Servicio de Información Comunitario sobre Investigación y Desarrollo - CORDIS

Technology and infrastructures policy in the knowledge-based economy - Standardisation and codification

The case study on ISO standards implementation emphasizes the importance of the way economic agents conceive the role played by industrial standards in the organization. If standards are considered as constraints by the firm, conformity process will follow the strict application of the normative document. Then, quality code-book is viewed as a technical requirement imposed by the institutional environment of the firm.

A consequence of such a centralized vision of ISO code-book leads to a higher inertia in terms of organisation change. Resistance to change was, indeed, particularly stronger in SMEs sharing the vision of the ISO code-book as an external constraint. Thus an important part of the failure in ISO certification process comes from this attitude.

In this perspective, relevant policy measures could be the following:
- Extending the process of appropriation by economic actors through specific governmental actions (role of Squalpi from the Ministry of Industry or AFNOR in France). It seems important to inform enterprises of the true goal of organisational standards such as ISO devoted to the improvement of the system of management in accordance to their internal objectives.

- Opening the participation of economic actors such as small firms in the work of norms determination in order to facilitate the diffusion.

- Creating a normative pre-competitive co-operation at the European level. On the same order of magnitude than the big R&D pre-competitive European programmes from the eighties, a more specific action concerning now a "normative" framework could be imagined. In a competitive environment characterised by globalisation and a very high rate of technical progress, an ex ante normalisation (before products, technologies and property rights) could be a powerful tool in Europe for collective codification of knowledge and construction of common references in order to stimulate inter-enterprises relationships.

Also, several questions concerning the implementation of quality assurance approach such as ISO 9000 in SMEs can be derived from the cases studies. Some of them have consequences in terms of public support devoted to industrial policy:

- Without complete information about strategies of support for SMEs at the European level it could be interesting to build up a database reflecting the differences between European countries. Such a study should be useful in order to determine the possible role of the EU. In the adoption of quality assurance for SMEs. An inference of the former question is the necessity to produce economic studies on the efficiency of quality approaches on the performance of the firms concerned. Few evaluations have been carried out in European countries compared to the United States, but this basis appears necessary for the efficiency of a political action in that direction.

- Mainly two types of quality justifications are deducted from our empirical investigation. There are firms, on the one hand, who are motivated by the commercial side of the ISO referential. On the other hand other enterprises consider mainly that ISO norms are a powerful lever for starting an organizational change. Pure commercial label or organizational norms, a political perspective for public support could be the opportunity to make the distinction and concentrate subsidies on a particular category of firms. On the same order, most of the time the success of the implantation of quality assurance is related to the efforts realized by the firm in terms of new tools of management. For instance, an activity based costing approach or a control system such as A.B.M. prepare the firm to a representation in terms of process. Such a representation facilitates the adoption of a quality assurance approach most of the time based on the notion of process mastery.

Another question concerns the optimal date for introducing quality approach in SME in regards with the maturity of the organisational structure. If we refer with a classical result in terms of dynamic of organisational change, most of the firms start with an organic shape of structure (entrepreneurial structure) to a more bureaucratic form such as functional or divisional shape. Very often this evolution is due to a growth in terms of activity (market, number of references,...). Is the quality insurance more compatible with a specific type of organisation. Is there a risk of incompatibility between ISO norms and adhocratic types of organisation. After identifying specific population of firms and beyond the question of the optimal stage of development we may added the notion of limited human resources for a quality function in SME. In order to improve the diffusion of normalisation in some industrial sectors a regional assistance could be elaborate by providing human resources in SMEs, quality experts from consular institution (Chambers of Commerce) sharing there missions between several enterprises.


Patrick COHENDET, (Professor)
Tel.: +33-3-90242189
Fax: +33-3-90245001
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