Common supplier certification: easier said than done

Recently I wrote about suppliers who charge their customers to conduct an on-site audit. The desire to charge stems from the fact that site visits are time-consuming and resource-intense for suppliers. Many suppliers have to host multiple site visits and particularly the smaller suppliers, find them disruptive to their business. A solution has been suggested many times: common supplier certification.


Wouldn’t it be much easier if there was one common certification or supplier evaluation tool or approach that could become the standard? That way, suppliers would just need one site visit to be certified to supply all customers. What a great idea. It’s a great idea that has been attempted time and time again, but with little success. Back in the nineties when I was running the New England Suppliers Institute, an organization of customers and suppliers focused on improving business relationships, the idea surfaced. We found that we weren’t the first to think of it. For example, there was already a common certification that Minnesota Technology had developed. Maybe we could expand the use of it beyond Minnesota?


Then we ran into the roadblocks. The larger customer firms already had their own supplier audits and certifications that they were reluctant to part with. Each company felt that it had its own unique requirements that could not be addressed in a common tool. The bureaucracy at each company made adoption of a common tool very challenging. Even though individuals at many companies loved the idea in theory, in practice, it was impossible to implement. And it was not for a lack of trying to sell the concept. Sadly, one size did not fit all. In fact, within the very same company there were disagreements over certification and audit tools, let alone among companies in the same industry and among different industries. Large companies have diverse types of suppliers from many categories. What standards could possibly cover all suppliers from all categories and all industries? Certainly there are ISO 9001, AS 9003, cGMP and other certifications. But no one can agree that auditing to those standards would be sufficient. They were considered just a starting point, but not guarantee of quality or adequate supplier performance for a particular customer firm.


Trying to get firms to adopt common supplier certification is a noble, but fruitless undertaking. Various organizations have tried to make it a reality. No wonder some organizations want to charge customers for audits. Every so often, I hear about the concept again, like someone just discovered night baseball for the first time. And I think: good luck.

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