In December 2012, Cisco was proud to announce that four of its certification programs – CCNA and CCNP R&S and CCNA and CCNP Security – had achieved accreditation from the American National Standards Institute (@ANSI). In the world of certifications, this is widely understood as a major accomplishment. But those who do not work in the certification industry might ask themselves, who or what is ANSI? And why does accreditation matter? In this post we hope to demystify this organization and explain the value and benefit of having ANSI-accredited certification programs.
ANSI is a national standards organization founded in 1918 to facilitate the development of voluntary standards and conformity assessment in the U.S. across a wide range of industries. As a national standards development organization, ANSI serves as the U.S. representative to the International Organization for Standardization, otherwise known as ISO. ISO is the world’s largest developer of voluntary international standards. More than 160 countries are members of ISO, and the organization has published nearly 20,000 standards since it was founded in 1947. Like ANSI, ISO standards cover a wide range of industries – from agriculture to manufacturing to communications and IT. While ISO only develops and publishes standards, ANSI serves as the conformity assessment body in the U.S. That means ANSI is the organization that determines whether or not you are in compliance with a standard.
For those of us working in certification and testing, getting accredited under ISO standard 17024, General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons, is the gold medal of achievement. Remember that standards are all about quality - are you doing or making something with integrity that is good for your industry and for the public? The requirements of ISO 17024 are based on testing industry standards and best practices for the development of certification exams. The standard is meant to assess whether certification programs are developing and delivering their exams using methods and processes that are industry recognized and approved.
To achieve accreditation is no small feat. Applicants often take months to prepare a lengthy application, reviewing their existing policies, processes, websites, and records, and closing any identified gaps to ensure they comply with each standard requirement. The ANSI Personnel Certification Accreditation Committee (PCAC) is the body with the authority to grant accreditation decisions, but before an application arrives at the PCAC, it goes through three other layers of review. The most critical step in the application process is review and audit by two ANSI assessors paid contractors with expertise in certification program administration and test development. The assessors review all of the documentation submitted and also conduct a live audit with the applicant to look at records, systems, tools, and hold interviews with staff involved with the
programs. The application, review, and audit process takes several months as there is a great deal of work involved for both the applicant and for the assessors.
The ANSI assessors are looking to ensure that each certification program meets the minimum requirements of the ISO 17024 standard. The standard has requirements for things such as program administration, governance, and impartiality; publishing information for stakeholders; psychometrics; security and confidentiality; and quality management systems. It’s also important to know that accreditation is not a one-time thing. Accreditation is granted for five years. Each year of accreditation, programs have to complete an annual audit to demonstrate continued compliance. In the fifth year, the process starts all over, and they have to re-apply entirely. This cycle ensures that programs continue to follow industry standards and practices and make continuous improvements to their programs for ongoing accreditation.
So why does accreditation matter? You might ask yourself what exactly does this have to do with you getting your Cisco certification? It is actually more important than you may think. Achieving an ANSI accreditation under the 17024 standard means that a neutral third party has reviewed our policies, processes, and exam specifications, and determined that we follow industry standards in the design, development, and delivery of our certification programs. Following industry standards and being in compliance is critical to maintaining the integrity of our exams and certification programs. Additionally it shows that we have worked to ensure that each and every person taking a Cisco certification exam is assessed, fairly and impartially and each question has undergone a strict protocol before being delivered to you as the candidate. Although we’ve provided you just a simple summary of ANSI and the accreditation process, we hope you can see that it is not a small undertaking to pursue accreditation for one of our programs, but it is well worth the time and effort. It is a demonstration of our commitment to developing and delivering high quality exams, and protecting the value of your Cisco certifications.