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In My Opinion
The New Environment for SDOs
Meeting Different Sector Needs Through Flexibility

by William M. Edmunds

In an increasingly competitive atmosphere, SDOs must adopt many of the same strategic tactics as large corporations to remain effective, says former ASTM chairman and Owens Corning standards manager Bill Edmunds. Edmunds outlines some possible strategies for SDOs to meet their constituents’ needs in the global economy and provides his assessment of the insulation industry’s efforts to standardize for the
global marketplace.

It is my firm belief that in order to serve any useful purpose, all standards must be market-driven.

And the marketplace today is changing—very rapidly. How exactly is it changing? The experience of my company, Owens Corning, a large user of standards, is probably a good gauge. Owens Corning is a five billion dollar global company with 20,000 employees, 135 manufacturing facilities in 30 countries and 180 distribution centers worldwide. Standards are a very vital and integral part of our business. The reason for our commitment to standards is strategic and simple. If you don’t have good standards, you don’t have consistent products, and you don’t compete well in the marketplace. And if you are not in the arena developing the standards your industry relies on, somebody out there is going to do it for you—or to you.

To survive and grow, the pace of doing business and the way of doing business cannot remain status quo. Like our peers, we continuously evaluate new strategies and practices to determine how to maintain and build market share, reduce costs, increase productivity, and achieve a competitive edge.

The business goals at Owens Corning are very specific: customer satisfaction and shareholder value. To be successful, we have to do things differently. We have to work harder and smarter to anticipate and find solutions to marketplace needs. So Owens Corning has done such things as:
--Consolidating the existing product line by reducing the number of product variations;
--Diversifying to new products and new services;
--Reducing cycle time by getting the product to market faster, cheaper, and more simply;
--Keeping the product lines up to
date by anticipating changing
market needs; and
--Expanding the global participation in our business decisions.

Let me give one example how this has affected the residential construction market. Owens Corning’s traditional offerings to the residential builders have always been basic insulation and shingles. Over the past few years this product line has been greatly expanded to include such things as windows, patio doors, siding, sheathing, housewrap, basement wall finishing systems, home theatre systems, energy analysis tools, online design visualization systems to explore the various scenarios of exterior colors, materials and styles, and so on. This is not intended as a commercial for Owens Corning, but to demonstrate how far out of our traditional box we have had to think to compete.

Owens Corning obviously has changed its approach to the market. But we didn’t have to. We could have continued to meet the traditional needs—probably at a cost of market share and profitability—but we could have been comfortable being an organization doing things the way we always had. At least for a while.

Increasing the Efficiency of SDOs
But our customers demand more and we have to meet those demands to survive. And I suggest that SDOs are faced with some of the same issues that industry faces in its business operations. To survive, SDOs will have to follow many of the changes industry has made and be better prepared to respond to their customers’ needs. They need to re-examine every aspect of their activities with the aim of simplifying and streamlining their processes and structure. This could encompass such efforts as:
--Developing partnerships to reduce or even eliminate duplication and redundant standards work.
--Diligently resisting the development of new standards where one already exists just to put a new label on it.
--Resisting the creation of what I call “intellectual exchange” standards—those that have no apparent market need, require costly resources to develop and maintain, and generate little or no income. Of course the responsibility to better control this aspect falls primarily on the volunteers who write the standards, but the SDOs need to get involved and help make a fundamental change in the traditional way of doing things.
--Expanding global participation. Electronic communication and the Internet now offer tremendous opportunities for making standardization accessible to a broader audience in the open development process. But the degree of involvement in many sectors is still very low. SDOs should search for opportunities to develop specific, focused marketing programs to educate and to bring about more international
involvement.
--And perhaps most boldly, re-examining and redefining who the true stakeholders really are in certain sectors and being receptive to modifying the requirements for participation and voting.

Today there are probably too many SDOs and too many standards in the inventory for good management and control. The proliferation of similar and duplicate standards and the expansion of organizations creating them, make it increasingly difficult for corporations like Owens Corning to stretch their resources to actively participate in every venue that might impact business.

Owens Corning must therefore selectively prioritize those standardization areas that will yield the most immediate potential for product simplification, market expansion and cost reduction.

Standards Harmonization—
The Route for One Sector
And to this end, the insulation industry’s efforts to harmonize industrial insulation standards in North America have been very successful. This activity was initiated through the North American Trilateral Standardization Forum, sponsored by the national standards bodies of Canada, Mexico, and the United States. NATSF brought together many manufacturing sectors through a series of forums and facilitated discussions to harmonize standards within the NAFTA trade zone. At the 1997 forum in Mexico City, the mineral fiber insulation industry accepted the challenge to work toward harmonizing its standards.

