We've given a lot of thought to what might happen if ASTM members could talk to one another between meetings, at any time and from any place on the globe, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We've thought about what could happen if ASTM members could make changes to a draft document from their desktop computers or laptops and then have that document transmitted instantly to every member of the task group or subcommittee. We've thought about how much more could be accomplished if more "homework" could be done before a meeting, or if follow-up work could be done immediately after a meeting, while things were still fresh. We've imagined editorial changes, references, quality figures, and final reviews by the committee editor done before Society approval instead of after. We've envisioned a standard published and available the day after Society approval. We've thought about the advancements in technology helping us to do what we do better and faster. We've thought about the addition of more international members who would be able to join us from afar, making our ASTM world a little smaller, a little more available to more people at home and around the world. Like everyone else, we've thought of the Internet with its great possibilities and how it might help us serve our members and customers better.
An answer we came up with is something we're calling the integrated Digital Path for standards development and distribution. The first step along this path is when the ASTM standard is "captured" in electronic form at the task group level. In its electronic form, it would travel along a Digital Path, developing, evolving, as it usually does, until it is finished, at Society ballot. We call it an integrated path because at every step along the way, it would link, or integrate, members using traditional ways of communicating with members using the Internet. Those who wish to would still be free to communicate by fax, or pen and ink and postage stamp. Meetings would continue uninterrupted and go on as usual, on schedule. Real people would still meet with real people and have real debates and reach real consensus, but the results would be a lot more gratifying. Development time for Digital Path standards would be reduced dramatically, and delivery of Digital Path standards to members and customers would be revolutionary.
Obviously, this will be a challenge. We'll have to think about our traditional revenue flow from the sale of hard copy documents and weigh it against a balance we can achieve from a reduction in publication costs. As the percentage of hard copies decreases, we will probably have to make some adjustments. One thing is sure. A new century is upon us. It will be a century of technological marvels, a century of telecommunication. The world will operate more and more in real time, and standards will have to keep pace. There are many people right now, today, who want the latest version of an ASTM standard-the day after it has been approved-and they want to access it on demand. That's a challenge we've got to meet.
James A. Thomas
President, ASTM International
Copyright 1999, ASTM International