ISO Technical Committee 176 has announced that ISO 9001 will be included in the planned “IEC/ISO Smart” initiative, which will shift standards from being sold as individual, downloadable publications, to online-only versions requiring access via perpetual subscription. Oxebridge calculates that for ISO 9001, the increase in the cost of owning the standard for ten years will increase by 1000%.
Perpetual Moving Targets
The “ISO Smart” program began development in 2019, and was largely centered on ensuring standards were drafted in a “machine-readable” format. For technical standards, machine-readable documents could be incorporated into computerized production lines. For example, if a standard indicates a desired operating temperature, connected furnaces could “read” the requirement directly, and apply the temperature settings to ensure conformity with the standard automatically.
But the development of ISO Smart quickly evolved to adopt controversial practices likely to outrage end users, and force governments to re-assess their relationship with ISO’s catalog, due to the ever-increasing costs of ownership of ISO standards. As ISO standards become more and more required under national regulations, many have argued that they should not be sold at all, but instead released for free.
The ISO Smart program evolved, by 2020 or 2021, to align more closely with an online subscription model seen utilized by competing standards bodies, such as the CMMI Institute. Under this model, the standards are only available via an online “viewer” requiring an annual subscription fee for access rights. Once that’s paid, you can download a watermarked PDF, but only of the version that is current at the time you did so. To ensure you’re accessing the most current information, you need to use the portal.
Previously, the CMMI Institute released its standard for free as a PDF. After its takeover by ISACA, however, the CMMI Institute now requires users to pay $250 per year for online-only access to the text. Download of the model for offline use is no longer available, and changes to the model can be made in real-time, creating a never-ending set of moving goalposts. The ISACA move has been criticized as a form of price gouging.
For the Nadcap aerospace accreditation program, the Performance Review Institute (PRI) has navigated a middle ground, updating its standards far more frequently than ISO does, but still publishing them as free PDFs, and indicating clear effectivity dates. As a result, PRI standards often come with a disclaimer saying, “for use after” a certain date. This allows PRI to update its standards to meet shifting technical realities, while granting time for users to adapt to such changes.
ISO appears to have leaned towards the CMMI model, however, and aims to offer what they call “standards as a service” (SAAS), requiring expensive subscriptions to access perpetually-updated standards.
According to the ISO Smart website, these standards will be “constantly maintained up to date,” implying that updates to ISO standards could be made in real-time, rather than through the current ISO standards development procedures.
The TC 176 announcement formally declares that ISO 9001 will be included in the ISO Smart program, despite not being a technical standard requiring machine-readable content.
Huge Increased in Cost
Currently, ISO 9001 costs approximately $180 US, depending on currency conversion and the reseller. It is expected that the upcoming revision of ISO 9001, which has still not been formally announced, will top $200 US per PDF copy.
With ISO aiming to adopt an annual subscription fee, Oxebridge estimates the cost of the new ISO Smart version of ISO 9001 will hit a price point of $200 per year, similar to that of the CMMI Model. ISO will likely put in controls preventing the standard from being easily collated into a single document for download, and instead break the standard up into text sections that must be viewed separately, and only while online using a specialized viewer.
Comparing costs over a decade, a user of the current ISO 9001 standard would only spend $180 once during a ten-year period. Under the new SAAS model, a user would pay as much as $2,000 for the same standard to “license” it over a ten-year period, if Oxebridge’s pricing estimates are correct. That would represent a cost increase of over 1,000%.
Breaking ISO Standards Development Procedures
The move will further push ISO to permanently dismantle its long-standing procedures on standards development. Currently, standards undergo 5-year “Systematic Reviews” which may then trigger a highly-formalized process involving subject matter delegates from ISO member nations. The ISO development process currently requires a strict draft workflow, with draft standards moving from Working Draft (WD) to Committee Draft (CD) stages, through to Final Draft International Standard (FDIS) all before the publication of a final standard (IS).
The SAAS model would destroy the entire workflow, and enable largely unelected ISO bureaucrats to change ISO standards on the fly, with little — or no — ISO Member involvement at all.
The move to strip ISO Members of their role in the development of standards has been a hallmark of the leadership under Chilean bureaucrat Sergio Mujica. Under Mujica, the non-elected ISO Technical Management Board has been given broad powers to draft entire standards outside of the current procedures, thus crippling ISO Member votes on standards. Text written by the TMB cannot be edited, and only undergoes symbolic voting.
Mujica has relied heavily on shifting the development of standards from nationally nominated delegates to the non-elected TMB in order to reduce development time. For the ISO 9001:1025 standard, previously mandatory translation periods were bypassed, forcing non-English speaking countries to vote on English language drafts, all to ensure the standard was published by a pre-set sale date. Approximately one-third of ISO 9001 was written not by nominated subject matter experts but by the non-elected TMB. The TMB text, called “Annex SL,” was then prohibited from being edited, and voting on the text was symbolic.
The ISO Smart initiative is being spearheaded by two former TMB members, Nelson Al Assal Filho of Brasil and Ruggero Lensi of Italy.
Mujica’s Strongman Posture
ISO’s current procedures were largely drafted in response to regulations published by the World Trade Organization, which feared — in the 1990s — that ISO standards were becoming a technical barrier to free trade. In response, ISO promised its standards would remain “voluntary” and produced only under the “consensus” of international ISO members. The WTO then wrote official regulations dictating how ISO standards were to be developed.
the TMB approach violates both the WTO regulations and ISO’s own internal procedures, which require standards be developed by nominated experts, submitted by ISO Member nations, and then through consensus.
Under Mujica, those principles have been under constant barrage, as the Secretary-General adopts an authoritarian “strongman” approach to strip members of their rights and instead drive development activities based on ISO’s commercial concerns. Mujica’s TMB has re-interpreted “consensus” to mean that standards are written by ISO flacks, and then merely voted on by nations. The TMB then aggressively pushes committees to vote to approve its text, going so far as to threaten to disband committees that reject it.
Mujica has shown little interest in complying with WTO regulations, likely with the knowledge that there is little the WTO can do. Oxebridge previously spoke with the WTO, who confirmed that its only enforcement tools are sanctions against governments, not private organizations. The WTO rules on ISO standards development are therefore, effectively, window-dressing.
As head of the Chilean customs agency, Mujica was investigated for allowing his office to enable drug trafficking, tax evasion, and money laundering. He left that role and took the role of ISO Secretary-General before any final ruling could be made. Mujica has been an open critic of the United States, and has embraced the strongman regimes of Russia and Belarus.
Mujica has forced ISO standards to include language related to the United Nations “Strategic Development Goals” reportedly to burnish his own credentials as he explores a run for UN Secretary-General.
It is not expected that the immediate update of ISO 9001, expected in 2025-2026, will be released as an ISO Smart publication, but that this would likely affect future versions.
UPDATE 26 June 2023: Previously, I indicated you could not download a PDF of the CMMI Model, and only access the model through the viewer program. A reader pointed out that once you pay for the access, via the model, you do have the option to download a watermarked PDF of the CMMI model. I updated the article above to reflect that.