||The Evolving World of Global Standards
How Best to Meet the Needs of the Marketplace
ASTM President Jim Thomas presented this paper at the 10th International
Conference of Standards Users (IFAN) in Berlin, Germany, in late
Fifty years ago, this conference would not have been possible.
There was no global trading system as we know it today. Standards
were developed largely for local consumption. But standardization
is evolving; and we are evolving with it. The process of evolution
calls upon us to unfold, to grow, to develop. It is the only way
we will meet the needs of the greatest, most enticing marketplace
It is a privilege to be in this room today with so many leaders
in the field of standardization. I feel a kinship here that I
feel in no other setting. We speak different languages, and yet
we are able to understand one another perfectly. You know me and
I know you because of what we do. We have come here today to share
our experiences, because we want our work in the field of standardization
to be more meaningful. We want it to have purpose and be useful.
We are part of the global marketplace. We are linked to it, we
influence it, we serve it. We are bound, therefore, to evolve
as it evolves. That means that we must accept change and, in fact,
institute it. That is our business. It is our responsibility.
That is what we are here to talk about today: how standardization
is changing and evolving to meet the needs of a marketplace our
forefathers could only imagine.
Let us consider first what has guided us unerringly in the past.
Let us consider the intrinsic nature of standardization and the
values that have sustained it throughout the process of evolution.
Openness, transparency, and consensus have given our process integrity.
Quality and relevance have given our standards substance and purpose.
Openness, transparency, consensus, quality, and relevance: These
are the values that define us. They are what we bring to the dynamics
A Time of Transition
Everyone in this room knows that a debate rages among us as to
what constitutes an international standard. Many of todays industrial
leaders are indifferent to that debate, and the next generation
will most likely find it irrelevant. Theirs will be a world of
global commerce where the only thing that is important is whether
or not a standard, whatever it is called, is meeting their needs.
One day, our debate will be history.
We are clearly living in a time of transition. The debate is the
clue. It is merely the symptom of change. The ideas we hold so
dear, our views of the world, everything we are doing and have
done will give way to the future. How well equipped are we to
cope with evolution?
This is the question we in ASTM are asking ourselves and I am
very pleased to be able to share our ideas with you at this conference,
because we will all be in the same future. It begins now, of course,
and we are living in a world that has grown smaller than any of
us ever thought it would. We are related to one another whether
we want to be or not.
Global commerce has related us. Our work now serves a marketplace
created by mind-boggling technology, by international mergers,
and companies whose nationalities are barely distinguishable.
We are all challenged to serve that marketplace; and if we dont,
it wont matter how we develop our standards, or from what development
center they issue. When I first began to work in this field, there
were no consortia developing standards. Consortia were created
by people whose needs were not being met.
No matter how we see the process of standardization, meeting the
needs of users must be our primary mission. The most challenging
reality of meeting needs is the constant evolution of expectations.
Customers needs are not static. They are moving targets; and
it takes resources to meet them. That is the other reality; and
it is faced by every standards developing organization in the
world. It takes resources to provide new technologies for developing
and delivering standards. It takes resources to be efficient.
No matter how our standards are developed, and what our differences
may be, we must all have resources to provide our services.
We do this in various ways. In the United States, standards organizations
have funding mechanisms that run the gamut from membership dues
to government subsidies, to certification fees, to the sale of
documents, to creative combinations of these. We feel very fortunate
that we are able to choose the one that serves us best. The business
model ASTM uses designates the sale of documents as the source
for the greater part of its revenue. The adoption of this model
was a conscious corporate decision, chosen for its many advantages.
A business model such as this aligns standardization philosophically
and practically with enterprise, in that survival depends on management,
opportunity, and the quality of the product.
ASTM also makes participation easy. It admits technical experts
from companies all over the world. Our international membership
is growing; and as the nationalities of global companies become
less distinguishable, so it is with many of our technical committees.
They can no longer be characterized as American. They are citizens
of the global marketplace.
Standardization in ASTM is not driven or shaped by political aims.
There is no government subsidy, no government overview, no direction,
no special status. Government experts are members of technical
committees. They are equals and part of the consensus, nothing
more, nothing less.
Government is a partner and a user. In 1995, the U.S. Congress
enacted a law (1) that mandates the federal use of standards developed
by private consensus organizations to meet regulatory and procurement
needs. It obliges federal agencies to consult with voluntary consensus
standards bodies and participate with them in the development
of standards. This has already made government regulation and
procurement more efficientand more global. International technologies,
through standardization, are used by government and adopted into
U.S. regulations. For those who take advantage of it, this kind
of standardization is a global trade dream come true, an unparalleled
opportunity. These same standards can be, and are adopted into
the regulations of other countries. Standardization, then, begins
to globalize regulation, solving one of the thorniest problems
of the global marketplace.
Have all of these things had a real impact? The alignment of marketplace
needs, regulation, and standardization has produced a widespread
use of ASTM standards. They are used all over the world, in regulations,
in procurement contracts, in laboratories, and in manufacturing.
They are part of the global marketplace.
ASTM is also a staunch supporter of ISO [International Organization
for Standardization], investing resources, both financial and
human, in the support of ISO Technical Advisory Groups. It supports
over two-thirds of all U.S TAGs because for some ASTM global company
members, ISO is the chosen path to world trade. We honor that
decision and support it. We believe that all choices are valid.
Many Ways to Make a Standard
We know that we are different. In the United States there is no
such thing as one national standards developing body. Our standards
are developed in bodies that specialize along sector lines. This
alone makes us different. Our standards organizations are open
to everyone in the world, and this, too, makes us different. Sometimes
we are not well understood by the rest of the world. That is why
speaking here today is an unexpected opportunity and why I accepted
the invitation with such enthusiasm. It is difficult for our colleagues
in world organizations to understand why we say that the standards
we develop are international. At first glance, this may seem pretentious,
when actually it is simply an acknowledgement based on participation
and use. The global marketplace is opportunistic. When it chooses
ASTM, we serve it. It is our job. It is our responsibility.
I can only speak for the organization I serve, but I should like
to say this clearly: we do not deny the worth of other standardization
systems, nor do we denigrate them. We do not believe that our
way, or any one way, is the only way to global trade without barriers.
We hear the cry for one standard, accepted everywhere, and we
understand it. But the world, as small as it has become, is still
diverse. There is no one body of standards today that is accepted
everywhere, and those of us in this room may not live to see such
a thing come to pass. In the meantime, we have todays global
market and its needs to meet. We must answer its call, watch it,
understand it, evolve as it evolves. It is our job. It is our
And that means that we must look to our values. I believe that
quality and relevance, accepted everywhere is the mantra of
the possible, the present, and the future. Organizations will
come and go, shift and transform. Debates will rage and be forgotten.
Worldviews will change and politics will align and realign. But
with our values to uphold us, we may yet build a world where standardization
rises above nationalities, where science is safely out of the
reach of politics, where universal interests and higher ideals
replace provincial biases, and where trade flows freely and unhindered
throughout a global marketplace.
James A. Thomas
(1) The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995
Copyright 2001, ASTM