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How ISO 9001 improves shipping procedures

As shipping organizations become more and more competitive, companies need to find ways to operate more effectively in order to survive in the market, grow and evolve. In addition, shipping is a business activity that requires high efficiency, so it must follow certain organizational criteria, regulate their activities and establish performance mechanisms.

In this article, I will analyze how implementing ISO 9001 in shipping organizations helps to achieve those objectives. I will also give some important tips to successfully comply with the requirements of the standard and get certified.

What activities involve shipping companies?

In the last several years shipping companies have developed many important solutions to different types of supply chains. Transportation and shipping are no longer the only activities performed, as shipping companies provide digitalized warehousing management, coordination of inbound and outbound processes, and order realization.

Regarding shipping activities, there are four different categories, including road, rail, ocean shipments and air shipments. Each method of transportation can be used separately, although it is more common to perform intermodal shipments that integrate multiple types of transportation.

All activities offered by shipping companies and their related processes must be considered within the scope of the quality management system. This means that each activity will need to comply with ISO 9001 requirements in case these companies want to implement or certify a quality management system.

Learn more about ISO 9001 requirements in the article ISO 9001 Requirements and Structure.

Safety versus quality for shipping procedures

We all agree that quality in shipping companies is definitely a major factor to consider. Sometimes, however it can be in conflict with another relevant element in shipping: safety. For instance, many consumers demand fast delivery of their products which could imply that safety risks could occur because safety practices often limit the speed of the processes. Thus, quality should be associated to safety in shipping, and companies will need to inform their consumers about this limitation. With this approach, clients will be able to better understand the level of quality offered, and the costs associated with the prevention of potential risks. Learn more about addressing risks in the article How to address risks and opportunities in ISO 9001.

Does design and development apply to shipping companies?

In general, shipping organizations do not design their services… they plan them. Consequently, this requirement of the standard does not apply to most shipping companies. There are rare cases in which organizations must include the design in its quality management system. This is the case with businesses that incorporate the design among their activities, such as route planning, which must verify that inputs and outputs in design meet ISO 9001 requirements. This includes the capacity (e.g. number of vehicles per route), the travel time depending on the conditions and signaling of the road, etc.

Learn more about design in the article The ISO 9001 Design Process Explained.

How is service provision managed in shipping companies?

The organization can improve the success of a shipping business by controlling the provision of services offered. The key to getting customers to trust that their order or request is going to be processed correctly is to show them that, effective controls exist. But how can you prove that these controls are planned and applied efficiently? ISO 9001 proposes various tools to maintain the production or provision of a service under control:

  • Clear specifications of the provided service will help to establish criteria as to whether the service is compliant with a customer´s needs and expectations.
  • Accurate work instructions for employees will help in the proper performance of relevant tasks.
  • An appropriate team will facilitate achievement of the objectives of the task or process that the team is involved in. Otherwise, a lack of competent and motivated staff will cause overexertion which, in the long run, generates demotivation and reluctance to work.
  • Monitoring and measurement of the processes to check whether the work method should be maintained or should be corrected (i.e. Did the delivery arrive on time? How do complaints or claims evolve?).

Improving effectiveness and efficiency in the processes

In relation to the internal functioning of the organization, what does the organization seek by implementing the above tools? On the one hand, an organization may want to improve effectiveness of business functions. For example, more successful deliveries with reduced customer complaints within a specific period. On the other hand, a business may want to improve efficiency, by optimizing resources and business activities to increase revenue and profits for the organization. For instance, efficiency can be decreasing the number of failures and repetition in the processes, wasting less time and therefore reducing associated costs. Translated into economic terms, this means increasing the general productivity of the organization and its activities.

In this sense, the organization can follow some actions aligned with ISO 9001 requirements to increase effectiveness and efficiency in its internal processes. The increases, in turn, contribute to the continual improvement of the business. Below is a list of the most important actions that a shipping company can conduct:

  • Improve the infrastructure: vehicles, warehouses, offices, computers, etc.
  • Enhance internal communication
  • Improve the relationship with the relevant suppliers, selecting the most appropriate ones with the adequate criteria
  • Establish key performance indicators (KPI) and monitoring methods
  • Elaborate procedures and work instructions with emphasis on the prevention of possible errors or problems by using the risk-based approach
  • Train staff adequately

How to make shipping procedures more efficient with ISO 9001

Monitoring and measurement

In a shipping organization there are many phases and points at which you can overlook an error, mismanagement or transportation planning. It is therefore necessary to establish a set of guidelines when collecting, classifying, preparing, transferring and delivering goods. The inspection process can be considered the last resort of a QMS, and can result in the reduction of the chances of something going wrong. The challenge is to guess when and where inspections should be carried out, or what is going to be inspected and how. The internal audits, for their part, will confirm that the work is actually being carried out as planned.

For more about monitoring and measurement read the article Analysis of measuring and monitoring requirements in ISO 9001:2015.

ISO 9001: An opportunity to face shipping challenges

The main sources of challenges in shipping come from cost pressure, and new regulatory requirements. Other factors include compliance with customer requirements and a highly competitive shipping market. Facing business challenges imposes the need for applying “best practices” in shipping companies. These practices include the application of approaches, procedures, processes, business models, techniques and tools. This is achieved through the implementation of ISO 9001, allowing shipping business to increase their quality and safety, and bringing them to a more competitive level in the marketplace.

To learn how to apply ISO 9001 to a shipping company, see this free online training ISO 9001:2015 Foundations Course.

Advisera Iciar Gallo
Iciar Gallo
Iciar Gallo has more than 10 years of experience in business consulting training and auditing, including a number of management systems such as ISO 14001 and ISO 9001. She has worked for several international companies and prestigious universities, leading projects in Spain, Panama, Venezuela, England, and more recently in the USA. She has also worked as a teacher of several courses on environmental standards and at AENOR and Advisera. Iciar holds an MSc degree in Environmental Management and Control from the Technical University of Madrid and is certified as an auditor of ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.