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What Is An ISO Audit? Here Is All You Need To Know

Let our complete ISO audit 101 guide answer all your questions about ISO standards and certifications. How much does it cost? What are the benefits? We have all the answers and provide you with helpful tips for a successful audit.

Nicky Liedtke

by Nicky Liedtke | June 16, 2022 | Reading time: 11 minutes

What Is an ISO Audit?

Depending on which industry or sector you work in, it is likely that you have come across one or several of the so-called ISO standards and certifications. If you are wondering what they entail and what an ISO audit even is, we have got you covered.

To begin with, there exists no single and universal ISO audit or standard. Instead, being ISO certified endorses an organization or business by validating that its processes, services or documentations are in alignment with the agreed-upon industry standards. ISO standards and certifications carry a lot of authority, as the organization is an international body that acts independently and is non-governmental. Founded in 1947, ISO stands for International Organization of Standardization and unites national standards bodies from 167 different countries across the globe.

The international standards that ISO publishes are carefully developed and a reaction to the ever changing industry and public landscape. In response to the spreading of the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, the organization released a guideline for the development of safer Covid testing methods in 2022.

ISO aims to ensure the quality and safety of products and services within a wide range of sectors. Covering multiple industries – from food safety to environmental or risk management – ISO is first and foremost a network that aspires to “make lives easier, safer and better”.

An ISO audit is the means by which you can achieve an ISO certification. Use an ISO audit to check whether your strategies and achievements meet the required standards and either get certified from there on or continue working on your objectives.

You want to learn more about ISO and the benefits your company can reap from a standardized quality and management review? We inform you on how to prepare and pass an ISO certification audit and fulfill ISO requirements.

In this guide, we will discuss:

1. Why ISO audits are important

2. Which types of ISO audits exist

3. Common ISO requirements

4. How to get ISO certified successfully

4.1 What it means to be ISO certified

4.2 How much an ISO certification costs

4.3 How long it takes to be ISO certified

5. How to best prepare and conduct ISO audits

Two QM team members prepared for the ISO audit

Why Are ISO Audits Important?

ISO certifications are invaluable assets to any organization as they can influence a brand’s image positively. Proving that a product or service adheres to agreed-upon standards builds consumer trust and ensures an organization’s recognition on the market.

In order to get ISO certified you need to perform ISO audits to control

  • the quality of your products or operations (e.g. work on implementing a quality management system (QMS)),
  • and regulate current practices in accordance with ISO standards,
  • work on management strategies regarding global challenges (e.g. environmental, data security, etc.).

ISO Audits have a clear purpose: they help you to assess your progress and evaluate your internal procedures. An internal audit process is valuable not only to ensure ISO compliance, but also to keep track of your operations. This way you can continuously figure out what works and what does not, implement corrective actions and optimize your mechanisms. By implementing a standardized system and regularly ensuring its upkeep, you can save time and money in the long run and lead an efficient business.

The Different Types of ISO Audits

There are several types of ISO audits and most of them are included in every ISO standard certification process. There are generally three types of audits that you need to know about. The internal, supplier and certification audit. They all serve different purposes and are relevant in their own right.

Before you can begin thinking of the official audits, however,it is important to focus on the implementation of ISO standards first. Getting ISO certified is rewarding and beneficial, but it is also a lengthy process that should be kicked off appropriately. You can begin your ISO journey internally or get in touch with a consultant for expert advice. Ask questions, set a system in motion to fulfill the requirements and make a plan.

Once you have completed this step, it is time to get familiar with the audit types that await you:

  1. The First Party Audit

    A first party audit is to be carried out within your organization and is widely known as the internal audit. During such an audit, it is common to check up on structures surrounding risk management, varying operation processes, quality control and objectives, as well as documentation or resources.

    Internal audits can’t simply be carried out whenever; they need to be scheduled and performed by an internal auditor. This auditor is usually part of a designated department, however, the position can also be filled by an external auditing team.

    First party audits are especially important for the standards ISO 9001:2015, ISO 45001 or ISO 14001, but just as well for a plethora of other standards. They serve your organization well and are important for healthy internal processes.

    Often, internal audits can also function as gap analyses to identify operational weaknesses within your company. Internal audits are incredibly useful and can highlight structural problems that you otherwise may not have uncovered on time.

  2. The Second Party Audit

    The second party or supplier audit is important for manufacturers or retailers when assessing new potential suppliers. Auditors look out for health and safety strategies and appropriate manufacturing processes. The general rule is that as long as there is a purchasing process involved in your operations a supplier audit will necessarily be conducted.