Our industry brought together the SDOs from the three countries and expanded the participation to include more users, specifiers, and regulators. Together we were able to make the modifications to the existing ASTM standards that are necessary to accommodate the various national requirements. And now this family of industrial insulation standards will, by the end of this year, be the accepted basis for trade between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, eliminating all redundancy. Products designed to these single standards will benefit both industry and the customer through product uniformity and reduced manufacturing and testing costs.

I believe that one of the elements that made this program so successful in such a reasonable timeframe was the ability of trade associations to get the user groups energized in the early part of the process to have their direct input and their commitment.

Unfortunately, the same is not always true in much of the other standards development work with which I’m involved. User representation at the task group development stage tends to be very low in spite of what I would consider extraordinary steps to get them there. Users generally get involved instead at the later balloting stages and, while this is certainly within the process structure, it imposes unnecessary delays that could be avoided. We’ve got to find a way to get them involved earlier.

Different Market Needs
Our long-range goal has always been to achieve the same degree of harmonization success at the global level. But, as we know, any discussion of international standards starts with the great debate on what constitutes an international standard and whether or not it has to have an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) label.

There are many good applications of ISO used very effectively for quality management, conformity assessment, and trade. Owens Corning fully supports those standards being developed when the market wants ISO, as we have demonstrated in the reinforced plastics sector. When the customer, the automotive industry, said they had to have ISO to satisfy their global requirements, Owens Corning was right there to work toward that goal. We chaired the reinforced plastics subcommittees in both ASTM and ISO and led the efforts to harmonize those
standards.

But ISO is not the answer for every market need. There are many good examples in the petroleum, aviation, boiler, and other industries where U.S. leadership created standards that had been quickly adopted by the marketplace as global standards and are now widely used.

Most Owens Corning products are currently produced, tested, and marketed successfully to ASTM standards. We do not believe it is prudent or necessary to utilize our resources to produce a duplicate standard having the ISO label. Others obviously do, so we have to be there to respond to that desire.
Owens Corning has been active in the ISO Technical Committee for Thermal Insulation since its inception in 1975 to help ensure that the best U.S. technology is incorporated into any standard that might be developed and that the resultant document is not detrimental to our product acceptability. We currently chair the technical advisory group for the United States.

Activity on material specifications in this TAG has been sporadic because the manufacturers and the users have not expressed a strong desire for separate ISO standards. The main drivers are the consultants and academia. Work on proposed documents has generally been slow and inconclusive, mostly because the process tends to be more political than technical and the United States has a very minor voice. Of the 21-country “participating” votes in this technical committee, we have one; Europe has 15. The European Commission for Standardization (CEN) dominates the technical committee and wants the ISO product to be a clone of the CEN standard.

SDOs Can Help
The insulation industry needs SDOs to work closely together to develop mechanisms to get existing industry-accepted standards elevated to international recognition without having to repeat the entire development process. We need SDOs to work together under ANSI leadership to strengthen the technical position of the United States and to level the international playing field.

The pilot projects between ISO and ASTM and API (the American Petroleum Institute) toward a single set of globally-accepted standards that can be effectively maintained are outstanding programs to address this issue. We applaud these initiatives and hope they will receive the highest priority from both sides to bring about a successful conclusion and not get bogged down in rhetoric. Success here will certainly open other areas for joint agreements.

These challenges to streamline the standards development process and take a stronger, more proactive role in the international arena are not new. But I would suggest that the need to be well positioned to meet these challenges is greater now than ever before.

Some SDOs are responding well to these issues, others less so. The true leaders will be those that can demonstrate that they are flexible enough and creative enough to develop new approaches to meet customer expectations without undue bureaucratic constraints.

Owens Corning is ready and willing to work with SDOs at all levels to strategically reengineer the development process and to strengthen our international technical position. //

Copyright 2000, ASTM

William M. Edmunds, managing director, global standards, with Owens Corning, Granville, Ohio, was chairman of the ASTM Board of Directors in 1998. He is head of the U.S. delegation to ISO TC 163 on Thermal Insulation and is active in the North American
Insulation Manufacturers Association as chair of the Standards Task Force, leading the efforts through NAFTA to harmonize insulation standards among the United States, Canada, and Mexico.