ISA's Bid for International Significance

Nov. 1, 2008
Promoted by the executive director and strongly supported by its executive board, ISA has been seeking to change what the acronym stands for, from Instrumentation, Systems and Automation to International Society for Automation.
After the name change resolution was narrowly voted down by the council of delegates last year, it passed by a wide margin in October of this year. To understand the society’s soul, it’s important to understand the reasons why many members opposed the change.The strongest argument against change seems to be that the name had already been changed less than ten years ago from Instrument Society of America, to eliminate the whimsical confusion with musical instruments and signify a broader involvement with Systems and Automation. Opponents argued, why not just “ISA” like “IBM,” which manufactured business machines; or 3M, which was Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing. The name ISA could be followed by the tag line “Setting the Standard for Automation,” which is primarily what the Society does.Some were opposed to becoming an international, for-profit organization rather than a volunteer-driven, professional society. They argued that the vast majority of ISA’s intellectual property was developed by members in the United States and Canada, and dissemination to new ISA members in low labor-rate countries would simply exacerbate current U.S. problems of job outsourcing. In a period of high unemployment among North American professionals, international expansion can be a sore subject. Members in other countries should understand this reluctance, and demonstrate how they too can expand the Society’s influence through contributing significant new value.Executive Director Pat Gouhin is experienced with volunteer organizations and is empathetic about the backpressure. Now that the name change has been approved, he is enthusiastic about the Society’s major initiatives:• Automation Profession Advocacy. Recognition for the body of automation knowledge is being driven at the government level, promoting the automation profession. There is growing recognition of ISA, and the Society’s objectives are being advanced significantly. The technical efforts of ISA committees are being showcased in meaningful ways.• Workforce Development. This year, several events at ISA Expo in Houston presented the story of the automation profession to young people, to stimulate involvement with the profession. Local schools sent hundreds of students to find out about automation, with comic book “Automation Avengers” characters adding a touch of excitement to a supposedly mundane profession. With support from the office of the Texas Governor, ISA has created “Automation Career Week” in conjunction with ISA Expo.• Globalization. ISA has now formed a company in India, and activities are progressing in China, Brazil, Mexico and several other major countries. ISA had a good presence at the Hannover Fair in Germany, in April 2008, and will be at Micronex in China in November 2008. In an uncertain global environment, international growth takes a major investment; ISA is making steady progress.• Automation Standards Compliance Institute. The newly formed Industrial Interoperability Compliance Institute (IICI) will facilitate an industry compliance program for industrial manufacturing systems interoperability standards. Activities will include conformance testing, certification services, technical support and training.• Corporate Sponsorship. Over the past several years, employer sponsorship of individual employee involvement in ISA has been declining. This trend has been exacerbated by large suppliers organizing their own users-group events, instead of attending the annual ISA Expo. Recognizing this, ISA is reorganizing its approach to stimulate corporate involvement. Several programs and exposure opportunities are being planned for corporations to communicate and connect with the market in new and unique ways.The biggest challenges for ISA are coordinating the range of opportunities, leveraging available resources, finding willing volunteers and attracting corporate sponsors to provide necessary funding.Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and commentator, writer, technology futurist and angel investor. You can e-mail him at: [email protected]. Or review his prognostications and predictions on his Web site: