ISA announced yesterday that Rob Renner, having been Executive Director for less than a year, has decided to return to the AWWA and become Executive Director of the AWWA Foundation. I confess to being a little bit stunned, since I spent several hours over a couple of days with Renner just two weeks ago, and he seemed totally engaged with the ISA.
What does this mean for ISA, and what does it mean for process automation professionals?
For ISA, it means that once again, the bureaucratic inertia of both volunteers and staff has driven away a really good manager. It means that it is likely that ISA will drift, run by out of touch and increasingly elderly former Presidents, who have allowed the organization to degenerate to the state it is currently in.
And honestly, so what? There are well over 250,000 automation professionals worldwide who _should_ be members of ISA, who represent ISA’s core constituency, and who represent ISA’s customer base. ISA counts less than 10% of that total as members. What this means, sentiment aside, is that ISA is increasingly not relevant to its core constituency.
So, what is there to do?
Frankly, the temptation is getting larger to give ISA up as a bad job, and start over again with another organization, like WBF.
I’ve been saying for years that if ISA didn’t start making itself relevant to its core constituency, it ought to change its non-profit status to a 501C3 NON-member society. It can still do everything it does now to make money, it just won’t be bothered by those pesky members and the expenses of running a membership society with real live members.
If ISA doesn’t choose to become truly a member directed and member driven society, it ought to get real and change itself to a non-member foundation.
If ISA DOES want to become relevant, there are some major things it needs to do.
First, the “President’s Department” that actually runs everything behind the scenes needs to be disbanded. After you serve as president, you go away, like AWWA and all the other societies that are healthy. Nominations and elections need to be open, and the entire membership needs to be involved.
Second, ISA needs to develop a very strong marketing organization, that is capable of reaching out beyond the membership.
Third, ISA’s headcount is, unfortunately, still way too high and their overhead too large accordingly. Outsourcing some member services, or abandoning a membership role will go a long way to fix ISA’s finances.
Fourth, ISA needs to develop a rational intellectual property policy. The current one doesn’t work, and has driven away some excellent leaders, writers and standards developers, as well as burying the intellectual property where nobody can find it.
Fifth, ISA needs to work very hard at developing itself as an umbrella organization that will bring together all the organizations that should have been part of ISA all along: MESA, MCAA, WBF, OMAC, Fieldbus Foundation, HART Communications Foundation, CSIA, and several others.
If ISA doesn’t do some or all of these things, it will only be a matter of time before it gets increasingly irrelevant, and eventually somebody will have to turn out the lights and shut the door on their way out.
Nature abhors a vacuum. Aleady the vendor-sponsored user groups are filling the education role that ISA used to have. Other publishers are filling the role of information disseminator. Other standards bodies are stepping up to fill ISA’s role.
I am committed to working for the betterment of the process automation profession, with or without ISA. I invite you all to work with me.