Sustaining Laboratory Accreditation Status through Business Planning,
Customer Relationship Management & Marketing Strategies
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), within the framework of the Trade Related Technical Assistance (TRTA) Programme, funded by the European Commission, was launched in 2004. Within the overall objective of contributing to poverty reduction and sustainable development the program focuses on supporting economic integration of Pakistan into the global and regional economy by increasing exports and enhancing the enabling climate for international trade.
The programme that was undertaken in 2 Phases viz. TRTA I and TRTA II thus laid heavy emphasis on supporting selected Testing and Metrology laboratories, to meet the ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standard that specifies the General requirements for competence of laboratories to implement a quality system to consistently produce valid results with accreditation from an internationally recognized accreditation body. Data generated by an accredited laboratory lead to the more ready acceptance of exported goods in overseas markets. This reduces costs need for retesting in another country.
The TRTA program consequently provided technical assistance for upgrading 49 laboratories in Pakistan (19 within TRTA I, 30 within TRTA II). These were initially accredited by Norwegian Accreditation and subsequently by the Pakistan Accreditation Council (PNAC) that achieved international recognition in May 2009.
With the laboratories reaching accreditation status, the next and crucial step was to work towards sustaining this position with lesser dependence on Government resources when the UNIDO TRTA intervention ended. The UNIDO exit strategy was clear with support being extended only for a specified period of time.
Sustaining accreditation status is an expensive business as not only have the laboratories to pay accreditation fees to the accrediting body but also have to bear the high costs associated with assessment/surveillance, participation in Proficiency Testing (PT) schemes, purchase of Certified Reference Materials (CRM’s), scope expansion, etc. In the situation in which the laboratories were functioning, generating the required revenue for sustaining accreditation was a distant task as Pakistan, similar to other developing countries represents a typical scenario where Government laboratories often function with a public-sector mind set and service mentality with no business outlook to promote and market the accredited services. There is also insufficient motivation of the staff, especially as they receive only public sector oriented salary packages and few rewards.
In 2011, with the main objective of enhancing the commercial orientation of the laboratories and acquiring a private sector mind set the TRTA intervention embarked upon an exercise to develop and implement Business plans with emphasis on customer relationship management and marketing strategies via Training Workshops by International experts, covering accredited laboratories in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.
The second round of training workshops, particularly related to customer relationship management and marketing strategies, was carried out in April-May 2014 by Dr. Nirmala Pieris, the International Expert in Development of Business Plans for testing & calibration laboratories. Now as many as 7 intuitions (30 laboratories) are well placed to implement their business plan and ensure sustainability through this mechanism over the next 2-3 years, provided that their parent ministry adopts this policy change