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Money Under the Mattress
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 December 2007
Plain Talk for a New Generation

James A. Thomas
President, ASTM International

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for a New Generation


Money Under the Mattress

Money under the mattress. That’s what standards are that are
not called into action. Marvels of technical achievement, standards are still no more than keepsakes until they are put into use. Standards are not supposed to be keepsakes. They are investments. Instruments of competition and movement.

Around the world, ASTM International standards are perceived and used as investments and instruments. Developing countries – 54 of them at this writing – are making ASTM standards part of their regulatory requirements and commercial policies through the ASTM memorandum of understanding program. Their governments are making ASTM standards the criteria on which they will admit products into the market, build infrastructures, and further economies. To corporations who use ASTM standards strategically, these economies represent suppliers and assemblers, labor forces and customers — they are a perfect match.

So our approach has been to introduce ASTM International standards into these markets, train experts in their use, and stimulate development, connections and trade. All of this is happening.

These countries are not the only places where ASTM standards refocus economies. People and organizations everywhere in the world use ASTM International standards: manufacturers, laboratories, governments, importers, exporters, inspection agencies, hospitals, utilities. ASTM standards are moving forces everywhere. Why, then — if they are legally permitted — would anybody not use them, and instead put them under the mattress?

It’s hard to believe, but true, that in this day of technological enchantment, in an age where so many use electronic devices routinely, where people travel in the air and in space, where medical devices can literally make hearts beat, standards — which make all of this possible — are not part of the collective consciousness. Ask the man or woman on the street how standards affect their lives. Chances are they don’t know. They don’t have to, because standards are doing their job.

But corporations do have to know. It is their business to know what makes their products tick, what their customers want, what their regulators require, what their competitors are doing, how to surmount market barriers. It is their business to know what is under the surface of success. In fact, corporations worldwide send their best people to ASTM International to develop the world’s best standards. They invest in the ASTM process and in standardization, and that’s a great business decision.

But, incredibly, some companies stop at that point, content to use the standards they’ve invested in only locally or in a limited way. While no corporate officer would consciously put a company’s financial assets under a mattress, some corporations seem unaware of the commercial power of the very standards they helped develop. They stop at the brink of the great breakthrough.

As standards developers, our challenge is to change the
consciousness of corporations that still do not see standardization as an investment in expansion, as part of a broad global corporate strategy. Perhaps all they really need to do is to take a good look at the corporations that get it, that have broken through the barriers and are already successful in new markets as well as at home. Take a good look at the competition — and take that money out from under the mattress. //

James A. Thomas
President, ASTM