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Management And Training

Standards Versus Operating Systems

May 05, 2011
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In my travels and in working with a variety of clients around the country, I am often asked this question: What''s the difference between a standard and an operating system?

I think this question frequently comes up because our industry is still new to the idea of a true quality standard — one developed through a consensus-based process for the cleaning and facility management industry and administered by a not-for-profit such as ISSA.

Up until ISSA''s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) was developed and introduced in 2007, the industry largely depended on various operating systems — either created by individual cleaning organizations or consultants — to set forth each cleaning organization''s management systems, processes and procedures.

So, going back to the question at hand: What is the difference, then, between a standard and an operating system?

The answer is not simple; there are significant differences between a standard and an operating system, but there are also some similarities and examples of overlap, which help explain the confusion.

To best answer this question, I will explain using four points.

1. Setting Criteria Versus Meeting Criteria

A standard sets forth broad-based objective measures and criteria.

CIMS, for example, includes five principles — six for CIMS-Green Building (GB) — with corresponding criteria for each that describe what a successful cleaning organization has to have in place to comply with the standard.

Operating systems tend to describe the details — products, tools, processes, etc. — for achieving compliance with a standard.

2. Prescriptive Versus Non-prescriptive

Well-drafted standards, such as CIMS, do not specify how organizations should achieve compliance with the standard''s criteria, meaning they are non-prescriptive.

CIMS does not require specific products, tools, equipment or procedures that must be used in order to meet its criteria; its goal is to act simply as a quality framework.

Each organization retains the flexibility to choose how it can best meet the Standard''s requirements.

Cleaning organizations are free to select manufacturers, distributors, products, processes and educational tools that best assist them in complying with the Standard.

While an operating system could be either prescriptive or non-prescriptive, most tend to lean toward the prescriptive.

Since they are primarily operationally focused, many operating systems call for a specific manufacturer''s products, tools, equipment and systems by brand and require organizations to use those.

3. Profit Versus Not-for-profit

CIMS is developed on consensus-based criteria and is administered by ISSA, a not-for-profit association founded in 1923.

ISSA administration ensures that there is no commercial bias to any group.

An operating system might be run for profit by an individual or company; or, it may not.

Operating systems vary and can be owned and/or run in many different forms.

4. Third-party Assessment Versus No Assessment

Organizations applying for CIMS certification are certified to a standard by an independent, third-party assessor.

An operating system might have a compliance aspect or might not; it may have third-party involvement or may not.

Although there are many important differences between standards and operating systems, the two are actually complementary.

A standard is open, well-defined and structured, while operating systems tend to be less so, varying widely depending on the system.

Operating systems are very useful to support compliance to a standard.

CIMS also recognizes and complements existing industry programs.

Since CIMS is a framework for assessing an entire organization, existing certification programs and operating systems can play an important role in helping an organization demonstrate compliance with the Standard.

Jim Peduto is the president of Matrix Integrated Facility Management LLC and the co-founder of the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences (AICS). AICS is the registrar for ISSA''s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) certification program. Visit for more information.

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