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 industrys efforts
to standardize for the
It is my firm belief that in order to serve any useful purpose,
all standards must be market-driven.
And the marketplace today is changingvery 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 dont have good standards, you dont
have consistent products, and you dont 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 youor
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 Cornings 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 didnt have to. We could have continued to meet the traditional
needsprobably at a cost of market share and profitabilitybut
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
standardsthose 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
--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.
The Route for One Sector
And to this end, the insulation industrys 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 Im 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. Weve 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)
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
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
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