The picture on the right is of me holding a 5¼” floppy drive from the late 1980s. You can see it’s a Verbatim double-sided 2HD disk, a technology that was invented in 1984, three years before the publication of the very first version of ISO 9001, in late 1987. That floppy disk literally contains the original ISO 9001 procedures for the company I was working with at the time, written in Wordstar 2000 for MS-DOS. The tech is so old, I don’t even have a drive to read these files now.
(And if anyone has an old 5¼” drive, let me know, I have lots of these things lying around, and want to get the data off of them.)
Why am I showing this? ISO has made a lot of noise about its decision to use the term “documented information” within its standards, replacing two words that have been in use nearly since language was invented by humans: “documents” vs. “records.” Now, they say, the term “documented information” can mean a document, a record, or both, depending on context.
So, it’s quantum, I guess?
Then, because they weren’t calling out, specifically, documents or records, the authors added a nearly incomprehensible clause on “organizational knowledge.” This is ISO’s attempt to wink-wink-nudge-nudge-say-no-more suggest documents but without ever using the actual word. And it includes this accidentally hilarious definition:
Organizational knowledge is knowledge specific to the organization.
The term “documented information” was coined by Dick Hortensius (of the Netherlands) or one of his ISO Technical Management Board (TMB) gang of non-elected standards developers, who then forced the language into ISO 9001 and other standards via the mandatory Annex SL text. For ISO 9001, the TC 176 authors could have objected — and should have — but rolled over and allowed [a] Dick to have his way with them.
Hortensius and the TMB have defended the term “documented information” by insisting it was necessary to ensure that its standards address modern technology, such as cloud computing and electronic records, which — they claim — didn’t exist when the standards first came out.
But the photo at the right disproves this lie, because we had electronic records before ISO 9001 was ever invented. In fact, between the decades from 1987 through 2015, the ISO 9001 standard successfully called out “documents” and “records” without any confusion.
The only gripe was from lazy bastards who insisted that ISO 9001 shouldn’t demand any documents or records at all, because they wanted to spend five minutes and zero dollars to implement the standard. Because they were lazy bastards. But that argument was never about the media used to store documents and records, it was about the quantity of them.
But let’s think about this. If back in 1987 companies already had electronic documents and records, written in programs usable by MS-DOS (pre-Windows), what changed? Not much, in fact. The Verbatim disk in the photo is, literally, a spinning magnetic disk that held information. Later, we’d see this advance to the 3½” disk, and then onto the “hard drive” which is still, literally, a spinning disk, just made of metal. Mechanical hard drives still exist and most laptops, PCs, and “cloud” servers are filled with them. Only recently have we started to move to “Solid State Drives” (SSDs) which no longer rely on a spinning disk, and instead utilize non-moving chips. But the practical reality is the same for all of them.
Point being this: nothing dramatic happened to electronic storage media in 2015 that prompted a sudden need for ISO to invent a new term to replace common words that had been around since the dawn of man. (Consider that the earliest documents and records date back to 3400 BC, and presumably, they had words for them.)
Instead, the shift from using long-established, human words to inventing made-up, needlessly confusing terms comes from a combination of two important human traits: hubris and stupidity.
Hortensius, I’m told, has some sort of religious belief wherein he thinks his work is somehow divine and immune from any criticism. I’m not kidding. His TMB, meanwhile, has been granted superpowers by the corrupt ISO Secretary-General Sergio Mujica and his resident gadfly Nigel Croft, making it absolutely untouchable. With ISO already being supralegal — answerable to no laws — imagine a committee inside that which is, itself, omnipotent. The tendency towards hubris is inevitable.
Compare that to the intelligence of folks like Hortensius and Croft and the tiny handful of other non-elected European bureaucrats who comprise its slim ranks, and you have a mess. These folks are easily amazed, where every household appliance is like a new science, because they are so technologically illiterate.
And, because many of them came up in the more recent era (post-2010), they have no historical knowledge of what went on before them in the world of standards. Like JJ Abrams tinkering with Star Trek and Star Wars, the TBM clan thinks it can re-invent the classics. And, like Abrams, they wind up producing something less interesting, more complicated, and far inferior to the original.
There was no reason to invent a new term to replace existing words. This was arrogance compounded by stupidity, simple as that.
But they’re not done, yet. Now, the TMB and the ISO “Future Concepts” group insist that we need to update ISO 9001 again to add more technological mumbo-jumbo because, they claim, something groundbreaking has happened since 2015. In press release after press release, ISO has insisted that ISO 9001 must be updated to address the earth-shattering changes to the quality management profession brought about by “cloud computing” and “artificial intelligence” and “remote work” and “internet of things” and “blockchain.”
Do any of those things have any real-world impact on the quality management profession? Of course not. Some of them are already falling out of favor and being replaced with new buzzwords.
And that’s all this is. It’s a bunch of tech-illiterate boomers trying to sound “hip with the kids” so maybe you won’t notice their advancing decrepitude.
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.