Like the pioneers who founded ASTM a hundred years ago, we are at the turn of a century, facing a new world. Our generation, however, must make its way in a world that moves faster than our founders could ever have imagined, a world that is dependent on technology, a world that is making demands on us as never before.
Some say the U.S. standards system is too disorganized, too divisive, that competition between standards organizations is destructive, that we are too slow, that our system as it exists today does not serve our national needs as well as it should. We are urged to accept a role in the international standards community that others have defined for us, and we are reprimanded for not being more invested and effective.
More and more, standards developers are asked to provide the solutions to problems in a world that has suddenly grown small, a world much more aware of standards and their importance. "One standard, accepted everywhere," for example, is a cry heard around the world. But whose product's needs will it fulfill, this one standard? And what of the products whose needs it cannot fulfill? Will they be accepted nowhere? Who will decide?
No matter how fervently we may wish for them, no matter how many times we invoke them, there are no simple solutions to our new world problems.
There are solutions that are tried and true, and ASTM has been developing them, as it has been developing standards, for a hundred years. We have seen that standards, when responding to real needs in a real world, are used around the world. Relevance is achieved by developing standards that fulfill the expectations of those who develop them. These documents perform well in any market-if they are not prohibited by authorities.
That said, ASTM's Board of Directors and I are actively engaged in the process of evaluating and analyzing the shifting nature of global standardization and the needs of our members. We are looking at ways to create a better, more productive relationship with ISO, for example. We are thinking about our strengths, and how we can use them to help our members achieve their objectives. If change is necessary, we will not shrink from it. In the coming months, I am going to share our thinking with you, our best information about our national and international situation, the challenges we are facing, and our plans to meet them. Our goal is to acknowledge the realities of our new world, take our industries where they want to go, and serve everyone with quality and relevance.
We are on the brink of a new era, at the beginning of a new century, and in a time of great prosperity. Nevertheless, it is time for us to examine, to question, to test the wind again, adjust our course if need be, and think of what is wise and good for ASTM.
One of our former presidents, Bill Cavanaugh, used to communicate this way in articles written for Standardization News called "Plain Talk." Those small essays affected me deeply, and taught me a great deal. This month is the beginning of a new series I am calling "Plain Talk for a New Generation." This is where we will discuss the issues of our new world. I am looking forward to it.
James A. Thomas
President, ASTM International
Copyright 1999, ASTM International