A case study of BASF Canada Inc.

ISO 9000 and beyond: A case study of BASF Canada Inc.

Van Houten, Gerry

The development and dissemination of various quality management systems in business has, until recently, been an area largely neglected by information professionals. An article by Carl E. Weise and Peter G. Stamoolis in the October 1993 edition of the Records Management Quarterly began to put an end to this neglect by explaining the importance to records management of one such quality management system–ISO 9000. It was a welcome contribution on this subject.(1)

The discussion, however, needs to be extended to incorporate other quality management systems generated both internationally, industry-wide, and internally in individual corporations. Moreover, the discussion should be specifically concentrated on documentation management, which is defined as the management of active original documents with a relatively long life expectancy. Documentation management incorporates policies, procedures, performance standards, test methods, technical papers, work instructions, etc.

Documentation management differs from records management which is defined to also include, inactive or archival records, or active records with an extremely short life span (e.g., memos, notices, etc.). Neither does documentation management include transactional, financial or inventory data (e.g., ledgers, invoices, purchase orders, cycle counts, etc.).

This article focuses on the efforts of BASF Canada Inc. (BCI) to implement quality management systems.

ISO 9000

While BCI is seeking to implement a number of quality management systems, five in particular stand out. The main elements of the ISO 9000 standards have been explained by Weise and Stamoolis, and their observations have received confirmation in other industry sources. The chemical industry has, for example, recently been focusing on ISO 9000. The entire November 1993 issue of Chemicalweek was devoted to a wide range of issues facing chemical companies seeking registration or certification under ISO 9000. BASF Corporation and BASF Canada Inc. have been concentrating their efforts on obtaining registration under ISO 9002 relating to quality assurance in production and installation.

Chemicalweek drew attention to a number of areas relevant to information professionals. An article by Rick Mullin states the following: “ISO 9000 registrations are earned and lost largely on the grounds of documentation and any change in procedure must be reflected in changes to documentation.” The article then asks the question: “Given the potential for snowballing paperwork, is ISO 9000 registration grounds for a computer upgrade?”(2)

BCI’s answer to this question is explained below. However, Mullin notes that ISO 9000 is not interested in whether a corporation chooses paper or computers to document its procedures. What ISO 9000 wants is documentation that is thorough and systematic, including identification, collection, indexing, storage, maintenance and retrieval.

All information professionals, including librarians and records managers, will immediately recognize that these words describe many of the main functions they perform. A whole new world is opening up for the skills and expertise of information professionals, in particular those with a strong orientation toward customer service and an equally strong creative bent. These skills will enable the professional to create a documentation system, including customized database design and development which meet both ISO 9000 requirements, and contributes to a company’s efficiency and productivity.


ISO 9000’s specific documentation requirements have set an example for other quality management systems. BCI is also implementing the following:

(1) Responsible Care(R) consists of seven Codes of Practice established by the Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association (CCPA) which require its members to ensure, as a condition of membership, that (a) government, industry and corporate regulations and standards are met, (b) management and employees are appropriately trained in the safe handling and storage of hazardous materials, (c) emergency response programs are in place, and (d) wastes are managed in a manner maximizing recovery, recycling and reuse. Responsible Care(R) places a heavy emphasis on health and safety and on the protection of the environment.(3) The U.S. chemical industry has a similar program.

(2) Ecology and Safety Audit (ESA) focuses on health and safety (including training), management commitment to same and the assignment of responsibility, authority and accountability both corporate and personal.(4) ESA is a standard written for BASF Corporation, and BCI is expected to meet these standards, bearing in mind Canadian federal and provincial regulatory requirements.

(3) Chairman’s Quality Award (CQA) is a BASF North American internal quality standard focusing on leadership, strategic planning, employee development, safety, the environment, process improvement, operational results and customer satisfaction.(5) CQA chiefly consists of criteria established by the 1990 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award(6) and ASO 9000.

