Many of our followers, friends, contacts and miscellaneous others may have spotted that we travelled to the Gateway City of St Louis on the banks of the Mississippi during the last weekend of June where we attended the annual Summer Leaders’ Meeting (SLM) of the International Society of Instrumentation (ISA). This was an extremely interesting meeting attended by leaders of the society from across the planet, North America, South America, Europe and Asia.
(The only person to pick up our Freudian slip here was Nick Denbow in his August issue on Industrial Automation Insider, the name of the organisation is of course the International Society of Automation! – apologies for this senior moment – EÓR 3/8/2011)
ISA has had an at best an indifferent and doubtful press in the past few years. It was felt, and this was fairly widely publicised, to have “lost touch” with its natural community, the automation community. In addition it had suffered badly in the recession. After a period when it led the world in the use of the new electronic tools, email and internet in the early and mid 1990s it seemed to have rested on its oars for the first five or six years of the new century. The social media phenomenon seemed to have passed the organisation by. It had some changes in management with three Executive Directors in a short period of time, which can’t have helped either. Then the unforseen depression/recession struck deeply and suddenly a number of these and other shortcomings became apparent.
The reactions of leaders to this crisis was not uncommon in many organisations.
Some hide their heads in the sand like ostriches, “This depression will go away and things will return to ‘normal!'” or “We’ve always done things like this in the past and it served us well!”
Others, with varying degrees of radicalism, spotted that there were a number of things happening here, not all of which had anything to do with the financials. The ISA’s web presence for instance was firmly stuck in “Web 1!” It was a “read-only” service while the web itself became and continues to become more and more interactive. Others pointed out that operation of the “market” which ISA was supposed to serve had changed. Instead of accepting products and information sent to them customers became much more selective and only accepted what they were interested in receiving. Users were telling each other what was available, i.e. networking. In automation this was the forte of ISA and here it was happening and ISA was not there. Because ISA was not “out there” in this new milieu it was felt that the membership started to fall. Members were not renewing in the same numbers and new members, especially the new young automation professionals (YAPs) did not seem to be adding their enthusiasm and verve to the organisation. They would by and large agree with the expression quoted by Seth Godin in his little book, Meatball Sundae, “….we don’t have to just change our website – we are going to have to change everything about our organisation. our mission, our structure, our decision making…”
Yet there are inherent strengths in the organisation not least in the society volunteers and staff who continue to work passionately for the society and for the profession. Sometimes, as is natural, the two viewpoints (“head in sand” versus “change everything!”) clashed or misinterpreted each other. This can lead to suspicion, lack of co-operation and eventually disintegration of any organisation.
The last two years were a worrying time for the society. A few task forces were set up to see what could be done. Many sighed “not another task force!” However it appears that these task forces, which reported real progress at this meeting, are actually doing something to address the miriad of challenges that face a volunteer organisation in the early 21st century.
These bodies looked at streamlining the governance of the Society, which has remained fundamentally unchanged for over sixty years and a second is aimed at reorganising the web presence of the society, making it more visible as the true voice of the Automation Professional throughout the world. Yet a third stream examined the membership, the type of membership and how this could be expanded to make it a more representative body of the world of automation and the people who populate it.
The interim reports presented by the governance committee and by that on membership lookes very promising, indeed radical in places, promising a complete change in the way the society is run, from the election of officers – it is proposed that they be directly elected by the members – to managing the ongoing attitude to change and including an Audit Committee. Changes too are mooted in the types of membership and how they are defined as well as a new system of honouring automation professionals both for services to the Society and for services to Automation as a discipline or profession.
The Web and Social Media however is the area where concrete visible advances were made with the launch of a new interactive site called ISA Interchange. This is an “online source of automation news and technical content.” The idea of this initiative is “to post content that starts conversations between automation professionals.” It may also be said to be the start of a complete overhaul of the existing ISA website a consumation for which many members and non-members devoutly wish!
It is hoped that these developments may be advanced far enough to provide the society delegates with sufficient information to take at least some of the necessary decisions in October.
While all this discussion was going on throughout the weekend the usual business of the society was progressing. Standards were furthered, Divisions discussed progress in their own particular fields, modern education and training courses in automation were developed and methods of promoting automation research and publishing results were examined. Automation professionals were selected as 2011 Honourees to be presented at Automation Week’s great Gala Event in the Autumn.
The nomination committee sat in solumn conclave with representatives for each district meeting and discussing the merits of those willing to place their names before the society delegates at the Autumn meeting – Fall Leaders’ Meeting (FLM) – preceeding this year’s Automation Week in Mobile (Al USA). They selected the following nominees:
President Elect Secretary: Terry Ives (Ives Equipment Company, Pennsylvania)
Strategic Planning Vice President-elect: Jon DiPietro (Domesticating IT, New Hampshire – pictured)
Image & Membership VP-elect: Dean Ford (Wunderlich-Malec, Maryland – pictured)
Automation & Technology Department Vice President-elect: Stephen Allison (Oak Ridge National Lab, Tennessee)
Industries & Sciences Department Vice President-elect: Alex Habib (Consultant, New Jersey)
Professional Development Department Vice President-elect: Jacob Jackson (Assurity Design Group, Georgia)
All in all leaders left St Louis with a feeling that things were on the up and looking forward to the next leader’s meeting in Alabama. “Excellent meetings” said one leader, “Feels like a new society when compared with 2009,” said another, while a third said, “I now believe that things are moving positively again!” ISA President Leo Staples expressed himself more than pleased when he remarked: “The SLM clearly gave a new momentum to ISA!”
Hopefully they are right!