The three letters ISO stand for the International Organization for Standardization, based in Geneva.

What does ISO mean?

Founded in 1947, the independent and globally active non-governmental organization aims to develop and publish international standards.

ISO in numbers (as of 2019):

  • 164 members as exclusive country representations; in Germany, it is the DIN (German Institute for Standardization) in Berlin
  • 23,196 valid international standards applied worldwide
  • 785 technical committees (TC) and subcommittees (SC) to develop the standards

What are ISO standards?

ISO standards are international standards that help to improve the quality and safety of goods and services and, not least, to facilitate their exchange between countries and companies. In addition, standardization is intended to promote cooperation between institutions and companies in business, technology and science.

ISO standards set requirements for the quality of products, the performance of services, as well as for management systems and the processes involved in the fields of technology, production, environment, occupational health and safety, medicine, compliance and food safety, among others. Their application has an impact on practically every company and private household. In addition to the International Organization, according to the WTO (World Trade Organization), two other organizations can develop and publish international standards: IEC (often in cooperation with ISO) in electrical engineering and ITU in telecommunications.

The developed standards (or draft standards) are published, among others, in the monthly ISO Bulletin and in the Standards Handbooks. For identification purposes, they are given a number between 1 and 99999 in addition to their publisher abbreviation (e.g. ISO or IEC). Thus, according to a decision by the International Organization for Standardization, all major standards that can be certified end in 01.

In companies, ISO 9001 is one of the best-known ISO standards. It was first published in 1987 as the basis for implementing and certifying a quality management system (then known as the "Model for Quality Assurance Systems") and has been revised several times, some extensively, most recently in 2015. The ISO Survey 2019 records nearly 1 million valid ISO 9001 certificates worldwide during the period covered.

Anyone who frequently takes photographs is familiar with the ISO standards, for example, from the setting of light sensitivity. It is defined in ISO 5800. Derived from this, in photography there are settings such as ISO 6400 for very light-sensitive shots in the dark.

How are ISO standards created?

  1. Preparatory stage/Proposal stage (NP - New Work Item Proposal)
    The responsible standards committee or subcommittee collects and evaluates new standardization proposals.
  2. Working Draft (WP)
    A working group of experts prepares the first drafts.
    Committee stage (CD - Committee Draft)
    The standards committee, consisting of national representatives, prepares a committee draft.
  3. Enquiry stage (DIS - Draft International Standard)
    The standards committee prepares a survey draft and publishes it for comment and voting. If member approval remains below 75%, a second DIS is prepared. An approved DIS can usually already be purchased, in Germany from Beuth Verlag.
  4. Approval stage (FDIS - Final Draft International Standard)
    The standards committee prepares the final draft and publishes it for comment and voting. If the FDIS is approved by a two-thirds majority of the members, it goes to the publication stage. The FDIS stage may be skipped if necessary if the DIS is very widely accepted.
  5. Publication stage (ISO standard)
    The international standard is published, including in the monthly ISO Bulletin and in the so-called Standard Handbooks.

After five years at the latest, it is checked whether the content of a standard is still state of the art. If there is a need for improvement, the standard is revised. If the standard cannot be updated in a revision with reasonable effort, it is withdrawn (after a transition period) and replaced by a new standard.

What does DIN EN ISO mean?

The standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization have international validity. If they are recognized within the EU, the abbreviation "EN" is added to the standard. If the ISO and EN standards are also adopted by a national standardization body, such as the German DIN, the standard bears their additional abbreviation, e.g. "DIN EN ISO".

The German DIN standard is known to consumers primarily for paper formats, for example DIN A4. Such a sheet of paper has the standardized dimensions of 210 x 297 millimeters. In general, paper formats are standardized according to DIN 476 in Germany, EN 20216 in Europe and ISO 216 internationally.

Did you know that DQS emerged in 1985 from the DIN (German Institute for Standardization) and the German Society for Quality (DGQ)?

Ute Droege

DQS expert for quality management systems, long-time auditor and experienced trainer for ISO 9001.