Does ISA really matter?

Now, _there's_ a question for you. What does ISA have that matters to the typical process automation end-user? Let's go down the list and see if we can spot something. It could be, as Jo Dee Messina's latest song goes, "My giveadamn's busted!" ISA has a good mailing list. Nope. Doesn't do anything for the end users. Not even that good as a business asset because many others have the same names and some even more. ISA has a trade show. Well, maybe. If the boss will let the end users actually go to it, which is increasingly less likely. And if you are like most end users, you can get all the info you need from the Internet and your local vendors, and the vendor User Group you DO attend. The ISA show has fantastic technical sections. Well, ISA volunteers from both end user companies, integrators, engineering companies and vendors, put on fantastic papers and tutorials as part of the ISA show. Does this intellectual property really belong to ISA? It does, only because ISA rules require the transfer of copyright. If the stream dried up, what happens then? People are beginning to take those papers and tutorials elsewhere, to ABB Automation World, to Matrikon's End User Forum, to the Iconics World User Summit, to the Emerson Exhange, and to the Rockwell Automation Fair, among other venues. ISA has local sections. Well, no. The local sections are independently incorporated, and many will survive ISA if ISA goes down the ubiquitous porcelain convenience. ISA has very little to do with the local sections, especially since it is very expensive (many people say, too expensive) for local sections to "do business" with ISA for training and materials for training, which is the thing that those very same local sections know their members want. Some of the local sections have begun contingency planning for how to survive ISA's demise. ISA has almost 50 years' worth of the largest amount of process automation intellectual property in the world. Yes, that's true, but it is only of limited value. There are two reasons for this. First, most of the really old stuff is of historical interest only...and ISA sells the more modern stuff at what are effectively market rates...and you can get much of the same or similar intellectual property from either commercial magazines or other organizations, like WBF (formerly World Batch Forum) or IEEE. Furthermore, you have to remember that ALL of this great content was and is developed by the volunteers who write papers, draft standards, design training and professional development. Many of those volunteers are simply tired of giving their intellectual property away for very little or nothing, and not getting much in return. ISA has interest group divisions. No, ISA used to have divisions, but starved them to death, and killed them off...all except the Analysis Division, which could, and maybe should, survive as a separate organization. I am sure that there are such contingency plans in place. It is well to remember why there are MESA, MCAA, WBF,CSIA, OMAC and other small groups that handle education in specific niches. They were started, and continue to operate because ISA has not been effective in doing what they do. In the case of WBF, the breakaway was even very acrimonious, and there are some hard feelings to this day. ISA has name recognition. Not with fewer than 30,000 members world wide they don't...not anymore. A whole generation of operators and technicians has developed who doesn't know who ISA _was_ and what it _used to_ mean to our industry. From an end-user's perspective, ISA isn't much help. And in the Enterprise Integration and Discrete Automation markets, ISA flat doesn't exist. ISA has great training. Yes, and no. ISA's training courses are excellent. This is because the ISA volunteers who actually HAVE the intellectual property have written those training courses, and sold them to ISA at a deeply discounted amount, as "works for hire." If the stream of volunteers dries up any more, ISA will have a problem, won't they? ISA has great training. Yes. But you can buy the same quality training, at similar prices, from a lot of other vendors, worldwide. ISA should NOT be selling training at market prices, just like they should not be selling intellectual property at market prices, to their membership. Having the ability to get that market-quality training and intellectual property at very deep discount would go far to bring back ISA's usefulness to the end user community. ISA makes great standards. No. ISA's Standards and Practices Department is full of volunteers, and two very dedicated staff members, who produce ANSI/ISA and IEC standards on process automation, and increasingly, with standards like ISA88 and ISA95, business practice standards that have grown out of automation and controls. ISA's ability to make standards is again provided almost entirely by the efforts of volunteers who actually 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. For example, ISA88, ISA95, ISA99, ISA100 could easily be transferred to WBF, or to a Joint Working Group composed of MESA and WBF. Several of us, including Ian Verhappen, Vitor Finkel, Victor Smith, Dawn Schweitzer, and lots more that I haven't named, worked feverishly to get ISA to stop selling its standards at market prices to its members, by instituting a nominal $25 charge annually to download any and all ISA standards if you were a member. This was the first part of a multilegged stool approach to getting standards more highly recognized and more often used. Unfortunately, that has now been rescinded in favor of market pricing again. So once again, there is no benefit to the end-user. I don't have to belong to ISA to help make standards, and there is no real benefit (not a big one anyway) to belong to ISA to buy one either. ISA publishes a good magazine. Yes. ISA used to publish three good magazines, and they'd all still be around if ISA was simply a magazine publisher. But you don't have to belong to ISA to get INTECH. All you have to do is subscribe, just like any other trade magazine. So, there is no net benefit to the end user to belong to ISA there, either. 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 has about $30 million in the bank. Yep. Benefit to end users? I think MY giveadamn is busted.
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  • <p>While the organization and details are different, ISA sounds a bit like the last organization I was on the Board of Directors for. Instead of service to the members, and working on increasing membership, it serves itself and its cash flow. My attempts to make the organization more relevant to members who didn't harvest the cash flow, were the trigger that led to its final explosion.</p> <p>Some organizations outlive their usefulness. This is especially likely to happen when leadership ossifies, and serving the needs of the hierarchy becomes more important than serving the membership. What you've been saying, for the last week or so, sounds like the ISA has reached that point. Unless those who run ISA start to ask "WTF happened to our membership?" and sound like they intend to take action on the answer, you're best off working with organizations that are relevant, or honestly wish to become relevant.</p>


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