As IANZ nears its official Golden Jubilee date (20 October), we look to dive deeper into the people who have helped shape our organisation and celebrate their contributions. One such individual is Barry Ashcroft, who joined IANZ in August 1991 and has been a constant fixture in the IANZ office ever since! We recently sat down with Barry to discuss the history of IANZ through the eyes of our current longest-serving employee.
50 years of The Accreditation Council and, subsequently, International Accreditation New Zealand. Talk us through some of its humble beginnings.
It was established as a result of the Testing Laboratory Registration Act in 1972. The initial Testing Laboratory Registration Council had been established, and work was put in to deciding on a name (TeLaRC). John Gilmore was brought in as Director, bringing with him what he learnt from his time at NATA to establish our programme structure. In 1975 the first accreditation was granted, the NZ Aluminium Smelters, which are still accredited today. They applied for accreditation in August 1974 and were granted accreditation in February 1975. In those days, organisations got accredited because it was the right thing to do. There were three or four staff working for Telarc in those days. There was no such thing as ISO/IEC 17011, so organisations were assessed against criteria that were written in-house. The only standard for our operation would have been as a peer of NATA, with no international standards for laboratories either. Criteria were generally spelled out in specific criteria documents and the New Zealand Code of Laboratory Management Practice. Essentially, accreditation bodies created their own standards, with Telarc sharing much of this with what existed in Australia at the time. Accreditation numbers 1,2,3 and 4 were saved for Physics and Engineering Laboratory (PEL), the precursor of MSL, which when they were finally accredited were designated number one.
The organisation started off with a handful of people, the Director and administrators and a few others near the end of the 70s. They had an office in Parnell and were largely supported by government grants, and then changed to become a client-funded organisation in the 1980s following the Rogernomics revolution. During the late 80s, they moved offices to Mauranui Drive in Newmarket, where I joined in 1991. During the mid-80s, Quality Management Systems became all the rage. Everyone wanted ISO 9000. Telarc started the Telarc Registered Supplier Programme, which is the precursor to Telarc Ltd today. As our organisation grew, our office needed to expand to accommodate the necessary increase in (ISO 9000) auditors. And so we moved to our current premises in 1992/93.
Now tell us a little about your life at IANZ and where it all began.
I started in August 1991 at Mauranui Drive. After finishing University followed by a couple of years working for the MAF Dairy Divison in New Plymouth, I went on my OE and had just returned when Telarc were advertising the position of Accreditation Officer. I was signed on by the director, Jack Garside, (who replaced John Gilmore), within the Chemical and Biological Testing programme.
MAF Dairy Division, now AsureQuality, decided to opt out of the business of laboratory accreditation and offered a joint programme with Telarc at the time. This meant that Telarc had potentially 90 clients queueing up at the door.
I reported to Lynne Forster, who became General Manager for a period. My primary responsibility was assessing chemical/biological testing clients, and primarily getting the dairy industry laboratories over the line. It was a significant step in those days for organisations to get accredited. In 1993 I was appointed Programme Manager - Chemical and Biological and Dairy Testing. A big part of this was guiding the industry labs in getting accredited. They were obliged to come to us by regulation but it was a lot of work for them. In 2000, the meat industry also came looking for a replacement of the MILAB programme. Also in 2000, the Ministry of Health came asking for accreditation for drinking water laboratories, so you could say our books were getting pretty full! Somewhat indicative of how Telarc/IANZ had grown; quantum leaps! There was a bit of organic growth but when we had whole new sectors coming in was when we got the most significant growth.
What it did indicate was that accreditation had moved from a 'nice to do' to being recognised by specifiers who were requiring it i.e. regulators or others. This was not without its challenges, particularly now working with a broad range of stakeholders, but it did demonstrate the success of accreditation.
The international model drove us to need to separate accreditation from management certification, around 1997. Telarc New Zealand split in to Telarc and IANZ. Also around that time, numerous other programmes were coming onboard, most notably Radiology in 1994 with a lot of hard work put in by Graham Walker and others in the industry. Around 1996, the inspection body programme was created, led by Programme Manager, John Wydenbach - a position that was later handed over to Geoff Hallam (who we are lucky enough to still have with us today). Things were changing quite a lot and continue to do so.
I was promoted to General Manager of Accreditation Services in 2002. By 2015 it was time to let some fresh eyes have a go, so I moved into the Business Support Manager role, in which I still reside. I am still managing the Good Laboratory Practice Compliance Monitoring Programme, which I commissioned in 1996 . As a regulated quality assurance programme adopted across the OECD, it's not strictly accreditation but has good science at its core. This is why IANZ exists.
Why do you think 50 years is an important milestone for an organisation like IANZ to reach?
It's a Government success story. They established, by Act of Parliament, that this was a good thing to do and its proved outstandingly successful. 50 years of continuous operations is pretty good and it is what it is, because its a good product.
How do you think the 'face' of accreditation has changed in the last 50 years and how has IANZ contributed to that?
A fundamental change is that it started off as a good thing to do, the right thing to do, which has been recognised across all the stakeholders in industry and commerce to the point where they have invested in the product and have an inherent stake in its delivery. The majority of our clients are now here because their customers want them to be. But we still recognise that fundamentally accreditation is a peer review process (as it is across all of science), and in that respect we're pretty proud of the technical experts that we use. We haven't lost sight of the importance of them; they are the true value-add to the accreditation process.
Accreditation through ISO & IEC standards and the Mutual Recognition Arrangements is now internationally recognised and IANZ has played an important role in that from the beginning, and that cntinues today. So from even before organisations like International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) existed, we were involved / saw its importance in trade and set the world standard for the world's first mutual recognition.
What part of the history of IANZ do you think defines us best / what should we be most proud of as an organisation?
What we need to be most proud of is the skills of our assessors and the technical experts. The fact that we continue to deliver our assessments that focus on technical competence, and that we continue to be a science-based organisation. That's what's kept me here! Ultimately it comes down to good science, whatever form that takes.
What does 'The NZ mark of competence' mean to you?
It means to our accredited clients that they have shown their metal. They've had a rigorous assessment of their competence by their peers and they've stood up to that and that they're pretty good!
How do you think accreditation will change in the future?
It's starting to change already, but one of the biggest changes will come through digitisation and a lot more of the demonstration of competence will be through a digital platform. Conformity assessment will be conducted and reporting done through a digital platform and thus so will accreditation. We will be able to interrogate digital platforms to assess whether they meet accreditation requirements or not. There will be less focus on assessing activities to a more continuous monitoring model. This is not just about having a PDF instead of a piece of paper. It's about getting right in behind the code upon which digital platforms are launched. And that's happening now already in an international sphere and its coming.
And what are you most proud of in your history with the organisation?
Just being a part of it. Pretty proud of the contribution made internationally which is what it's really about and how we're still held in high regard. I still very much have a soft spot for the GLP programme. Not a large programme but has certainly raised standards across the country. The enthusiasm and commitment to the younger assessors coming in suggests they get it. That's good! We've been thrown some curve balls over the years, but that's ok!
To the next generation of assessors coming in, what words of wisdom can you provide them?
Good science is the only thing that matters. That would be my advice. Because if we end up accrediting bad science, we would lose our credibility quite quickly. That's the only thing that matters. If they're demonstrating good science then they deserve to be part of the club.
IANZ looks forward to sharing more from the history books as we fondly look back on the last 50 years. It truly is quite an achievement. And to Barry, thank you for being a part of that history and for all of your contributions to the world of accreditation.