Established in 1980, Gordon Matthews was one of the first companies which now collectively operate as Smart Housing Group which provides temporary accommodation services for a number of local authorities in London.

Councils refer prospective tenants to SHG from their housing lists. Landlords’ rents are guaranteed by SHG during each lease term - this helps to provide landlords with a regular fixed income, and avoid the risk of tenants defaulting on the rent payments that landlords with standard private-sector lettings can often experience. SHG ensures properties are inspected, managed and maintained on each landlord’s behalf. In more than three decades of operations, SHG has built a strong reputation in the market. Among its endorsements, it is certified by the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme.

CHALLENGING MARKET SHG gained ISO 9001:2000 quality management system (QMS) certification in May 2006. The company then achieved ISO 14001:2004 environmental management system (EMS) certification in April 2009, at which time it also upgraded to ISO 9001:2008.

SHG chose SGS United Kingdom Ltd to carry out its audits. SGS has the experience, expertise and resources to assist SHG. In the UK, SGS is one of only a small number of ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certification bodies accredited by UKAS, the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. SGS is also the world’s leading inspection, verification, certification and testing company; the organisation employs more than 70,000 people and operates a network of over 1,350 offices and laboratories worldwide; and it is a global leader in ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certification.

“Before ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, we found ourselves in an increasingly competitive market,” says Jeff Collings, General Manager and Operations Manager at SHG. “Growing numbers of less reputable and/or inexperienced operators were attempting to enter our business sector”.

“We decided to go for ISO 9001 certification as it’s a widely recognised and highly prized external validation. We knew this would also enable us to better position and differentiate ourselves and maintain our lead in the market”.

“We also knew ISO 9001 would lead us to develop and routinely implement a system for reviewing and continually improving our operations”.

“Seeking ISO 14001 certification seemed to be a natural next step for us. We work closely with the public sector, where environmental protection and sustainability are ever more important in procurement. Having ISO 14001 would give our tenders a competitive edge.”

In the past, local authorities’ contracts for the procurement and management of accommodation were usually based on reputations and word-of-mouth recommendations. These days, contracts are renewed more frequently and suppliers are increasingly required to demonstrate their commitment to quality and environmental protection.

Jeff Collings of SHG says: “For us, achieving ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certification was therefore a logical and clearly demonstrable way to assure potential clients of our commitment to continually monitor, review and improve our services in the light of both quality and environmental objectives.”

PREPARING FOR ASSESSMENT When developing its existing practices into full, highly structured quality and environmental management systems, SHG was assisted by Beardsley Consultants. SHG started building its QMS from a solid base, while its EMS needed more work.

“We asked our consultant about assessment organisations, and they were happy to recommend SGS,” says Jeff Collings.

STAFF INVOLVEMENT SHG’s staff were closely involved in developing its management systems and preparing for assessment. At the start of the process, for example, they were issued with briefing papers outlining the aims, commitments and desired outcomes of the QMS and EMS.

Jeff Collings says: “Our staff are encouraged to be proactive in the development and delivery of our services, and to communicate freely with management and our consultants about our continued certification.”

ASSESSMENTS “Our SGS assessors have always tried to minimise the involuntary stress that their visits automatically generate,” says Jeff Collings. “They’ve also encouraged us to look at their findings as a way of making positive improvements. Their external reflection really helps us to develop our business.

“SGS’ auditors have always been interested in what we do and, I think, surprisingly knowledgeable about our business sector. They have an impressive ability to understand the unusual framework in which we operate, and we’re impressed by their willingness to work with us to improve and grow. All in all, we’re very happy with the service provided by SGS.”

SGS Auditor David Glenister says: “We’ve found SHG’s management and staff to be dedicated to quality and environmental management and have consistently maintained high standards.”

SHG’s twice-yearly internal audits (again with assistance from Beardsley Consultants) are undertaken just ahead of SGS’ twice-yearly surveillance audits. Full external re-assessments take place every three years.

BENEFITS OF CERTIFICATION “We’re pleased to have invested in ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certification,” says Jeff Collings. “They give our clients reassurance that they’re dealing with an organisation committed to externally audited quality and environmental management systems. Demonstrating such commitment gives us a distinct commercial advantage, differentiates us from other providers, and makes tender processes easier.”

SHG’s ISO 9001-certified QMS has given the company written procedures and processes through which it can scrutinise its own service delivery and performance.

“ISO 9001 hasn’t necessarily changed what we do, but it has more changed how we do it,” says Jeff Collings. “While we’ve always been committed to providing excellent service and developing and reviewing our service model, we now have a robust framework through which we can amply demonstrate that commitment and our pursuit of excellence. “We’re now much more systemised: we think more about what we do, what we want to achieve and how we should go about reaching our goals.

“In addition, we now actively seek feedback from our clients and service users and use this to improve our operations.”

Although SHG experienced a much steeper learning curve with ISO 14001, the company now monitors and reviews all its key environmental impacts. Jeff Collings says: “Today we’re much more environmentally aware and actively focus on reducing our impacts when refining our services and procuring goods and services, for example, when choosing company cars. We’re also better prepared for any environmental incidents and, when reasonable and practical, we seek to ensure our partners and subcontractors commit to our environmental and quality objectives.”

CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 are based on a plan-do-check-act cycle of continual improvement. In this cycle, SHG’s objectives include: ● becoming the preferred provider of property procurement and maintenance services to local authorities; ● improving its monitoring of and responses to, client (local authority and tenant) feedback; ● ensuring consistently high quality and continually improving performance and client satisfaction; ● reducing CO2 emissions; ● increasing re-use and recycling, and reducing waste; ● controlling hazardous materials and preventing pollution; ● conserving energy; Based and highly active in London, SHG plans to expand into other UK cities. These include Derby and Nottingham.

ADVICE TO OTHER ORGANISATIONS “Going for ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 shouldn’t be considered light-heartedly,” says Jeff Collings. “There’s quite a lot of work and commitment involved and you must get your staff fully on board.” “However, certification brings significant operational and commercial advantages. In particular, in a difficult market, it’s a useful way of establishing your organisation as a market leader.”

SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognised as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 70 000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 1 350 offices and laboratories around the world.

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