Digitalization

Integrated management systems (IMS)

Discover the advantages and navigate the integration process towards organizational excellence

7 minutes06/23/2023

Since its inception in 1987, with the introduction of the first management system standard ISO 9001, the field of management systems has undergone a significant evolution. Initially focused on quality, environmental, and occupational health and safety management until the early 2000s, the landscape changed in 2005 with the inclusion of many new systems. At the same time, the range of management expectations has steadily expanded, requiring compliance from organizations of all sizes and across geographic boundaries.

In response to the pressing challenges of our time, organizations are increasingly implementing a wide range of management systems that go beyond ISO 9001, 14001, 45001, and 50001 - the traditional four major EHSQ management systems. As the number of management systems increases, managing their requirements separately or in parallel becomes increasingly challenging. The growing complexity of their requirements makes it impractical to manage them individually. Operating multiple systems in isolation leads to duplicated documentation efforts, increased regulatory risk, and decreased employee and stakeholder buy-in. This inefficiency underscores the need for a different approach—an integrated one that can effectively address the wide range of requirements.

Harmonizied structure: The basis of integration

With the growing number and complexity of management systems, adopting an integrated approach has become not only essential, but also more practical than ever. All ISO-normed management systems developed or revised since 2012 follow the Harmonized Structure (HS), formerly known as the High-Level Structure (HLS). This framework includes basic requirements that apply to all management systems, as well as key conceptual definitions. These requirements include aspects such as organizational context, leadership, risk, and opportunity assessment, goal setting, resource allocation, competence, communication, documentation, operational control, monitoring, measurement, analysis and evaluation, internal audits, management review, and continuous improvement. The HS organizes these requirements into chapters 4-10, following the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. As a result, ISO standards for management systems now have a consistent core text and structure.

Structure of ISO standards according to the Harmonized Structure:

Each ISO standard further refines this structure to address specific subject areas. Specific requirements are added, often highlighted by new (sub)chapters, which provide clarity and focus for each management system within the relevant ISO standards:

A matter of necessity

The harmonized structure highlights the significant similarities in the requirements of the different management systems. Without integrated regulation, parallel structures, processes, responsibilities, and documentation inevitably lead to redundancies and inefficient duplication of work. An integrative approach is therefore essential to fully exploit the considerable synergy potential between management systems and to optimize their use.

Definition: Integrated Management Systems

Integrated Management System (IMS) facilitates the harmonization of requirements from multiple systems, achieved through coordinated cross-cutting regulations within a comprehensive framework. This integration enables a consistent approach to management that promotes efficiency and effectiveness across multiple domains.

An IMS has the following three defining characteristics:

  • It combines the requirements of multiple management systems into a single system.

    ISO-standardized systems such as ISO 9001, 14001, 50001, or 45001 can be seamlessly integrated alongside industry-specific standards (e.g., IATF 16949) and other management approaches (e.g., Eco-Management and Audit Scheme, ISO 31000, PAS 2060).

  • It includes coordinated cross-functional and cross-departmental regulations for processes, responsibilities, and the associated documentation

    It addresses both common requirements outlined in the Harmonized Structure (HS) and specific criteria related to areas such as customer satisfaction in QMS or environmental and energy efficiency in EMS or EnMS. As a result, an IMS meets the requirements of all the underlying systems.

  • An IMS directs an organization towards the various objectives pursued in the underlying management systems.

    Coordination is achieved through defined prioritization, for example, in relation to quality, environmental, energy, occupational health and safety considerations in procurement requirements.

How to identify integration potential step by step

While ISO-standardized management systems offer uniform requirements and structures to facilitate system integration, both the Harmonized Structure (HS) and individual ISO standards lack explicit guidance on how to integrate these requirements effectively.

To assess the integration potential of requirements in your current or future management systems, it is advisable to start with requirement mapping. This mapping enables the categorization of normative requirements based on their integration potential, which determines the level of integration. The following sections provide comprehensive guidance for these steps, accompanied by concrete examples of integrating the four major EHSQ systems.

Step 1: Requirement mapping

An essential approach to uncovering integration opportunities between the normative requirements of different management systems is the use of comparison matrices or equivalence tables. These matrices are structured in accordance with normative chapters 4-10 and facilitate a comprehensive comparison of the requirements of the management systems to be integrated.

