Social Networking for Automation Professionals

Jon DiPietro is a leader within the International Society of Automation who also knows his way around social media. In this exchange with Gary Mintchell, Automation World's Editor in Chief, DiPietro provides insights on the future for professional organizations in a Web 2.0 world.

Jon DiPietro
Jon DiPietro
Automation World: What are the current information technology (IT) challenges and opportunities in the water/wastewater industry?
Jon DiPietro: I've just returned from a trip to an Australian client where I was doing some system implementation and training. On a number of occasions, I performed Google searches to find the quickest way to solve some database issues I was having, but about a third of the links returned by these searches were blocked because they violated an IT rule against visiting “Blogs and/or Forums.” On several occasions, I had to spend time recreating solutions that should have been a mere mouse click away.

Additionally, I was forced to run all of my client applications though Citrix [software]. Ostensibly, the company is saving money by centralizing these applications and not having to support them on multiple hardware platforms. I'm an IT guy, so I understand the theory. But I'm also an automation engineer so I understand workflow studies, which I've never seen an IT department conduct. If they did, they would recognize that their ROI (return on investment) calculations for running software through a system that is easier and more convenient for the IT department is costing the business hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in lost productivity while users wait for their apps to unfreeze.

And so I think the challenge is for IT departments and companies to take a wider look at productivity, and to calculate the true costs of implementing solutions and policies that make it easier for one group to do their jobs while making it harder for another group to do theirs.

AW: Could you explain a little about what you've discovered that is helpful about using social media tools for marketing?
DiPietro: The financial risk/reward ratio of social media marketing is laughably low. Because most of the social media tools are free, using them for marketing was a no brainer once the adoption rates crossed the chasm. And unfortunately, that's exactly how most companies approach it: brainlessly. But that's a subject for three other questions. Instead, I'd like to focus on an undervalued benefit—market intelligence.

I've found social networks to be incredibly powerful information filters that provide two things that have been hard to accomplish algorithmically—context and credibility. Google has made their billions because they've come closer than anyone else at this, but no matter how good their algorithms are, they still aren't human. Furthermore, they're not humans that I know and trust. My social networks provide me with curated, real-time information that is pre-filtered and of very high value.

AW: As a leader in ISA, could you describe the intersection of social media and professional organizations?
DiPietro: I believe that social media represents both a clear and present danger and unprecedented opportunity at the same time. Most professional organizations exist because they solved a problem that doesn't exist anymore. It used to be that the transaction costs associated with organizing a bunch of people were very high. Today, Web 2.0 tools are allowing people to organize themselves, replacing organization with coordination. Professional organizations will need to focus their attention on different benefits in order to remain relevant.

I believe it boils down to the improved productivity that members will gain by being able to get information from vetted sources quickly and efficiently. I envision one role of professional organizations being to facilitate social networks and legitimize the members so that they can help one another instead of relying on the middle man to collect and distribute information. The social network provides the context and the association provides the credibility. Together, they can make beautiful music.

Jon DiPietro is the founder and principal of Bridge-Soft LLC, Manchester, N.H., an environmental data management software company, and Domesticating IT, an Internet technology consultancy and blog. He is also the author of the upcoming book, "Social Media for Engineers & Scientists" (Momentum Press). He was the recipient of ISA's Emerging Leader Award in 2010.

Gary Mintchell, gmintchell@automationworld.com, is Editor in Chief of Automation World.

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