Standards Compliance is a Good Thing(tm)

April 7, 2005
ISA will move into standards compliance, or it will die. I know that's pretty harsh, but consider. ISA at its highest point had over 40,000 members. That sounds great, but at the same time, publishing industry figures showed well over twice that on controlled, audited circulation figures...so at its height, ISA didn't reach anywhere near the total number of process automation professionals even in North America. Even though ISA had done a lot of global reaching out, ISA membership outside Nor...
ISA will move into standards compliance, or it will die. I know that's pretty harsh, but consider. ISA at its highest point had over 40,000 members. That sounds great, but at the same time, publishing industry figures showed well over twice that on controlled, audited circulation figures...so at its height, ISA didn't reach anywhere near the total number of process automation professionals even in North America. Even though ISA had done a lot of global reaching out, ISA membership outside North America is still very small...in other words, it is a lot less effective as a member support and service organization, and as a standards making body. If you include the domain of discrete automation (machine builders, factory automation, packaging, etc.) you come up with another whole set of automation professionals that ISA never touched. AND NOBODY ELSE DID EITHER!! So, ISA's membership declined. My personal (and completely unsubstantiated) guess is that ISA's current global membership is about 20,000. Less than half of its membership at its height. When I talk to automation professionals, that is, end users, integrators, consultants, and vendors, lots of them tell me that ISA is irrelevant. Why would they say that, unless it was true? If ISA is irrelevant, it will die. Nobody puts money into a useless organization. But I believe that ISA is NOT irrelevant, nor is it useless. But it needs to change. It needs to expand and embrace a new vision for the future. In order to be a true member resource, and begin to attract members again, ISA needs to be important to the automation community. Right now, the only really important function to the community that ISA performs is standards-making. Yes, ISA hosts a trade show, runs training, sells books, publishes a magazine, etc., but all of those things are also done by Reed Elsevier without being a membership organization. Those things are, then, by definition, irrelevant to being a member resource. What could ISA do to become relevant to its memberships? What could give it the biggest bang for the buck? ISA is already one of the largest consensus standard-making bodies in the world. Of course, nobody HAS to follow ISA standards, and lots of people have taken portions of the standard (ISA5 for example, the instrument symbol standard) and cobbled up their own non-standard standard. What if ISA were to go into the standards compliance business? By inspection, this seems to be a way to get a huge bang for the buck for ISA as a standards-making body and as a membership organization. But that ain't all. It is a great big first step back. Eventually, ISA, everywhere it exists globally, is going to have to assert the power to influence rule-making and law-making in the automation sphere. Or it will continue to be irrelevant. In my editorial for May (I know you can't read it yet...have patience) I asked the vendors to step up and do more to get new blood into the automation professions. ISA has to step up and do more, too.

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