    The standards and regulations vary from industry to industry and supplier audits should be conducted every two years on average. This way the supplier's practices can be properly observed for standard compliance. Usually third party auditors will carry out the inspections, however, they can also be performed by a company’s internal team.

    There exist three different types of supplier audits:

    1. For an announced audit, the company is aware that an inspection is happening ahead of time. This means that the organization has time to prepare which can influence the authenticity of the audit.
    2. Unannounced audits, as the name suggests, occur spontaneously and without warning. As there is no preparation time, the inspection results may be more realistic and provide a greater insight into the day-to-day operations.
    3. Whereas announced and unannounced inspections are site audits, desktop audits are conducted remotely. They check documentations or certifications in order to make sure suppliers are meeting required standards.

  3. The Third Party Audit

    Also known as certification audit, the third party audit is carried out by a certification body that, in turn, also needs to be accredited and officially recognised. Certification audits are performed every 3 years to oversee standard compliance. Broken down into two stages, the third party audit will generally only be carried out if an organization can prove that it has implemented a management system for 2-6 months.

    In an initial stage, the desk audit, documents are checked for completeness. Following that up in stage two, ISO auditors conduct a compliance audit where they examine procedures, instructions and records.

    These two steps are crucial and if your company passes them without complaints, the inspectors of the certification body will recommend your company for an ISO certification. However, the journey is never complete. ISO certificates are generally valid for three years before they need to be renewed. In the meantime your company will be regularly evaluated and audited. In the fourth year, a re-certification audit will be carried out.

Young inspector conducting desktop ISO audit

ISO Standards, Their Requirements And Examples

Since its founding days, ISO has published over 24,000 standards within 17 sustainability goals ranging from no poverty over quality education to climate action. Since they are so manifold and varying, it is impossible to simply enumerate a general list of requirements. However, ISO themselves encourage you to view the standards as follows: Think of them as a formula that describes the best way of doing something.

The most popular standards can be found in the following 6 categories:

  • Quality management standards
  • Environmental management standards
  • Health and safety standards
  • Energy management standards
  • Food safety standards
  • IT security standards


One of the most popular and used standards is ISO 9001, a general quality management standard and part of the so-called “ISO 9000 family”. The standard acts as a base and prerequisite for many others. The IATF 16949 audit, for example, defines guidelines for a QMS in the automotive industry and can be largely understood as an addition to ISO 9001:2015. Other standards, such as ISO 13485, addressing the quality management for medical devices, also use ISO 9001 as their baseline.

ISO 9001 is a powerful and versatile standard that can be used by any kind of organization. No matter its size or field of activity. According to ISO, one million organizations across the globe adhere to ISO 9001 guidelines.

As with most standards, ISO 9001 is divided into multiple requirement chapters that support a company’s top management structure, customer relationship and process approach. As the world’s leading quality management standard, being certified with ISO 9001 helps you to build trust, offer great quality services and products and forge strong business relationships.


Whereas ISO 9001 is a quality management system, ISO 27001 details requirements for information security management systems (ISMS) and is part of the 27000 Family. Providing security for any kind of digital information, ISO 27001 can be employed in companies of any size and supports them in their goals.

Organizations can effectively minimize security risks, prevent data loss and data misuse by implementing ISO 27001. Even if you don’t get certified for the standard (something that is not obligatory), simply adhering to the requirements can greatly benefit your organization by having a strict and approved guideline of best practices to follow.

ISO Certification: All You Need To Know

What Is An ISO Certification?

Before we get into the details about ISO certifications, their processes and benefits, it is important to note that the ISO network itself does not perform certifications. The institution develops and publishes the standards upon which certifications are based, but the actual issuing is performed by an external certification body that needs to be accredited.

An ISO certification is, in essence, an endorsement for you and your organization. It proves to third parties that you comply with the standards and have taken care to implement structures to ensure your business works well, is stable and can be trusted. Depending on your line of business and the certifications obtained, this means that your services are outstanding, your products of high quality, your customers well taken care of and your results to be trusted. Such an endorsement is relevant in any field and valuable for every organization.

In order to find the perfect certification body for you, ISO recommends following the subsequent steps:

  1. In order to choose your certification body evaluate several in order to be able to make an informed decision.
  2. Further, it is important to ensure that the body is accredited.
  3. Asses whether the chosen body adheres to ​​the appropriate CASCO standard.

It also helps to be aware that not every ISO standard needs to be certified to be implemented successfully. Some ISO standards require a certification while others are voluntary.

