ISO 17100 and ISO 9001 certificates: do they help choose the best translation agency

Alexander Barabash Alexander Barabash Group Leader. Develops translation quality management at Palex
  • ISO 17100 and ISO 9001 certificates: do they help choose the best translation agency

So, you’ve developed a new app, finished the user manual and landing page. You know that your target audience speaks 30 languages, there’s sufficient budget for localization, and all you need to do is choose a language service provider.

Almost all LSPs on the market promise the best possible translation quality, but you don’t always have the resources to evaluate their work. For example, you may be planning to release your product in Asia, but don’t have people who speak Thai or Vietnamese in-house. Even if you have native speakers of the languages in question in your company, and you know you can trust them to provide a fair opinion of a translation, you’ll learn that there are no objective ratings of translation quality. Your reviewer may be correcting the target text, while the translators who worked on it will send you a dozen links referencing glossaries and regulations.

In this case, having a translation without grammatical or terminology errors is no longer important. What is important is working with an LSP that can adequately organize the localization process on their end. Certificates of compliance with standards is one of the guarantees of reliability and quality of work of a vendor.

Let’s say you decide to work only with certified LSPs, started to look for what’s out there and saw... that every other provider website promises that they work in compliance with the market standards. The problem is that in reality, this statement can mean anything, from just a pretty picture that’s targeted to attract clients, to a carefully planned project management and quality assurance system.

What standards are there in localization?

LSPs are certified based on two main standards: ISO 9001 and 17100.

ISO 9001 is a standard, by which any company can get certified, regardless of its field. It doesn’t have any requirements oriented on the quality of the work, rather it regulates the company’s management quality. For a company to get certified by this standard, it’s enough to set a goal and reach it, or even have a plan on how it can be reached. This can be a goal of making a one million dollar profit, nothing more. On the other hand, compliance with this standard shows how well the company’s internal processes function. If a vendor holds this certificate, you can expect that they follow seven principles of quality management.

7 interconnected QMS principles: Focus on customer, Leadership, Involvement of People, Process Approach, Continuous Improvement, Fact-Based Decision Making and Mutually Beneficial Supplier Relations

ISO 17100 sets the requirements for language service providers. It describes how a company should formulate product requirements together with the client and select the right vendor for each job. For example, someone who has no experience and education cannot be a part of any stage of the translation workflow. But for a complex medical article on orthopedics, a company may need to involve a practicing orthopedics doctor.

This standard also regulates the process that needs to be followed during the translation workflow. If an LSP follows the procedure and completes all the necessary steps, this nearly guarantees that it will provide a quality service.

The ISO 17100 standard sets the sequence of actions that should be completed during any translation process: Planning, Production, Post-Production.

LSPs that provide services to medical organizations can get certified according to the ISO 13485 standard. It regulates the requirements for manufacturers of medical equipment and can be applied to their vendors, as well. Usually, large medical companies require their providers to be certified according to ISO 13485, because it’s easier for them to follow all the regulations throughout the production chain.

This standard mainly affects LSPs in regards to documentation and quality management system. In most cases, if an agency is ISO 9001 certified, it can get a certification in ISO 13485 without any problems.

There are also regional standards that apply to LSPs located in the USA (ASTM F2575-06) and Canada (CAN CGSB 131.10-2008). Which are very similar to ISO 17100, regulating the process of providing language services, but not their quality. In other countries, translation agencies don’t usually get certified according to these standards. This isn’t because they don’t follow them, but is rather related to the fact that it’s nearly impossible to find certification bodies that can confirm that an LSP follows these standards. So in the best case scenario, an agency located outside the US will voluntarily follow these standards, but won’t be able to get certified according to them.

How do you check a vendor’s certificate?

Most often, you’ll be faced with comparing companies that have ISO 9001 and ISO 17100 certificates.

Compliance and certification are two different things.

A translation agency can voluntarily comply with requirements to improve its processes. You may see this information on the agency’s site and promotional materials, but it doesn’t mean that it has a certificate of compliance. To get this certificate, a company has to go through a certification audit, then go through inspection audits each year, and get recertified every three years to confirm the certificate.

If an LSP states that it follows all the standards, it doesn’t mean that it’s certified. Which means that you can’t check whether it’s saying the truth.


A certificate proves that a company goes through the audits and independent experts can support the statement that its quality management system is ran according to the necessary standards.

If a company complies with the standards voluntarily, this shows that it strives for constant improvement and is on its way to develop a fully functional quality management system. But it’s impossible to say how much a company complies with the standards without an audit, which means that you have to believe its word on the quality of work it provides.

Find out who was the certifying body.

If a company has a certificate, it doesn’t guarantee that it complies with standards. Pay close attention to the body that issued the certificate. You can learn the name of the certifying body by looking at the certificate of the vendor. Those organizations that hold the audits must be ISO/IEC 17021 certified themselves and accredited by a national accreditation body. A list of such bodies can be found on the International Accreditation Forum website. The information on what type of accreditation is given to the certification body of your vendor can also be found on the certificate.

Certification and accreditation scheme

Moreover, they need to have accreditation to give out certificates for any specific standard. If an organization is giving out certificates for those standards, which they are not accredited for, they are breaking the rules of the process.

