Saving ISA...some thoughts from the road

Last night's conversation with Ron Helson, President of the Hart Communications Foundation, and others on the Yokogawa Potomac cruise got me thinking. Now I understand that this may be a dangerous undertaking, and even a Really Bad Thing (tm). So what?

ISA seems to have gotten lost between "serving the members and volunteers" and "running a business." At least five people last night, and Helson and I, had the same story. When they got into the automation field, their boss said, "I want you to join ISA and participate, because it will be good for our company and good for your career." Now, they noted, this does not happen. So people do not join ISA, or they drop out after a year or two, or they only join to get the discount to go to an ISA show.

What this means is that ISA has lost its value proposition. If ISA can't redefine its value to members and employers, we can do anything we want, and all it will be is an exercise in rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We can do that for a long time yet, because we have to go through $30 million before the ship sinks.

I have been saying for ten years that there is nothing ISA currently does that cannot be done without members. That includes standards, training, publications, the magazine, everything.

For the last 30 days, I've been asking people on the Web Poll why they stopped belonging to ISA. Here are some of the responses:

Poll Comments :
  • No company support. Company copies of standards. Certification less relevant than Manufacturer's training.
  • I disagreed with the ISA's lack of leadership against the exportation of our jobs, so I joined the IEEE.
  • Company won't pay also no local chapter.
  • Too little value for dues cost.
  • Not sure what benefits I would gain from joining.
  • Best benefit: printed paper directory of vendors.
  • Don't see the benefits-to-cost advantages.
  • I think the best member benefit is the web site information. Education is the main reason for me to belong to ISA.
  • Though ISA claims to be an international organization, I became disenchanted as a Canadian because I did not have all the benefits available to the American members. Also, every bit of information available has an fee associated and as a paid member, some things should be included.
  • No value to me or my job. Everything was meetings, standards, and high-end stuff. No info of use to the daily job floor.
  • Too much theory. Too much standardization for the purpose of being published. Not enough practical - actual - installations or applications.
  • It became too expensive at that time.
  • Don't see much benefit.
  • Certification for controls engineers is a bad idea. The advertisements compare it to the legal profession bar or the medical profession boards. Fine, increase our salaries to those levels to make it more appealing, attract more people to the profession, then use the certification standard
  • Company will only pay for one membership, ISA is secondary for me.
  • My associate is, so there wasn't a real need.
  • Got out of school.
  • dues
  • company stopped paying for memberships
  • Don't know of its benefits.
  • because of high fees

Here's what I'd do if they made me Czar:

  1. Take all the ISA "businesses" and give them to ISA Services Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of ISA. Then I'd tell ISASI to go down the road and set up on their own, outside of the outrageous overhead of ISA, and either live or die, and send back all the profit. ISA Services Inc. would become a for-profit publishing and training company. It would compete in the marketplace without the impossible job of trying to be a business and serving the members at the same time.
  2. Get rid of all the "services to members" that the members don't want.
  3. Make the local sections and the non-moribund divisions fully autonomous. Let sections and divisions collect their own dues, and administrate themselves. Get rid of Districts. Let the local sections and interest groups (divisions) provide whatever member benefits their members want and will pay for, without running the money through North Carolina.
  4. Downsize the staff to live within revenues. Outsource functions like membership databases, etc. to companies that do this for a living.
  5. Take about half of the $30 million surplus and endow the ISA Foundation, and give it the standards function.
  6. Figure out if what's left has a value proposition, or if a new one can be created for it, or fold the sucker.

Wow! I just created my own "six point plan for saving ISA!" Funny how a lot of it looks just like Pinto's.

It is highly unlikely that they would make me Czar, but that's what I'd do. I frankly fail to see any alternative, if ISA is to be saved. Of course, we can all continue to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic until the $30 million surplus is gone.

What do YOU think?