How Do You Achieve the ISO Standard for Translation Services?

March 15, 2024
How Do You Achieve the ISO Standard for Translation Services?

What is the ISO standard for translation services and how do providers achieve it? For those who’ve not applied for ISO accreditation before, it may feel a little like there’s a large, mysterious mountain in your path. That’s why this article is here to show you the way. I’ll walk you through what ISO certification for translation companies means and how you can achieve it, answering all your ISO translation queries along the way.

Shall we begin? 

What Is ISO Certification?

Let’s start with the basics. ISO certification refers to certification by the International Organization for Standardization. An independent, non-governmental international organisation, it has a membership of 167 national standards bodies at the time of writing.

With a Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, ISO works through its members to develop “voluntary, consensus-based, market relevant International Standards that support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges.”

These standards cover a wide range of fields and specialisations. They provide assurance that a product, system or service meets specific requirements that have been developed and defined by experts from around the world.

Organisations apply for ISO certification through an accreditation body (rather than applying through ISO itself).

By achieving ISO certification, an organisation – such as a translation services provider – can demonstrate that its systems adhere to rigorous international standards. This provides reassurance to that organisation’s customers that they are going to receive a quality service that is delivered in line with international best practice.

What Is the ISO Standard for Translation Services? 

From its foundation in 1947, with 67 technical committees and members from 25 countries, ISO has grown to 804 technical committees and 167 member countries. There are now 24,260 international standards.

In terms of ISO certification for translation companies, a number of standards can be used to demonstrate a service’s effectiveness. We’ll look at three of these below.

ISO 9001 Translation Services: Quality Management System

When it comes to ISO 9001 translation services have the opportunity to prove the credentials of their quality management system. ISO 9001:2015 certification shows that an organisation consistently provides products and services in line with its customers’ and any applicable statutory or regulatory requirements. It also shows that the organisation has measures in place to enhance customer satisfaction.

ISO 9001 can apply to any organisation that has a quality management system in place. In the translation sector, it can be used by agencies to demonstrate their commitment to quality within the translation process and to providing outstanding customer service, with measures built in for regular monitoring and improvement. Where translation agencies hire talent from around the world, certification of this nature supports the agency to ensure consistency across international borders, making this a valuable ISO standard for translation services to attain.

ISO 17100 Translation Services

ISO 17100:2015 is the ISO translation services standard. It outlines the processes, resources and other elements at the core of a quality translation service. Certification shows that a translation service meets these standards and thus that it will meet its customers’ requirements while complying with industry best practice and applicable legislation.

ISO 17100 applies to translation services but not to interpreting services, which are covered by ISO 18841:2018. Nor does it cover machine translation post-editing (MTPE) – that’s covered by ISO 18587:2017, which I’ll talk about briefly now before moving on to how organisations can achieve ISO 17100 translation services certification.

ISO 18587 Machine Translation Post-Editing 

ISO 18587 is the MTPE ISO. It applies to content processed by machine translation systems.

ISO 18587:2017 outlines the requirements for the processes involved in human post-editing of machine translation output and for post-editors’ competencies.

An organisation that has achieved ISO 18587 certification has demonstrated the quality of its MTPE services, meaning that its customers can have faith in its processes and procedures.

For more general musings on machine translation and quality, check out the link below.

Read more: How Is Machine Translation Quality Assessed?

Is ISO-Compliant the Same as ISO-Certified?

Before we launch into how to get ISO certified as a translation service provider, it’s worth a quick clarification over terminology. Many translation services state that they are ISO-compliant. However, this is not the same as being ISO-certified. So, what’s the difference?

Well, if an organisation says that it complies with an ISO standard, all you have to go on is that company’s assertion of its quality. It says it complies with the standards, but what proof do you have?

On the other hand, an organisation that holds ISO certification has undergone a rigorous accreditation procedure. Its systems and processes have been independently examined and confirmed as meeting the requirements of the ISO standard. You’re not just taking the organisation’s word for it, but the word of an accredited body that has thoroughly tested the organisation in question.

ISO Certification and Translators: the Benefits 

ISO certification can do plenty to show to customers that a translation agency is credible. However, it can also serve individual translators well. In the experience of Tomedes, translators enjoy the confidence that working for a translation agency that holds ISO certifications gives them. It demonstrates that the agency has sound processes in place and that it focuses on quality.

This focus on quality impacts translators who work with the agency, whether as fulltime employees or as freelancer vendors. They can be confident that the agency will use standardised practices and procedures during their interactions and that systems will be in place for feedback and improvement – not just from the customer side but also from the perspective of the translators undertaking the work.

How Does ISO Certification for Translation Companies Benefit Their Customers?

ISO certification for translation companies delivers several benefits. From an internal perspective, it assures the company’s management that everything is operating to a high standard, with processes in place that meet statutory and regulatory requirements. It also means that those processes, which have been rigorously tested during the accreditation procedure, are being applied by staff across the organisation, despite their being in different countries and time zones.

The processes used during translation, just like many other business functions, can impact how successful or otherwise the outcome is. A strong approach to translation workflow management and to handling revisions, for example, is essential. So too are robust processes for hiring staff, dealing with customer queries and feedback, handling payments and all of the other aspects involved in delivering a seamless service. Holding the ISO standard for translation services also means that companies can proudly demonstrate to their clients that they are delivering a high-quality service.

In short, translation services that have attained ISO certification have a means of demonstrating their credibility and assuring new customers that their expectations will be met. Some customers may even list one or more certifications as part of their requirements – or else mark a translation company down during a tendering process for not having them.

So, where do organisations looking for 17100, 18587 or 9001 ISO certification begin? Read on to find out…

ISO Translation Case Study: How Do You Get ISO Certified as a Translation Service Provider? 

If you’re planning to achieve the ISO standard for translation services (or any other ISO certification, for that matter) then the place to start is the ISO website. There you can find out general information about the standard for which you want to apply for certification and take a glimpse at some of the documentation. You can also buy the documentation detailing the standard in full – essential reading if you’re serious about applying.

Once you’ve read the ISO standard, it’s time to undertake a full and frank internal assessment of how well (or otherwise) your translation service lives up to it. To do this, it’s helpful to nominate a lead in each department. After all, compliance is going to be an inter-departmental effort. Having a lead in each team can help you to move faster and ensure that everyone is on board and that information about the certification and accreditation process is disseminated effectively.

With your team in place, work through each part of the ISO translation services standard and assess whether you comply or not. Collect evidence as you go, so that you can show how you comply.

Once you have a full list of areas where you do and don’t comply with the standard, you can create an action plan to achieve full compliance. Proper project planning, with a core timeline and clear dependencies can ensure that the implementation of that plan runs smoothly and that you don’t end up with blockers that hold things up. Regular progress assessments are important too, to ensure that everything is on track.

It might be useful to use Tomedes as an example here, to explain the process of becoming an ISO certified translation service provider. Tomedes has obtained three ISO certifications: ISO 17100, ISO 18587 and ISO 9001. Working as a translation agency with staff and customers around the globe, it has had to ensure that its services are consistent across the world in order to obtain and maintain the certifications (renewal is required every three years with most accreditation bodies, though some renew annually instead).

A prerequisite of all of these certifications is, naturally, the provision of high-quality translation services that meet the needs of diverse clients. To this end, Tomedes sought to hire the best talent and work on refining and improving its systems, from recruitment processes to quality assurance checks on completed translations.

The organisation worked through the requirements of each ISO standard, as outlined above, before implementing a plan to ensure that it met all of those requirements. For the ISO 9001 certification, which was the first that Tomedes achieved, this meant ensuring that operations were consistent so that the company could deliver results that were not only fully compliant with international regulations, but that also produced highly satisfied customers whose needs were consistently met.

To attain ISO 17100 translation, Tomedes’ focus was on demonstrating consistently high-quality work, undertaken by language professionals with bilingual proficiency, with expertise across a diverse range of sectors.

For ISO 18587, meanwhile, the organisation demonstrated robust processes for handling machine translation work, undertaken by post-editing specialists and underpinned by quality assurance procedures every step of the way. This meets clients’ needs by ensuring they can reap the benefits of faster translation without any compromise to quality.

Of course, the work doesn’t end with achieving certification. Organisations grow and evolve continually, putting pressures on existing processes and creating the need to change and adapt. All these changes have to be implemented in such a way that they strengthen the systems that underpin the translation agency’s operations. Doing so should mean that the reaccreditation process runs smoothly, despite any organisational changes that have occurred since the previous accreditation.


How long does the process of obtaining ISO certification for a translation company typically take?

The timeline can vary significantly. It depends on how well your existing processes match up with ISO standards. We've found that thorough preparation, conducting internal audits, and navigating the formal auditing by an accrediting body can all influence the duration.

Are there specific ISO certifications recommended for freelance translators or small translation agencies?

We'd recommend looking into ISO 17100 for freelance translators or small agencies. It's designed specifically for translation services and emphasizes quality and client service, making it particularly relevant for smaller entities in the industry.

How do translation companies maintain their ISO certifications, and how frequently are re-certifications required?

Maintaining ISO certifications involves a continuous commitment to quality management and process improvement. In our experience, re-certifications come around every three years, but regular audits help ensure that we stay on track with ISO standards.

Final Thoughts

Achieving the ISO standard for translation services is a major step forward for any translation agency. It marks the company out for its quality of service, consistency and ability to satisfy its customers. ISO certification for translation companies isn’t a quick win but it is worth undertaking for those companies that want to be at the forefront of the market.

If you have any ISO translation queries that I’ve not addressed above, feel free to get in touch with Tomedes.

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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