Organizations Must Provide Value to Their Members to Survive

Continuing the discussion from the last post where I postulated that ISA and MESA struggle more than IEEE or other engineering organizations in retaining members, in this post I'll offer my take as to why.  I already noted that societies that serve specific engineering disciplines like IEEE have a feeder system from academia that gives them a head start unlike the ISA or MESA where there are almost no academic degrees programs that turn out automation engineers.  

We know people join groups because they are seeking one or more of several things; 1) Affinity with like-minded people for social reasons, 2) Education or professional development, 3) Career networking, 4) Economic advantages and 5) Potential for recognition including certification as a professional.  It is the reason I belong to PADI for my scuba diving education and certification and the SCCA for my sports car racing activity.  It is also why I joined IEEE while studying electrical engineering while in college.  It was later in my career when I joined ISA and the now defunct ICS.  I drifted away from ISA when the ICS was formed as ICS offerred a higher degree of affinity at the time - Industrial computing focused professionals instead of instrument techs.  

Yet ICS folded after about ten years from beginning to end and ISA is half the size it was at its peak - why?  The Internet has something to do with it.  I get a high degree of social interaction via LinkedIn and other social media tools. I can get education on-line as well or I get it specific to a particular piece of equipment or software direct from the vendor.  Certification isn't required or particularly valuable in the automation field so that value add isn't real.  Economic advantages like discounts are readily available through my other affiliations so there is little to offer there either.

Like ICS, the World Batch Forum started out with a lot of energy and vitality but as the batch manufacturing standards matured and technology evolved WBF merged itself into MESA.  In the end - I believe that survival for ISA, MESA and other non engineering discipline specific societies requires focusing on how to deliver the things we can't get from the Internet: Primarily education and professional development.  These groups need to keep asking themselves, what do the members want and how can we provide that in the most economical and user-friendly way.  In the end, just like manufacturing itself the focus has to be on customer value.

Dan Miklovic is blogger contributor for Control's blog Manufacturing 2010. You can email him at or check out his Google+ profile.