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Sometimes You Just Have to Let Go

May 4, 2008
ISA Has Decided to Use the Compliance Institutes as a Way to Recover the Lost Revenue from the Dying ISA Show
By Walt Boyes, Editor in chief

Over spring break, I had one of those rites of passage only a father understands. My 19-year-old daughter and I drove to the airport together one morning in March—me to head to WBF and Interphex, and she, off by herself for the very first time to spend spring break in Seattle with her best friend. It was a wrench… one of many for poor old dad, here…but at some point you have to let your children go.

I’m getting ready to let one of my other “children” go now. In 2006, I suggested to Pat Gouhin, executive director of ISA, that ISA start a security compliance institute. Now there are several. The ISCI for security; the WCI for ISA100’s wireless standard; the IICI for ISA88 and ISA95 compliance…and a whole organization, the Automation Standard Compliance Institute, to house them.

Like children, ideas don’t always go the way you want them to. And often, you have to let them go out and make what you are sure are mistakes.

In the case of the compliance institutes, that’s where I am right now.

What I envisioned was that ISA itself would fund the compliance institutes out of ISA’s significant reserve funds to protect the intellectual property that rightly belongs to the Standards and Practices Department, and recoup its investment out of compliance testing fees to the break-even level. With me so far? 

I intended the concept of standards compliance and enforcement by ISA to be a service to the end users…the people who use the standards and the products developed based on the standards—the people who make up about 55% of the members of ISA.

But what actually appears to have happened, in the words of a highly placed vendor company official, is “ISA has decided to use the compliance institutes as a way to recover the lost revenue from the dying ISA show.” Vendors and end-user companies have been asked to pony up huge fees to become “charter members” with expanded voting rights and privileges.

What do I mean by huge fees? In one case, at least, charter members had to post $50,000 per year, the first two years payable in advance, to join the compliance institute. Know of many end users who can do that?

Considering that it is ISA’s party line that ISA standards are better than, for example, HART Communication Foundation Standards because the HART Foundation makes you pay to play, this strategy seems disingenuous at best. Isn’t what we’re doing with the compliance institutes much the same thing?

There seem to be no safeguards to prevent an over-mighty vendor from essentially hijacking a compliance institute.

It is also clear that there are no direct controls with volunteer oversight from the ISA Standards and Practices Board...which is what makes ISA’s standards body unique and user-driven. It appears that ISA has gone out of its way to make sure that the people who write the standards have little or no say in how the compliance system works. The individual compliance institutes belong to a company called ASCI which is owned by ISA. See the problem?

These are, however, unique opportunities to foul up this system and make the compliance process look dirty. This was not what I had in mind at all.

I still think that ISA should better control what people do with its standards. I’ve thought so for all thirty years I’ve been an ISA member. But ISA shouldn’t be doing it as a profit-making venture...excuse me, a “contribution to surplus” venture.

So I’m going to let this child go.

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