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Terminology Harmonization — Why It Is Important

Terminology is always a hot topic when it comes to software products. Talking from the perspective of the company I work for, Intact, we know the challenges that come with finding terminology that works for everyone. Our software is used in a variety of industries all over the world. Over the years, as our company was expanding into new areas, we learned that often the same word has a different meaning in other industries and sometimes even varies from country to country. This is why it is crucial as a software provider to harmonize the terminology to a standard that everyone, across all industries and countries, can work with effortlessly.

Finding Common Ground

Today, Intact’s software is used to manage audits, certifications, accreditations, and standards in various industries throughout the world, all using distinct terminology.

For this reason, we have decided to revise our standard terminology to be more understandable across industries. To this end, we analyzed long-standing and new customers and defined the necessary changes based on their feedback.

We did this by asking ourselves three questions:

  1. Is the new term we choose defined enough to make sure all our customers understand it?
  2. Might the new term be too narrow or broad?
  3. Are we sure that future customers will understand it as well, no matter the industry they operate in?

Based on these three questions, we started working intensely on finding common ground for all our stakeholders. Let’s take the word audit, for example — it is clearly defined and is broad enough to let people across industries use it. The artificial word audit refers to a process in which a listener (the auditor) devotes himself to what other people say to him, from which he, in turn, draws his conclusions; it almost goes without saying that an auditor not only hears, but also sees, and – almost more importantly – feels in.

In the course of an audit, which, incidentally, must always be planned, meaningfully managed and guided, it is initially „only“ determined whether, for example, a company has been able to achieve what it has set itself as a goal, and in some cases to what extent. It is not the company itself that is audited, but the system that a company has implemented to achieve its goals, the management system.

The type of audit used will depend on the kind of objectives a company wishes to have „achieved“. If it wants to know — possibly in the course of the preparation for a certification — what status it is at, concerning the fulfillment of the respective standard requirements, it will first carry out internal audits, then (optionally) a pre-audit can be carried out by the certification company. This pre-audit would make it clear whether the management system concerned is already ready for a certification audit, which would then finally decide on a certification.

An audit is not an exam situation. It is a process in which the audited company can expect a significant benefit in the sense of real added value – at least if the company and the auditor actively take up this idea. Meanwhile, there are a large number of companies which, in the course of certification audits, demand not only the determination of conformity but also the uncovering of improvement potentials. Such improvement impulses given by an audit, should not be confused with forbidden consulting in this context, are provided by competent and experienced auditors with their neutral view of the management system and thus of the entire company, because they see where hidden potentials lie dormant.

In Intact’s opinion, since the first two questions can be verified, we are very confident that future customers won’t have a problem understanding it. 

Photo: Dark night, a lot of floating lanterns around a person-shaped black figure.

Another example is the term finding. Also pretty clear — Audit findings result from a process that evaluates audit evidence and compares it against audit criteria. Audit findings can show those audit criteria are being met or that they are not being met. They can also identify best practices or improvement opportunities. There are other terms used throughout industries and countries, such as deviation, area of concern, object of improvement, exception, and many more. The word finding is broad enough to make sense of it when you see it for the first time, which also answeres the third of our questions. Plus all the other terms have some sort of negative connotation, whereas finding is a more general term that can be interpreted positively too. Our software is not just there to track negative things, but also to record things that help companies improve.

However, there is, of course, more, it is not always clear which word is right in a particular context and or country and suits every one of its users. One of these words is nonconformity. In quality management, nonconformity is a deviation from a specification, a standard, or an expectation. But it is not used everywhere due to specific reasons. One of them being the use of the historic term nonconformance, which should be obsolete by now, but is still in use in certain industries. There are a lot of examples in our everyday work, and that is the reason why we decided to go with a terminology harmonization throughout all our software products. 

Moving Ahead with Terminology Harmonization

There are many examples in our everyday work that showed us the need for a terminology harmonization of our software products. The goal is to provide our customers with a set of standardized terms that are understood across the globe and throughout all industries. We are aware of the fact that a change like this is long overdue and moving forward we know to have made the right decisions regarding the new terminology. It will make many things easier to understand and therefore requires less effort for our customers to re-name specific fields. Of course, Intact will always find solutions together with our customers, because customer satisfaction is our highest priority.

Starting with Q4 2019, the new terminology will automatically be rolled out with the next version of our products. Terms and translations that our customers have defined for themselves will not be affected by this change.

Customers who do not wish to adopt the new terminology can, of course, contact us, and we will find a solution together.

However, please be aware that translations are not automatically adopted for new features but require manual translation. For this reason, we strongly recommend switching to Intact’s new standard terminology.

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