How can we save ISA?

The resignation of ISA’s third Executive Director in less than six years makes CONTROL Editor in Chief Walt Boyes wonder what ISA has that still matters to the typical process automation end user.

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By Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

THE RESIGNATIION OF ISA’s third Executive Director in less than six years makes me wonder what ISA has that still matters to the typical process automation end user. It could be, as Jo Dee Messina's latest song goes, "My giveadamn's busted!"

ISA has a great trade show. ISA volunteers from end-user companies, integrators, engineering companies and vendors put on fantastic papers and tutorials as part of the ISA show. This intellectual property belongs to ISA only because ISA rules require the transfer of copyright. People are beginning to take those papers and tutorials elsewhere.

ISA has the largest amount of process automation intellectual property in the world, but it is only of limited value. Most of the really old stuff is worthless, and ISA sells the current stuff at market rates. All of this great content was developed by volunteers. Many of those volunteers are simply tired of giving their intellectual property away for very little or nothing, and not getting much in return. If you are like most end users, you can get all the same info you need from the Internet, your local vendors, and the User Group meetings that you attend.

ISA used to have divisions, but starved almost all of them to death. The Analysis Division, and possibly PuPID, which have continued to control their own destinies, could easily survive as separate organizations.

It is well to remember why there are a series of small groups that handle education in specific niches of process automation. They were started, and continue to operate, because ISA has not been effective in doing what these groups do.

ISA’s local sections are independently incorporated, and many would survive ISA. The sections have little to do with ISA, especially since it is too expensive for them to "do business" with ISA for training and materials.

ISA's training courses are excellent, because the ISA volunteers who actually have the intellectual property wrote those training courses and sold them to ISA at a deeply discounted amount, as "works for hire." End-users can buy the same quality training, at similar prices, from other vendors worldwide. Making that quality training and intellectual property available at a very deep discount would go far to bring back ISA's usefulness to the end user community.

ISA's ability to make standards is provided by volunteers who work for the vendors and end users in the automation community. If ISA were to shut down its standards organization, the effort would be picked up by several other organizations. You do not need to belong to ISA to make standards. Volunteers worked feverishly to get ISA to stop selling its standards at market prices to its members by instituting a nominal annual standards subscription, now rescinded in favor of market pricing.

INTECH is a controlled subscription publication, just like any other trade magazine. So there is no net benefit to the end user there, either. With fewer than 30,000 members, ISA no longer has the name recognition it used to. However, ISA has about $30 million in the bank.

ISA has a long tradition of service to the profession. Well, the volunteers have a long tradition of service to ISA, which may not be the same thing exactly.

ISA can turn itself around, if we all get involved and make it do it. MY giveadamn isn’t busted. We need ISA. If we didn’t have it, or it dies of its current illness, we’d have to re-create it. So, e-mail Don Zee, ISA’s President, and tell him what you think he ought to do now.

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