The mapping process reveals both similarities and differences in the structure and content requirements of the systems. These insights enable the identification of integration potentials within these requirements. At the same time, mapping fosters a deeper understanding of the structure and content of the management system requirements and standards to be unified within an IMS. Initially, the mapping can be performed at the chapter level, followed by a more detailed mapping at the requirement level within the chapters.

Step 2: Categorize standard requirements

The mapping exercise of step 1 allows for the identification of similarities and differences in the structure and content of requirements, which facilitates the subsequent categorization of the standard requirements. This categorization process plays a critical role in systematizing the complex requirements, identifying patterns and relationships, and gaining valuable insights to inform integration decisions.

Integration potential

Integration potential refers to the feasibility of implementing coordinated cross-functional regulations for the requirements of different management systems. It is influenced by several factors, including the alignment of normative requirements. Integration potential can be classified as high, medium, low, or non-existent.

Step 3: Determine the level of integration

Having identified the potential for integration, the next step is to determine the level of integration. The level of integration reflects the extent to which an organization holistically coordinates processes, resources, and documentation to meet the requirements of multiple management systems.

In general, there are three levels of integration:

  1. Full integration: This is the case when a management system requirement is regulated for all management systems included in the IMS. The level of integration is very high.
    Example: An integrated quality, environmental, energy, occupational health and safety protection policy.
  2. Partial integration: At this level, a management system requirement is only regulated for selected management systems within the IMS. The level of integration is medium.
    Example: An integrated policy for environment, energy, and occupational health and safety, along with a separate policy for quality.
  3. Additive integration: This level occurs when a management system requirement is regulated separately for each management system or only for a specific management system, rather than being applied to all systems. The corresponding regulation is added to the IMS, resulting in a low level of integration.
    Example: Separate policies for quality, environment, energy, and occupational health and safety. Other examples include environmental regulations specific to the EMS and hazard identification and assessment of risks and opportunities regulations specific to the OH&S management system.

Integrating IMS regulations

After determining the level of integration, it is necessary to develop regulations for the respective system requirements. If full integration is desired, cross-cutting regulations need to be developed for all management systems. In the case of partial integration, these regulations apply only to selected management systems. If a system requirement is not integrated into the IMS, a separate regulation can be created specifically for that system to fulfil its specific requirements.

There are generally two options for structuring the regulations of an IMS:

  • Standard-based structure: This form of structuring aligns with the structure of the HS (Harmonized Structure) and the developed matrix of correspondences.
  • Process-based structure: This form of structure aligns the IMS with the existing process map of the organization, ensuring that the necessary regulations are assigned to the management, core, and supporting processes.

Regardless of the structure chosen for the IMS, it is crucial to have a central location where all information and regulations related to the IMS converge. This includes not only internal guidelines and documentation but also external documents or links to registries or software solutions. This location should be easily accessible to all employees working with the IMS and have a clear structure, easy navigation, and good graphical visualization. Software solutions are helpful in this regard.

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Outlook: Benefits of an integrated management system

By adopting an IMS, organizations gain a comprehensive view of all relevant requirements, unlocking opportunities to realize synergies and avoid redundancies. This holistic approach facilitates the identification and mitigation of contradictions and minimizes friction points at process interfaces.

An IMS plays a critical role in identifying goal conflicts and potential synergies among the requirements of the underlying systems. It enables the collective regulation of these goals, such as customer satisfaction, environmental performance, and energy efficiency, through prioritization. This promotes cross-functional collaboration and increases transparency of existing regulations. Implementing an IMS eliminates inefficient and demotivating duplicate work or conflicting provisions, resulting in more efficient use of resources in terms of time and cost to operate systems.

About the authors

The Team Integrierte ManagementSysteme (TIMS) at the Zittau/Görlitz University of Applied Sciences (HSZG) is an interdisciplinary working group in the Faculty of Natural and Environmental Sciences at HSZG. Its vision is to make a significant contribution to improving sustainability management in companies and organizations. TIMS teaches and conducts research on the topic of quality, environmental, energy, and occupational health and safety management systems, and works with industry and project partners to develop integrated solutions for challenging issues in their business operations.

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