(4) Quality Toward Excellence (QTE) is an automotive industry standard for suppliers of coatings and colorants. QTE is expected to be replaced shortly by a new set of standards called Quality System Standards (QSS). QSS is based on ISO 9001 but is far more rigorous. It incorporates elements of ISO 9004 as well as a large number of additional standards. Documentation requirements are also much stricter and more detailed than in ISO 9001.

The first two quality management systems–Responsible Care(R) and ESA–mention the need for documentation only in passing. CQA requires BASF companies such as BCI to describe the processes by which it meets the standards outlined in CQA. The great majority of these standards also requires identification of the written procedure which govern these processes.

With the exception of QSS none of these quality management systems demand the same degree of documentation as does ISO 9000, but the fact that ISO 9000 is the “premier” quality management system, sets the tone for documentation requirements in others. In effect, if a systematic documentation management system is set up to manage ISO 9000 documentation requirements, relatively little additional investment and effort are required to extend this to incorporate all quality management systems to be implemented. Regardless of which medium is chosen to perform this function–paper or electronic–only information professionals have the training and expertise to set up such a system.


BCI began the process of systematizing its documentation in the spring of 1992 following the consolidation of three separate Canadian companies into one. Previously, departments and sites produced their own documents, set their own standards and made their own determinations of what issues would be dealt with and who would be responsible for them. This resulted in little control over the document’s life cycles. Moreover, individuals and/or departments set their own standards for generating, filing, storing and retrieving documents.

The ensuing consolidation resulted in an increased level of centralization which drew attention to the different documentation styles. The decision to centralize and standardize operations also impacted on documentation and records management. It was about this same time when senior management decided to pursue the Chairman’s Quality Award and begin the process of meeting ISO 9000 requirements. This combination of factors resulted in the decision to establish a centralized and standardized policies and procedures manual. At the same time, senior management also decided to establish a policies and procedures database (although at the time it was viewed as an experiment).

Given ISO 9000 requirements, the focus on policies, procedures, and performance standards proved to be a stimulus to the development of a more general documentation system in BCI. Policies, procedures and performance standards are widely generated and reflect the way the company carries out its operations and performs its business. They encompass all company sites and departments (e.g., finance, human resources, safety, customer service, materials management, engineering, marketing, laboratories, production, quality assurance/systems, to name a few).

There can be no systematic documentation system without a classification system. At BCI, an alphanumeric classification system was established so that each policy, procedure and performance standard could be given a unique number, while simultaneously keeping similar documents together. The letters reflect the site of a major company division, while the first two of four numbers reflect the department.

The alphanumeric policy number had to be unique for the purposes of the policies and procedures database. Either the numbers or the letters could be shared, but no two documents could have the same combination of letters and numbers.

The format for all policies, procedures and performance standards was standardized.

A system of review and approval was established. Documents became a part of the policies and procedures manual or database when the original was signed by the appropriate level of management and returned to the policies and procedures administrator. The administrator was responsible for sending hard copies to major BCI sites, and for updating the database, on a monthly basis. By April 1994, more than 600 policies and procedures had been officially approved and entered into the manual and database; 150 were in circulation and another 300 had been identified. The number of policies, procedures and performance standards can be expected to grow as BCI turns its attention to complying with those quality management system standards for which there are as yet no corresponding policies, procedures and performance standards.

BCI now has the knowledge of what policies, procedures and performance standards are being used throughout its Canadian operations. Furthermore, this inventory allows the company to determine what more has to be done to meet the requirements of the quality management system it is implementing.


Several BCI sites are targeting the end of 1994 or early 1995 to apply for certification under ISO 9002. What documentation will be required? ISO 9000 requires four types (levels) of documentation: (1) the quality manual, (2) policies procedures and performance standards, (3) work instructions and (4) tags and labels. Up to the end of 1993, most of BCI’s attention was on policies, procedures and performance standards (i.e., level two documentation).

