with consultants, no bribery or corruption. IAF has enabled these behaviors, protecting companies who engage in them, making themselves moot in the process.

Likewise, the overpriced educational institutions have created their nightmare. They overcharge for education, and then provide degrees that few find useful in getting meaningful employment later. Why bother?

Google is providing an answer: don’t bother.

Now, will BSI or other major ISO certification bodies follow suit? Will they dump the IAF and accreditation entirely, and convert themselves into certificate mills, albeit “respectable” ones?

All signs point to this happening very, very soon.


About Christopher Paris

Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.


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