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The ASTM Digital Path Initiative Revisited

by Philip Lively

In previous articles, most recently in 2002, I have written about the ASTM Digital Path initiative. This article revisits the initiative and documents progress during 2003.

What Is the ASTM Digital Path?

The ASTM Digital Path is an initiative to empower all of ASTM International’s stakeholders — members, customers, staff, and others — to conduct their business, if they so choose, through the network made possible by the Internet. ASTM wants stakeholders to be able to access ASTM whenever they want from wherever they happen to be.

The initiative aims to capture all ASTM standards and related documents in electronic files, maintain and distribute them electronically, and provide for an entirely electronic path through the lifecycle of all standards. In other words, ASTM wants to create a complete digital workflow that begins with the first draft of a standard and lasts until the approved standard is delivered to customers.

The initiative is primarily Web-based. Stakeholders must have access to the Web in order to utilize the Digital Path. It also requires that all ASTM internal computer systems be accessible through the Web.

Goals of the Initiative

ASTM has several strategic and organizational goals that it hopes to achieve through the Digital Path initiative. Among them are:

• Make the ASTM standards writing process transparent and accessible from the very inception of an idea for a new standard until its publication.
• Strengthen worldwide participation in the ASTM standards-writing process by using the Internet to overcome the barriers of time and distance.
• Provide the optimum digital environment for stakeholders to develop standards. This includes the ability to access any needed files or documents 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
• Ensure real-time, simple, convenient access to published ASTM standards and supporting information.

Pieces of the Path Already in Place

For some time now members of ASTM have been able to start down the digital standards-writing path by using Microsoft Word templates or Word versions of ASTM standards to author new standards or revise existing ones. The templates, which are used to draft an entirely new standard, are freely downloadable from the ASTM Web site. (Tip: use the site search at www.astm.org to find the templates by typing in the keyword “templates.”) Word versions of existing standards (Figure 1), which are used when a standard needs revision, are available on request from the staff members who support ASTM committees.

Once the proposed standard is captured in Word, the next step on the Digital Path is gaining task group consensus on the proposed standard. The drafters of the standard have several Digital Path tools at their disposal: e-mail, ASTM Forums (Web-based work chambers), or online meetings (Figure 2). Any of these tools can be used to circulate draft standards and elicit feedback from the task group. They are particularly useful for gaining input from non-member stakeholders.

After task group consensus is reached and the standard draft is ready for a vote, the ASTM Digital Path turns to Web balloting to obtain subcommittee, committee and Society approval. Members may view the draft document or proposed revision through their Web browser and cast their vote online (Figure 3). They can also insert rationales, comments, and alternative wording in support of negative votes. Ballot results are summarized online after the ballot closes.

Once the new standard nears approval, the Digital Path moves on to ASTM’s electronic publishing system. The publishing system captures the draft standard and transforms the Word files into standard generalized markup language (SGML)-tagged data (Figure 4). This step on the path is what enables ASTM to capture the standards in one versatile format from which various files can be produced for electronic display and download.

The Digital Path comes to an end in a document warehouse where ASTM stores its 12,000 standards as PDF files. This warehouse feeds ASTM’s Web site, from which any standard may be ordered 24/7.

Recent Progress

One might wonder what is left to complete the Digital Path. Here are some recent enhancements added in 2003.

Work Items
The Digital Path now embraces the very conception of a standards-writing activity with the introduction of ASTM Work Items. Now, before a Word draft is prepared, committee members, through a Web-based entry system, are able to document their planned work items, display them on the Web and feed them via e-mail alerts to interested stakeholders. The goal is to improve the transparency of the ASTM process and attract interested stakeholders as early as possible to the standards-writing process. To date, about 4,000 Work Items have been created. Each Work Item has its own Web page containing pertinent information, including scope, technical contact, and development status as the Work Item moves into and through the balloting process (Figure 5).

Standards Tracker
Having a Web page for each Work Item is one thing, but getting stakeholders to the page is another. Consequently, ASTM developed and launched a free e-mail tracking system that notifies stakeholders about ASTM Work Items on a weekly basis. The alerts contain hyperlinks to new work items created in the previous seven days by ASTM committees (Figure 6). Called Standards Tracker and available through ASTM’s Web site, this service allows any stakeholder to customize the kind of alerts they would like to receive. Subscribers can configure Tracker to report on newly approved standards as well as Work Items.

Redlined and Historical Standards
On the delivery side of the Digital Path, ASTM has recently developed the ability to do comparisons between active and historical versions of standards and produce a PDF redlined version that shows all the changes made in the revision process. See Figure 7 for an example. Stakeholders who use redlined standards can save considerable time and effort in determining the exact changes between a historical version and the new active standard. Several thousand redlined standards are available on the ASTM Web site.

In addition, ASTM also has begun to extend the Digital Path to include historical standards. Prior to March 2003, the ASTM Web site offered just current active standards. Now historical standards are available, in some case extending back several versions to the 1990s.

Book of Standards Online
Since November 2003, members and customers have been able to choose digital Web access to any volume and/or section of their favorite volumes of the Annual Book of ASTM Standards. Unlike the static print volumes, these “virtual volumes” are updated weekly with any new and revised standards that belong to the volume. As an option, the volumes can be configured to offer users access to redlined and historical standards.

MyASTM
Members and current customers of ASTM now have a personal Web page, known as MyASTM, which is customized to their interests and participation in ASTM. They log in on the home page using their account number or e-mail address and password. MyASTM returns their personalized page, which is their gateway to the committees in which they participate and the standards they use. See Figure 8.

Summary

In 2003 ASTM stakeholders saw several more pieces put in place to further the Digital Path initiative. The path reached back to the beginning of the standards writing process to include Work Items, which will increase the openness, transparency, and participation possibilities in the ASTM process. And the path broadened the availability of standards information products by introducing redlined and historical standards and online volumes of the Annual Book of ASTM Standards. //

Copyright 2004, ASTM International

Philip Lively is vice president of ASTM International’s Information Technology Development and Applications division.