Tags and labels (level four) cannot be entered into a manual or database, although keeping records of them is legally required. Their proper use, and training in their proper use, are covered in policies and procedures.

Work instructions (level three) detail how a given operational task is to be performed. At BCI, they take the form of Total Job Analysis (TJA), Total Safety Analysis (TSA) and laboratory test methods. These have not yet been systematized at BCI, although a database has been developed and work is underway to standardize the formats and control them centrally.

The development of the policies and procedures manual and the database, together with the decision to seek ISO 9000 certification, has stimulated development of quality manuals for each department and site. The quality manual will address specific ISO 9000 standards, which will become the first section of the Quality Systems Manual. The second section will consist of the department’s or site’s policies, procedures and performance standards, while the third section will consist of work instructions.


For the information professional, the need to meet the requirements of ISO 9000 and other quality management systems implies a need to develop a comprehensive systemized documentation management system, i.e., a library of documents. Such a library can be either in paper format, or in electronic format (i.e., a “virtual library”), or in both forms simultaneously.

As quality management systems do not specify what format should be used, it is possible for companies to seek ISO 9000 registration using a paper format. However, maintaining a paper documentation system has proven to be difficult, and may have caused some companies to fail certification.

BCI has chosen to automate in the form of documentation databases. The policy and procedures database was the first, but others for work instructions, test methods, technical papers, etc. are to follow.

With automated documentation systems, the most difficult part of the process is starting it. Companies wanting an automated system have to make a capital investment in a computerized system whose immediate benefit is not always obvious. Often only time and experience tells a company that the documentation software it has acquired is fulfilling its objective. There are some national and international standards which companies need to be aware of, and it will be necessary to re-educate employees to think “electronic” rather than paper.

Experience has shown that while it may be difficult to establish an automated documentation system, once established and learned, it has advantages which far outweigh a paper-based system. The disadvantages of a paper-based records system are well-known to information professionals: loss or misplacing of documents, slow retrieval, storage costs, increased duplication. All of these are overcome in an automated system once employees are appropriately “re-educated.”

BCI’s answer to the question, “Is ISO 9000 registration grounds for a computer upgrade?” is “yes.” In the final analysis, the payoff translates into longer-term efficiency and competitiveness. Upon receiving ISO 9002 registration at its site in Geismar, Louisiana, Carl Jennings, President of the Chemicals Division of BASF Corporation, said, “This ISO registration has already improved the quality of our products and processes, will reduce costs and give us an additional competitive advantage in the marketplace.”(7)

At issue as far as ISO 9000 and other quality management systems are concerned is the requirement of documenting control and standards. This can be done with paper, but it is much quicker and easier to regulate and control the review, approval, and modification process electronically. For the company, it means a far quicker distribution and retrieval of company documents and a sharp reduction in the time required to file, store and retrieve information. Only electronic copies of the signed documents are given official status in the document database.


It is all well and good to decide to meet ISO 9000 and other quality management system requirements, but it is also necessary to evaluate the degree to which policies, procedures, and performance standards comply with a given standard.

To make this determination, BCI catalogued and graded its policies, procedures, and performance standards. Each document was examined for content to determine which standard of what quality management system was addressed. Some policies, procedures, and performance standards had relevance to all the quality management systems, but others applied only to a few. For example, waste management is a very important issue to CQA, Responsible Care(R) and ESA, but is barely mentioned in the broad category. By the same token, ISO 9000 attaches great importance to design control and review, nonconformity and corrective action, inspection and testing and, as previously mentioned, documentation control. These issues are irrelevant in other quality management systems used by BCI.

Each policy, procedure, and performance standard was assigned the standard number of the quality management system to which it most closely resembled. This was done on a spreadsheet program, with the first three columns containing basic document information (namely, title, issue date and policy number). A column was set up for each of the quality management systems. The number of the specific standard which the document most closely met was put into these columns (see the extremely simplified example in Table I using CQA and ISO 9001).(Table I omitted)

Another set of columns was then set up to reflect the degree of compliance with the standard indicated by the number. As illustrated in Table II, policy, procedure, and performance standards were assigned one of four numbers.

