Debacle or basis for development?

Since the doors closed on the first ISA Automation Week in Houston on the seventh of October there has been a veritable plethera of comment, counter comment, praise and vilification to an extraordinary degree. One thing we can be sure of is that people still care about ISA.

Back to the glory days!

We wrote our own impressions on the blog Much done more to do after our return from Houston and little we have read has made us change our mind.

Carl Henning in ProfiBlog (ProfiSafe at ISA) the next day was obviously disappointed and remembered the glory days in the eighties, when he remembers going to the event in horse-drawn carriages, or so he says!

Ian Verhappen (aka The Great Kanduski), another attendee, wrote in his blog and pointed out those things which could be changed like the iron-rule that nobody could enter the exhibition hall until the appointed time irrespective of whether your particular session was completed and the eating arrangements. There were many new things tried some worked and others did not.

Walt Boyes in his Sounding Off blog reported on what people had told him of the shortcomings. He reported on the announced EIT membership of the Automation Federation which he called in his usual forthright style “the tail wagging the dog.” With regard to the event itself he says “Was Automation Week 2010 a success or a failure? I have an opinion, but you do the math yourself.”

In marked contrast is Greg McMillan’s contribution, ISA Automation Week 2010 – The Most Important Week in my Career. He examines the technical programme on his Modeling and Control site. “The renewed emphasis on technical presentations particularly in automation and control rejuvenated my interest in the International Society of Automation. I moderated a panel discussion on loop tuning.” Greg McMillan was awarded the ISA’s coveted Life Achievement Award at the Gala Dinner the night before.

Automation World’s Gary Mintchel refers to ISA Automation Week in his Video Essay on conference season in automation on his FeedForward Blog, where he again reported on what he had heard of the event, called, he says, by some “Automation Weak!”

Few vendors have been willing to put their thoughts on paper into the public domain, but it is fair to say that feelings were decidedly mixed.

ISA finally issued a wrap-up release on the 19th where Pat Gouhin, Executive Director of ISA, acknowledges the problems “Hosting a new type of conference is always exciting, yet it can be very challenging too. Early indications show support for this new type of event, with a flow and functionality that would be different from past events. And though ISA has been hosting both large and small conferences for more than 45 years, we found that an all-new format like this one, can indeed present some struggles. There are quite a few areas where we can improve our format and our execution, and we will.”

But by far the most devastating criticism came from the pen of Jim Pinto in his Growth & Success periodical e-letter. In an article entitled ISA continues downhill slide, he moves from the reports he has heard of the event to a more general criticism of the ISA management itself. “The debacle of Automation Week now stands as witness to a serious lack of understanding as to where ISA is going, and clear confirmation that volunteer leadership is not competent to proceed. They must either change their thinking, with wrenching resolve and under full disclosure, or membership will simply wither away!” His criticisms of ISA have hardened because he feels no progress has been made in revifying the organisation as the membership numbers seem to be relentlessly declining especially in the United States.

One of the good things to come with Automation Week was what was refered to as  Conference 2 or the Automation Week On-line Community. This was open to conference registrands and although slow to get started did manage to get a few conversations going. Dean Ford started a thread of comments after the event which gave rise to a few recommendations one of which was a pet peeve of mine: “free wireless will make it easier for people to attend (they can stay in touch) and promote AW (through social media and sharing).  We ought really to promote that, it’s a big deal for attendees.” Another concerned the extension of the symbols used in the unique Pathfinder concept, used at the event. “I think the graphic symbols for each pathway is a great concept.  Let’s use them more on the signage and in the Conference program detail section.” Yet another comment concerned the exhibition sector: “Don’t you realize the instrument technician is your end user? Sure, he doesn’t represent direct sales, but, in operating companies at least who do you think the engineers purchasing the equipment listen to? Charging a technician a minimum of $300. to step into the exhibit room which was closed most of the time anyway is hardly encouragement is it?”

There has been some comparison with the Emerson User Group meeting which was held to great accolades the previous week. It is not altogether a fair comparison but certainly some aspects could be used with profit at Automation Week! “We could ‘borrow’ Emerson’s idea and set up a social media help booth.  They signed up hundreds of people and showed them how to use Twitter.  This created a small army of people promoting their event,” was a reasonable suggestion. There were also suggestions on how to improve the service to journalists which was so misunderstood by those who did not attend. In fact the Journalists who did attend were welcome to all sessions, meals on all the days and to the Dick Morley event on the final evening. But there was no press room as such and as mentioned earlier the wifi system at the hotel was expensive and unreliable.

There is an ISA Automation Week LinkedIn Group too but that was generally used for announcements. There was a more spirited response on the ISA LinkedIn Group under the provocative question posed by Joe Kaulfersch: Are You attending ISA Automation Week 2010? WHY or WHY NOT?

No doubt the coverage will continue for a while and where we know about it we will update our original blog, Much done more to do! with links to them.

Our own view is that it was not in any way as good as we hoped but neither was it the abject failure that some had predicted or claimed. Like the curate’s egg it was good in parts. There is something there to be built on but it is going to be a tough uphill battle.  As Patrick Gouhin said, “There are quite a few areas where we can improve our format and our execution, and we will.”

The next ISA Automation Week is to be held in Mobile, (Al US). This has led to a number of comments not all of which are complimentary to that location. The chairmen of the 2011 event, former ISA President Ken Baker says “As we begin planning for ISA Automation Week 2011, we’ll build upon the strengths of this year’s event and adjust to the dynamic environment in which we operate. We’ll review the format and what we’ve learned, and we’ll look at ways to optimize all aspects of the experience for everyone.”

The wealth of interest in ISA and the genuine affection held for the organisation among its members is not enough to see a triumphant Automation Week. No! A lot of very hard work from a professional staff, a realisation among them and among the members that the world has changed and an ability and imagination to harness those changes, and a marked dedication to detail that ensures that silly pin-prick problems are eliminated combined with the good will of the automation community must ensure that #ISAwk 2011 in Mobile will assume the status  for a twenty first century Carl Hennings that Philadelphia in the eighties had for the twentieth century one.

We shall see.

2 Responses to Debacle or basis for development?

  1. Jim Cahill says:

    Eoin, Thanks for a great wrap up of the event and link to our social media activities at Emerson Exchange. I wished I could have made it over to Automation Week for at least a day to catch Greg’s sessions and blog about them. It just didn’t work out with the event back to back with Emerson Exchange and the Valve Manufacturers Association annual meeting where I was invited to speak.

    Hopefully, I’ll be able to join the commentary and punditry next year in Mobile!

  2. […] UPDATE: For more on ISA Week visit the Readout Instrumentation Signpost blog: “Debacle or basis for development?” […]

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