Companies need management systems to link strategies to operations. A management system starts by defining a strategy followed by translating it into specific objectives that are accomplished via certain resources. During the execution, the management will monitor and control the performance and then periodically assess the adequacy of that strategy and act accordingly (Norton & Robert 2008). Within this context, companies adapt different internal systems, frameworks and models to fulfil the different needs of their stakeholders (Karapetrovic & Jonker 2003).
The purpose of this article is firstly, to provide a definition for the term ‘Integrated Management System’, secondly, to critically evaluate it in order to understand its advantages and disadvantages and finally, to examine the barriers that may hinder the implementation process.
Integrated Management System: A Definition
A formal definition for an Integrated Management System was provided by Kaplan and Norton (2008) as
“An integrated set of managerial processes and tools that a company uses to develop its strategy, translate it into operational actions, and to monitor and improve the effectiveness of both” (Norton & Robert 2008).
Adapting to an integrated management system will allow the more effective managing of the shared resources, e.g. human, financial, information and infrastructure, unifying their management so as to better achieve the company’s strategy (Almeida et al. 2014).
The history of such an argument started when ISO (International Organization Standardization) launched its environmental management standard, ISO 14001, in 2004 which was later supported by other standards such as Food Safety Management (ISO 22000) and Social Responsibility (ISO 26000) (Gianni & Gotzamani 2015).
Generally speaking, companies can integrate complete systems or partial systems together. For all such integration, a clear integration strategy is required that includes the scope and the sequence of integrating the different systems (Gianni & Gotzamani 2015). Almeida et al. (2014) argued that the most adapted integrated management system is the one that combines the Quality Management System (QMS), the Environmental Management System (EMS) and the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Management System under one umbrella. The integration usually starts with ISO 9001 because it is the most widely applied, one where more than 1,000,000 companies had achieved the recognition of ISO 9001 certification by the end of 2009 (Sampaio et al. 2012). Achieving the certificate requires conducting a gap analysis to understand the existing performance with respect to the requirements of the ISO standard itself, followed by a two-stage assessment process by a certification body. The certificate is valid for three years in which regular surveillance audits by external auditors is conducted to ensure that the system is still in place and is used for continual improvement (BSI Group 2013).
Advantage and Disadvantages of an Integrated Management System
The need to an integrated management system has been studied and verified thoroughly in the literature. Broadly speaking, companies use an integrated management system to improve their performance, for example Kaplan and Norton (2008) pointed out that having different clustered management systems is the main reason for companies’ underperformance, and the complexity of having multiple systems might lead to a lower performance efficiency (Zeng et al. 2007). Additionally, having segregated systems is a reason for not achieving continuous improvement (Fassoula & Rogerson 2003; Zeng et al. 2011).
The successful implementation of an integrated management system can result in many internal and external rewards.
Internally, an integrated system means more simplification and standardization for the auditing and certification processes instead of having multiple audits when managing each system separately (Karapetrovic & Jonker 2003; Zeng et al. 2007; Zeng et al. 2011; Rebelo et al. 2013). Additionally, multiple separated systems can result in duplicate efforts, and the associated management costs and documentation (Zeng et al. 2011; Almeida et al. 2014), leading to bureaucracy as a result of that system redundancy (Rebelo et al. 2013; Almeida et al. 2014). Finally, an integrated system will allow a better resource utilization and hence can improve employees’ motivation and satisfaction (Fassoula & Rogerson 2003; Rebelo et al. 2013).
Externally, the integrated management system, if appropriately set up, can help the companies to stay in compliance with laws and legislations in a way that is more demonstrable than having segregated systems (Zeng et al. 2011), Additionally, such an integrated system is considered as a fundamental step in achieving sustainable development of the company because it encourages the company to add the social dimension to its business (Rebelo et al. 2013). Furthermore, such a social dimension will provide a better brand image that can be used in marketing and promotion, and hence help to achieve better stakeholders’ satisfaction (Rebelo et al. 2013).
The above advantages can be countered by many disadvantages. Gianni and Gotzamani (2015) conducted a thorough literature review in this area and found that the major drawbacks of an integrated management system come from implementing a predefined integrated system that was developed by external consultants, which does not fit the real need of the company, and can result in incompatibility between the new and the existing systems. Additionally, they argued that a successful integrated system needs huge efforts to update the relevant documentation which may be at the expense of improving another important activity in the company (Gianni & Gotzamani 2015). Finally, Almeida et al. (2014) argued that an integrated management system might lead to a negative consequence for the innovation process inside the company which might be fully expressed if the management systems are managed separately.
Integrated Management System: Implementations’ Barriers
The successful implementation of an integrated system depends on overcoming different barriers. Zeng et al. (2011) classified these barriers under two main categories which are: the available human resource and the existing culture in the company.
On the human resources side, the barriers include the lack of enough resources to start and maintain the integration process (Gianni & Gotzamani 2015) in addition to the lack of top management commitment and support (Zeng et al. 2011; Garengo & Biazzo 2013). These points were also emphasized by Sampaio et al. (2012) who discussed the importance of the adequate training about the integration guidelines, audits and certification (if any).
On the cultural side, which is the collective system of values, morals, beliefs and behaviours inside the company, Zeng et al. (2011) discussed how this pillar plays a role in supporting the integration system or hindering it, where resistance to change will delay the implementation process (Sampaio et al. 2012). Moreover, the performance of the integrated system might decline over time due to the change in the culture and the awareness of the management and the employees (Gianni & Gotzamani 2015).
Another barrier comes from the external environment in some countries, such as the lack of qualified consultants, auditors and certification bodies to help in that integration process (Sampaio et al. 2012).
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