You can run a simple test. Write to the certifying body that you’d like to get ISO 13485 certified. If they tell you that they are ready to hold an audit, ask them if they are accredited to do this. If the answer is negative, don’t trust the certificates that were given out to your LSP by this company.

Look for detailed information about the certification agency. International certification bodies that have offices throughout the world should be trusted in the first place. If you are looking at a small regional organization, the risk that it breaks the certification rules is much greater.

ISO 9001:2015 standard certificate. Pay attention to the name of the certification body and organization that accredited this body. Look on their website that the certification body is certified to conduct audits for the necessary standard.

What to ask an LSP before you begin working with them?

So, you’ve made sure that the LSP is certified in the standard you need and that the certification body is duly accredited. You can dig deeper and find out additional information that will help you make an informed decision.

Find out how long ago the LSP in question was certified.

It’s not difficult to get certified the first time around, especially if we’re talking about ISO 9001. All a company has to do is show that its reaching the goals that it sets for itself. But with time, it becomes more difficult to pass recertification audits, because a company has to show its commitment to continuous improvement. It also has to demonstrate that its internal processes become better every time. If a company doesn’t implement quality management system, it won’t be able to regularly pass recertification audits.

Those LSPs that get certified only to attract clients, usually can’t get recertified. You should be weary if a company was certified less than three years ago and hasn’t yet passed a recertification audit. It’s possible that they received their certificate just for show.

Ask the provider to tell you about their internal processes.

Find out how they handle translation requests and which member of the team is responsible for what tasks. Here are some sample questions:

  • How do you figure out what requirements a translation should have? How do you document these requirements and pass them on to your linguists?
  • How do you track each job status? How can you guarantee that the work will be delivered on time?
  • How do you choose your linguists for specific projects? Do the same linguists complete all the translations or do you allocate projects to people based on their skills?
  • How do you manage terminology? Who creates glossaries in your company? How are these glossaries used on projects?
  • What steps are completed during the translation workflow? Who checks the translation after it is completed?
  • When the job is done, how do you check if all the requirements were followed?

The more detailed are the answers you receive, the greater the chance that the LSP in question truly pays attention to translation quality. It also means that the company didn’t get its certificate just to show it to potential clients.

What to pay attention to if you are already working with an LSP?

If you’re already working with an LSP, it’s much easier to determine how well it adheres to standards and if it implements a quality management system. To find out, you’ll need to take a look at a couple of things.

How the LSP manages your complaints.

Pay attention to what the company does when you tell them that you are not happy with the quality of their translations. If it implements a QMS, the PM on their side will thank you for your feedback even if it’s negative. They will analyze your corrections, ask questions if something is unclear, and take measures to ensure that mistakes are not made in the future. If you corrected some terminology this week and next week see a translation using the correct terms, this means that the company received their certification not only for show.

If the LSP rejects your comments or you keep correcting the same mistakes, it’s likely that a QMS is not implemented in the company at all.

Certification just for show


Standards are actually being followed


Our specialists know how to translate better than you. Don’t spoil their work.


Thank you for your feedback. We’ve corrected the translation based on your comments, but there was a spelling error in one word, which we corrected.


It’s just preferential. We don’t see the need to correct anything.


We noticed that you make a lot of stylistic corrections, let’s try to choose a translator whose style you’ll like.


Feedback implementation is not included in the initial cost.


Thank you for your feedback. We made the necessary corrections. Additionally, we understand that the reasons for the issues in the translation are...


Does the LSP ask you how satisfied you are with their work?

Monitoring client satisfaction is one of the key elements of all standards. If representatives of the LSP you work with aren’t asking you how happy you are with the services they provide, it’s likely that they aren’t interested in your opinion. If this is the case, you shouldn’t expect them to improve the quality of their translations and other services they provide you.

Try to remember when was the last time you received a questionnaire from the vendor about your opinion of their work. Even if you didn’t reply, the fact that you received it will be a good sign. Companies that are interested in your opinion will dedicate an account manager to you, who will regularly contact you for feedback. If you have any complaints or suggestions, the account manager will discuss them and suggest a solution.

Have you ever received such surveys from your vendor? If yes, it usually means that they care about your opinion and use it to develop their quality management processes.

Memo: how to choose a good certified LSP

Just because an LSP is certified you aren’t guaranteed to receive a quality translation with a good service. It’s important to not just choose a company that’s certified, but one that will be interested in your opinion and improve its processes based on it.

  1. Remember that compliance and certification are not the same thing. If you see a name of the standard on the company’s website, it doesn’t mean that the LSP passed an audit and received the necessary certificate.
  2. Find out what organization issued the certificate to the LSP and if that organization is accredited to hold audits based on the necessary standards.
  3. Find out how long ago the LSP received its certificate. It’s a bad sign if it’s been over three years and the company didn’t get recertified.
  4. Ask the LSP to tell you about their internal processes, especially those that are related to translation requests.
  5. If you’ve already worked with the company, think about how it handled your feedback and how often the company asked you if you’re happy with their work.

Photo by Raquel Martínez

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