February 2000

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Right On, But…

Richard Peppin [November 1999 Letters to the Editor] is “right on” with his assessment of the problem. However, his solution of “looking to the government for help” would not help solve the problem of lack of interest (hence funding) by private enterprise to properly represent North America in a predominantly European community (ISO). By definition, government does not generate revenue. Funding must come from the private sector, which is in the business of generating revenue and profit for shareholders. Unfortunately, in North America, private enterprises march to Wall Street, who in turn awards companies on “short term thinking”; by “short term” I mean “earnings last quarter.” How much private enterprises participate in standards development arenas depends on their perceived business return. Convincing senior management to invest in a standards development arena that has, at best, a four-year development cycle for products (ASTM standards) is already a “tough sell.” To gain their support to participate in ISO, which not only has a much longer development cycle, but is also much more “politically driven,” is virtually impossible as the “business return” is much more intangible, and is mostly based on projected political scenarios that may or may not materialize.

Like Peppin, I’ve spent over a decade in the ASTM trenches and government standards-setting processes. It is my view that no government will adopt standards that will disadvantage their nation’s business enterprises. Hence, I predict that three dominant standards-setting processes will ultimately evolve in a global economy: North America (ASTM), Europe (ISO), and Pacific Rim (???). The notion that the world will eventually adopt ISO standards as their primary trading standards is, in my opinion, a “pipe dream.”

Alex T.C. Lau
Imperial Oil, Quality Assurance
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Thank you for your points, which are well-taken, but we’d like to point out that it is not correct that a four-year standards development cycle is the best ASTM has to offer. ASTM has, in fact, introduced time-saving balloting procedures that committees have used to develop standards in as little as under a year. (—Ed.)

E-mail letters to: Maryann Gorman