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July 12, 2016

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BSI: Standards made simple

Some people think that standards are only for big businesses or involve significant costs. Not true – standards are what you choose to make them. As part of July’s focus on standards, the British Standards Institute (BSI) explains more.

Every ambitious business strives for quality, consistency, efficiency and best practice. Standards can help ensure that your business is getting the best results and show you how to keep improving. But you can choose how structured you want to make the process.

Formal and informal standards

Informal standards can be as straightforward as having company guidelines on how phone calls should be answered, or following your trade association’s code of practice. They’re essential if you want to achieve specific objectives and can be easily managed in-house.

Formal standards – which most people think of when ‘standards’ are mentioned – go a stage further by setting out criteria that’s been agreed within your industry. They draw together best practice and expert knowledge from those in industry, government representatives, testing and certification organizations, academics, consumer groups, trade unions and most importantly businesses.

The result is a document that shows this agreed best practice. You can buy it, read it and apply it to relevant areas of your business. The price of standards varies, but is likely to be more cost-effective than you think. In fact, if you consider the business benefits of applying the standard, it could offer some of the best value for money your business can get.

With formal standards, you can also use testing or certification services from respected third parties. This gives independent proof to your customers and suppliers that you’re meeting or exceeding best practice.

What formal standards can cover

Formal standards can cover your goods or services and specific parts of how you create, manage and deliver them to meet customers’ needs. Or they can focus on the management systems that you have in place underpinning your business, such as quality management or environmental management.

Whatever you want to show your customers and suppliers that you do, there is probably a standard that covers it. There are more than 35,000 formal British Standards.

Find the right standards for you

If you take a methodical approach and think about what you want your business to achieve, it should be easy to find the best standard to help you do it. Begin by talking to your industry or trade association to find out if there are any essential requirements or recommended standards in your sector.

Check out the competition

Which parts of your business could you improve to give you a more competitive edge? Perhaps raising service levels will attract more customers – or maybe you would like to see a reduction in the returns rate of your product.

If you’re in a marketplace where your competitors are already using standards, it’s crucial to see which ones they’re using, and why. Would you get a competitive boost from adopting the same standard – or do you want to outstrip your competitors? Using a standard that proves you’re doing something that your competitors are notcould reap big benefits.

Consider your customers

What’s going to impress your current customers, or spark interest among potential customers? Make sure you know what matters to your customers so that you can find a standard that will help you address their needs more effectively.

Bear in mind, too, that obtaining certification to a standard could provide opportunities to tender for contracts or join supply chains that would otherwise be closed to you.

If you’re part of a supply chain where standards are used throughout, you can be sure that your products, processes and technology are going to be compatible with the businesses that supply you, as well as being compatible with your customers later in the chain.

Names and numbers

Each formal standard has a unique number and a prefix which shows where the standard applies. British Standards have the prefix ‘BS’, while European standards carry the ‘EN’ prefix. International standards are preceded by the letters ‘ISO’ or ‘IEC’. Standards can be a combination of British, European and international: the three prefixes in ‘BS EN ISO 9001’ show that this standard is simultaneously an international, European and British Standard.

To search for a British Standard visit:

To find out more about how standards could help your company, download this document.

Permission to reproduce extracts from British Standards is granted by BSI Standards Limited (BSI). No other use of this material is permitted.  

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T J Griffiths
T J Griffiths
5 years ago

When you go into it, you are likely to find a large number of standards that apply fully or only in part to your field. Don’t underestimate the costs of getting these standards. Also, remember that BSI do not issue amended sheets or notes. Every few years they reprint the whole standard and to stay up to date, you are faced with the full cost again.