How much does it cost to get ISO certified?

As there are so many different ISO standards, ISO certification costs vary greatly. They generally depend on the size of your organization and on how much or how little work you have already invested. Additionally, it may be that you want to get certified for more than one standard at a time, which can also drive up costs but (on occasion) bring in some discounts as well. These are some of the factors that influence your expenses:

  • organization size
  • the sector/industry in which you operate
  • annual revenue
  • number of employees
  • surveillance audits
  • cost of internal audits
  • maintenance costs

Overall, it is best if you request quotes from several certification bodies and choose the one that best suits your needs and budget.

How long does it take to get certified?

As with costs, it is difficult to predict how long it will take for your organization to be fully ISO certified. However, you can expect a timeframe anywhere from 3 to 6 months. If your business is particularly large, however, the certification process may take up to a year.

Some standards also take more time to be certified than others. It all depends on the systems and documentation you already have in place, as well as your planning and strategizing.

In general, ISO certification audits are a fairly long process that you can imagine somewhat like this:

  1. Everything starts with the internal audit. After you have completed this in accordance with your consultant’s advice, they will set up a review meeting with you in order to go forward.
  2. You remain in contact with your consultant whilst you/they prepare all the necessary documents and procedures.
  3. What follows is the so-called stage 1 assessment where documents will be reviewed.
  4. In a last step, the stage 2 assessment, an external auditor will finally observe the workings within your company in order to make sure that everything is working in accordance with the standard.

How To Prepare For, Plan And Conduct ISO Audits

As previously mentioned, getting ISO certified can be a lengthy process that requires attention and careful planning in order to be successful. With the right mindset and diligent preparation and planning however, you can conduct ISO audits effortlessly and reap the benefits – whether you choose to actually get certified or not.


By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail is a popular saying ascribed to Benjamin Franklin and it rings true. The first step to success is to prepare and plan appropriately. The more you anticipate, the more issues you can prevent from happening. This leads to smooth operations and successful management.

  • Review the ISO standard

    It should go without saying that you need to review your chosen ISO standard extensively as the first part of your preparatory work. Review it with a selected ISO management team and get to know the standard inside and out in order to be able to fulfill requirements later.
  • Implement Management Structures

    In order to successfully pass an external examination, you need to adopt the correct mindset, ingrain it into the company culture and into the employees, as all ISO standards are perpetual goals. An ISO audit is never complete, you can always optimize or at the very least maintain the standards you have set out to achieve. If you implement a structured management schedule, review operating regularly and are open to addressing issues with an open-mind, you are well on your way to a certification.
  • Perform Internal Audits Regularly

    Perform internal audits to figure out any issues, streamline your processes and prepare adequately. Be as diligent as possible, so that your certification can run smoothly.
  • Implement Corrective Actions

    As soon as you identify problems, figure out their root cause and address them. Further, develop strategies to prevent them from occurring in the future. By regularly checking for problems you are never left surprised.

It is equally important that you prepare your employees, let them know about the steps you are taking and why you are taking them so that the whole organization can work as one to implement ISO standards for a better business, more safety and higher quality.


    In order to successfully conduct an ISO audit, you need to first schedule a date and prepare your team for the audit. Inform them of your intention and give them all the necessary details regarding the standard and the audit so that they are aware of what to expect.
    Strategize with your managers about the best timing for the audit and choose auditors that carry out the inspection. You can, of course, also assign more than one auditor, depending on the size of your organization.

  3. AUDIT
    While performing the audit, make sure that the auditors pay attention to everything diligently. Have them review records, assess functions, run issue detection and interview employees. Let them formulate suggestions for corrective actions and point out areas and sites that could be improved upon.
    After the audit, the auditors will summarize their findings in a detailed report and discuss the inspection findings with you and your management team. Figure out how improvements can be made together and develop strategies.
    Once the audit is completed, it is important to circle back and review it once in a while. Remember: ISO audits are an ongoing process and optimization is always possible. These documentations are great to look back on and reflect on how far you’ve come, if you’re happy with the path you chose and if there is maybe something that still needs improvement.

Two colleagues discuss ISO inspection outcome
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Nicky Liedtke

Nicky Liedtke

Passionate about literature and writing of any kind, Nicky graduated with a master’s degree in cultural and literary studies in German, English and French and is now putting her writing and research skills to the test at Lumiform, growing and learning together with the company. In her free time she likes to work creatively with fabrics of any kind, enjoys reading, theatre and museums, making music, and can often be found swimming in all the lakes and bodies of water that Berlin has to offer.

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