|Digital Standards Development
by Philip Lively
This is the first of a two-part article in this issue on ASTMs
Digital Path Initiative (click here for part 2). Phil Lively, ASTM vice president of information
technology development and application, discusses digital initiatives
that will improve ASTMs openness, transparency, and potential
for global participation.
For some time ASTM International has capitalized on the emergence
of the Internet by using it as an electronic network for developing
and delivering standards. In the 1990s members of ASTM committees
began to use Internet e-mail to exchange draft standards and,
in 2000, ASTM conducted its first e-ballot by combining e-mail
notification with Web voting. In 1997 customers were given the
capability of purchasing and receiving standards in real time
from ASTMs Web site. And recently, committee members were provided
with meeting minutes, membership rosters, and other documents
through their committee Web pages.
Now ASTM is stepping up its efforts even more to enhance the development
and delivery of standards through modern information technology,
particularly the Internet. It calls these efforts the ASTM Digital
What Is the ASTM Digital Path?
The ASTM Digital Path is an initiative 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. Many of the digital pieces needed for the path already
exist. The Initiative will develop any missing pieces and tie
them all together in an integrated and automated path.
Goals of the Initiative
ASTM has several strategic and organizational goals that it hopes
to achieve through the Digital Path Initiative. Among them are:
Provide the optimum digital environment for technical committees
to develop standards. This includes the ability for members to
self-serve any needed files or documents through their desktop
computer, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Improve and increase worldwide participation in the ASTM standards
process by using the Internet to overcome the barriers of time
and distance. Stakeholders should be able to participate meaningfully
through their desktop computer.
Publish and deliver new and revised standards shortly after
they are approved.
Capture all ASTM standards work in the drafting stage and display
their status as work items on ASTMs Web site.
Integrate all internal and external ASTM systems.
Achieve cost reductions through improved committee and staff
Organizational and Technical Concerns
ASTM is undertaking its Digital Path Initiative well aware of
several concerns that must be taken into account.
One of the first is to eliminate any perception that the Digital
Path will exclude some stakeholders from participation. ASTM will
continue to support traditional means of participation such as
physical meetings, mail, phone, and fax. Stakeholders unable to
participate digitally will still be able to participate in an
Another concern facing ASTM is the complexity of interacting with
thousands of stakeholders who may have heterogeneous electronic
environments, restrictive organizational policies on Internet
use, and various levels of software and Internet skill. ASTM has
tried to address this concern by recently establishing a member
help desk, which offers phone and e-mail support for ASTM members.
In addition, ASTM eschews specialized software in favor of common
software likely to be found on most desktops.
A final concern is the technical limitations that may hinder full
implementation of the Initiative. One example that members have
already bumped into is their inability to cut and paste all formatting
from a word processing file into an HTML comment box. This limitation
hinders electronic balloting by reducing the clarity of some electronic
communications. Another is the non-existence of software to test
and translate member Word files for style and structure compliance
with ASTMs SGML-tagged publishing system. Without such a tool,
member files cannot be imported without significant manual scrutiny.
Pieces in Place
As detailed in part two of this article, many pieces of the Digital Path are already
in place; I will highlight just a few.
Word templates and Word versions of ASTM standards are available
to members to author new standards or revise existing ones. Once
the proposed standard is captured in Word, members can distribute
their drafts for comment either by using e-mail or by using ASTM
Forums, which are digital work chambers where small groups can
store documents and offer participants the opportunity to append
comments and alternative wording. These Forums are Web based.
Once the standard draft is ready for ballot, ASTM now offers Web
balloting, a system in which technical committee members can view
the draft document or proposed revision through their Web browser
and cast their vote online. They also have the capability of inserting
rationales, comments, and alternative wording in support of negative
Once the standard has been approved, ASTMs publishing system
can capture and store the standard in an electronic file that
can be used for multiple outputs. These include various file formats
such as PDF, Word, and print files.
Pieces to Come
Several additional pieces of the Digital Path Initiative are under
First, ASTM is developing a database to capture complete information
about the draft standards activities under way in its technical
committees. We call these activities Work Items, and they include
such items as new standards or revisions. ASTM is working on a
Web-based submittal system that would allow committees to document
their work items and display them on the Web as well as feed them
via e-mail to interested stakeholders. This system should debut
in 2002. It will also be integrated with ASTMs balloting system
so that work item status will be automatically updated on the
Web as the work item moves into and through the balloting process.
The second piece we are working on is to capture balloting results,
including all the supporting documentation for negatives and comments,
in a digital file that can be used to provide technical committees
with a Web ballot summary. One possible outcome of this effort
is to distribute negatives and comments immediately as they are
cast so that they can be addressed in a more timely fashion.
We are also planning to provide committee members with the option
to conduct and participate in online meetings via their Web browser
and telephone. This capability will be another digital option,
on top of e-mail and forums, for our stakeholders to participate
via their desktop and the Internet.
An enhanced data warehouse is also being planned, which will allow
members, customers, and other stakeholders to access needed files
on a 24/7 basis directly from their desktop. For example, members
with appropriate access rights will be able to obtain, on a self-serve
basis, Word files needed for standards revision work. Customers
and interested members will be able to order historical standards
that will be stored in the data warehouse. The warehouse will
also be used to feed ASTMs on-demand production system to produce
print on demand, books on demand and custom CDs.
Lastly, the Digital Path Initiative will seek to more fully integrate
ASTMs several databases to enable real time information sharing,
which will mean that all stakeholders will have access to the
latest possible information about any standards item being tracked
on its Digital Path.
In 2002, members and customers of ASTM will see several more pieces
put in place to further the Digital Path Initiative. Development
and delivery of ASTM standards will become even more Web enabled,
which will increase the openness, transparency, and participation
possibilities in the ASTM process. //
Copyright 2002, ASTM