The world according to…

There may be no going back to the days when people believed that ISA was the voice of the end user, but if it wants to carve out new territory for itself, it needs to put money back into niche groups.

Walt BoyesBy Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

ISA President-elect Steve Huffman responded to my July editorial, "Vendor vs. Vendor": “I read with interest your editorial on users groups and your appeal for an unbiased ‘master users’ group.’ We appreciate the challenge you issued to end users and I, for one, am interested in further positioning ISA to have that recognition.”

Me too, Steve. But that’s where I start having problems.

There may, in fact, be no going back to the days when people believed that ISA was—and should be—the voice of the end user. This magazine is now substantially better at being that voice than ISA is. Why? Because we take strongly held positions about issues that are meaningful to end users, and ISA, in the name of impartiality, does not.

It took Tom Stout and me a long, long time just to get the original provision against lobbying for end users out of the ISA Bylaws—and ISA sure is silent on that front.

Why wasn’t the president or executive director of ISA on the evening news last year when BP’s Texas City refinery blew up due to concatenating operator error, talking about operator training and the need for licensing—which ISA already has the programs to provide? Boiler operators and water-treatment operators at BP Texas City are licensed by the state of Texas, but the people who operate the refinery itself are not. This is not acceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.

Why wasn’t ISA saying that?

ISA must carve out some new territory for itself, but most of the niches are already comfortably occupied. ARC Advisory Group and the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) have captured management. End-user and vendor managers no longer believe that ISA is relevant to their needs for professional development.

I am very interested in what Steve thinks ISA can do to regain its lost position as the “master user group.” The vendors have cornered this market and use it for their own benefit.

Suppliers see user-group meetings as sales and marketing tools. They are intended to be vehicles for generating end-user enthusiasm and loyalty—to a single supplier. Even the ones that have “additional vendors’ clubs” have rules about who gets in. Most of the user groups monitor attendance. If a system integrator wants to attend, he or she had better be a loyal user of Brand A. I know of several integrators who have been ‘disinvited’ from vendors’ user-group meetings for insufficient loyalty.

Why is this important? System integrators use the best stuff they can find—the famous “best of breed.” They might use Vendor A’s control system, Vendor B’s data historian, etc.

CSIA—the user group for system integrators—is extremely pro-ISA. It supports ISA’s training and certification much more than end-user companies do, and many CSIA-certified system integrators require their engineers and technicians to obtain ISA certification as part of their employment.

ISA had Divisions—user-centered special interest groups. Most of those divisions died of neglect and budget starvation.

If ISA wants back into the user-group business, it needs to put serious money into these groups—at least as much money as, for example, Emerson puts behind Emerson Exchange, or Rockwell puts behind the Automation Fair.

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