IT infrastructure, SDOs, and ASTM 2.0

Technology infrastructures are changing the way SDOs do business.
David Walsh

The technology needs of standards development organizations (SDOs) are evolving at a rapid pace, and ASTM International is no different than other SDOs in this regard. Customer and member needs have changed in recent years, and an organization’s IT infrastructure must keep up in order to serve them adequately.

ASTM’s vice president and chief information officer Richard “Rick” Lindberg has spent much of his career building digital solutions and IT infrastructures. After receiving a degree in engineering from West Virginia University, he earned his professional engineer license and worked as an engineer. He was with Guardian Life and Mercer Consulting, among other firms, before arriving at ASTM in 2018. Currently managing the transformative relaunch of the ASTM website, dubbed “ASTM 2.0,” Lindberg took time recently to discuss both the state of the art for IT infrastructures as well as the new features that will make ASTM 2.0 the gold standard for SDOs.

Q. How have the technology needs of SDOs changed in recent years, and how does an organization’s IT infrastructure help meet those needs and drive growth?

A. As with many other types of organizations, the technology needs of SDOs have increased rapidly and will continue to increase. Technology enables a greater amount of business operations, and dissemination of standards and technical content in electronic form to a diverse consumer base. Consumers’ technical sophistication has grown rapidly since the adoption of digital readers like Kindle, the search capabilities of Google, and user experiences like Amazon. These technology advances have become table stakes for SDOs. Consumers are accustomed to using technology in these ways and expect SDOs to be able to deliver a similar experience.

Providing the experiences customers want requires much more sophisticated infrastructure than in the past. Luckily for organizations’ IT departments, companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are offering services like IaaS (infrastructure as a service), PaaS (platform as a service), and SaaS (software as a service). This allows smaller IT organizations to buy or rent these capabilities instead of building them from scratch. In turn, this allows SDOs’ IT departments to benefit from the investments made prior by these companies and the technical know-how they monetized for consumption.

As an example, ASTM has rebuilt all of its consumer-facing technology for disseminating and building standards and other technical content on modern, proven technologies like AWS (Amazon Web Services). We have also implemented best-in-class services for much of the behind-the-scenes technology that helps secure and run the platform. Examples of these technology services are IAM (identity and access management), managing and building APIs (application program interfaces),
and eCommerce.

Q. ASTM International is currently launching ASTM 2.0, which will be a massive upgrade of its technological capabilities. Can you describe why this was needed, as well as some of the new functions that will be available to members and customers?

A. ASTM 2.0 is a program of work we began in early 2020 to modernize our aging technology, leverage modern capabilities, and be able to quickly extend and expand our products and services to our members, customers, and partners. ASTM 2.0 positions us to move at speed and provide the experience that the markets demand.

In our “member committee services” capabilities, we have modernized tried-and-true tools that members use to revise and develop new standards. We have also developed new tools to help committee leadership manage their committees. For example, roster maintenance is one of the most important functions. 

There are many new and improved features in our Compass offering as well. For example, there will be a new, dynamic homepage for users with personalized news, dynamic version comparison for PDF documents, color-coded annotations for categorizing notes, a new, more responsive platform design (easy-to-use on mobile devices), and more.

For our SpecBuilder product, we are working on a feature currently named “SpecBuilder Connect.” Based on demand from our customers, we have built a way for them to seamlessly integrate their customer relationship management systems with SpecBuilder to synchronize information like groups, group membership, etc.

With our new architecture, we will be able to add new capabilities or extend existing capabilities in mere months. 

Q. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced on the way to launching 2.0?

A. Lack of technical architecture, documentation, and integration with legacy systems. We had to completely reverse engineer most features and reengineer others. We also had to deal with the integration with our business-operating systems. One of the premises of the program was not to change any internal legacy systems. We found out that we had to spend more time than expected building work-arounds and new integration middle-ware so that the new could talk with the old.

Another huge challenge to overcome was the time needed to complete the program. Essentially, we built 25 years of technology in 18 months. To move at this speed, we decided to take on another challenge of introducing and operating in the SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) mode. I am proud to say that the teams involved (both staff and vendor partners) did an amazing job of learning and adopting this framework and delivering what was planned.

Q. How has your background as a civil engineer helped prepare you for your role as a leader in the field of IT? 

A. In your education as an engineer, you are taught how to think analytically and how to approach and solve problems. That is what we do in IT as well. After I earned my P.E. license, I started thinking about starting my own engineering firm. Eventually I did start my own firm, but it turned out to be in IT. My first company was a software-development firm, which grew into adding systems-integration services and personal computer manufacturing. I moved from there to work as the head of IT for one of my clients, a large global professional-services company. This led to other CIO opportunities in other industries, including insurance, and ultimately, to ASTM. I see it as coming full circle from where I started: first as an engineer using ASTM standards to now helping ASTM and other SDOs make their standards available to other engineers.

Q. Looking years ahead, what do you see as the future of IT infrastructure for SDOs? What will be next phase of their IT evolution?

A. I do not have to look too far to see what the IT future is for SDOs, partially because we are fulfilling some of those needs today. One of the new services we offer with the new platform is our standards platform as software, or SaaS. Along with other SDO services, we lease space on our platform and the tools we have built to other SDOs and associations so that they do not have to make the big investment ASTM did and can benefit from our years of experience delivering standard-related services to our customers and members. 

As the world moves faster toward data-driven design and manufacturing, there is more pressure to figure out how to deliver standards as data, to be used directly in the associated processes. This is one area we have been involved in for years, and we will continue to leverage our IT infrastructure in figuring out and expanding our services to other SDOs.

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