Inevitably, a fair number of policy, procedure, and performance standards were about issues of little or no importance to a given quality management system. In Table I the Authorization of Approvals policy corresponds fully to standard 2.1 (re: inputs to the strategic planning process). In contrast, this policy is not covered by any ISO 9001 standard; hence it was assigned N/A and 0.

The policy on Manufacturing Capabilities addressed standards in both CQA and ISO 9001. It met one standard fully (9.2 re: determination of customer requirements). In addition, it met another standard (in this case standard 2.4 re: long-term objectives) partially. If the policy had met both standards fully, the compliance correlation column would have shown 1(2.4) instead of 3(2.4). If a policy met more than one standard partially as illustrated in the example of Material Safety Data Sheets in Table I, it would be assigned the number 2, with the other standard numbers in brackets.

By assigning a standard number to its policy, procedure and performance standards and by denoting their degree of compliance to a given quality management system, BCI was able to determine what standards had to be addressed to comply fully with a given quality management system’s requirement.

The importance of this evaluation of policy, procedure, and performance standards is obvious. BCI, having established a centralized systematic documentation management system, finds itself well placed to focus on the weaknesses and shortcomings of its own documents. Without such a system, it would have found itself struggling with documents produced by individuals otherwise unaware that others were working on similar types of subjects.


Documentation management in an era of quality management systems is both a challenge and an opportunity to the information profession. For roughly the last 10 years, traditional library jobs have been disappearing. At the same time, information professionals are being confronted by other information-related professions, which confuse information with information technology.

Information professionals know that information has an intrinsic quality, separate from the means and media used to store, retrieve or deliver it. Users need information regardless of format or medium. We should see quality management systems as a golden opportunity to reassert the information professionals preeminence in the information field–and pursue it aggressively.

We have an advantage over every other information-related profession for two reasons. First, we know how to interface between information technology and the individual and/or corporate user. Second, we have expertise and skills in organizing information. By organizing information in a professional, user-friendly way, we place ourselves in a position to influence the development of information technology, by providing quality to the flow and delivery of information in today’s information-driven economy.


1. Weise, Carl E. and Stamoolis, Peter G., “ISO 9000: An Opportunity for Records Management Professionals,” Records Management Quarterly, Volume 27, Number 4, 3-11, October 1993.

2. Mullin, Rick, “Documentation Management: An Argument for Automation?” Chemicalweek, Volume 163, Number 17, 57-58, November 10, 1993.

3. Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association, Responsible Care: A Total Commitment, Ottawa, September 1992.

4. BASF Corporation, 1993 Ecology and Safety Audit Guidelines, Parsippany, New Jersey, Revised January 21, 1993.

5. BASF Corporation, Chairman’s Quality Award Process: Application Guidelines 1993, Parsippany, New Jersey, 1993.

6. National Institute of Standards and Technology, 1990 Application Guidelines: Malcolm Baldrige Award, Gaithersburg, Maryland, 1990.

7. BASF Corporation, “Geismar site achieves ISO registration.” BASF information, March 1994.



0–Not applicable

1–Complete correspondence

2–Partial correspondence

3–Full correspondence to at least one standard plus another partially.

AUTHOR: Gerry van Houten is responsible for documentation management at BASF Canada Inc. He has been involved in designing the documentation system including the establishment of a classification system and a thesaurus. Benchmarking BCI documents against the various quality management systems is an integral part of his job.

Mr. van Houten has also been an inside sales representative, a translator and a researcher. He has published a book on Canadian economic history.

He is a member of the Toronto Chapter of ARMA as well as the Special Libraries Association and the Canadian Library Association.

Mr. van Houten holds a Master of Library Science from the University of Toronto.

Copyright Association of Records Managers Administrators Inc. Oct 1994

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