Jim Pinto recently wrote an article called The Melting Iceberg Continues to Melt. In it he discusses his thesis that ISA is not making the kinds of radical change necessary to reverse the decline in membership (over 50% decline in the past decade) that the association is suffering.
I’ve pointed out similar things over the years. Nobody at ISA appears to be listening. It is as if the entire Executive Board and Former Presidents’ Club have their fingers stuffed in their ears, chanting, “La la la la la, we can’t hear you!” as loud as they can.
There is nothing wrong with InTech magazine. It is a decent magazine, with a decent staff, some of whom I’d be quite happy to hire, in fact. Granted, it is fourth out of four in North American share-of-market, but that’s partly because ISA skimps on marketing and sales for its magazine. If ISA didn’t own InTech, it would be a much better magazine all around.
Almost every image survey ISA has done over the past 20 years has identified InTech magazine as the single most important member benefit (at least for North American members).
Why is this a bad thing? Because you can get InTech magazine for being warm, breathing, and working in process automation. You don’t have to pay $90 a year to be a member of ISA to get the most significant member benefit.
ISA therefore has a big problem. With approximately 25,000 members and approximately 60,000 subscribers, you can immediately see what the problem is. ISA doesn’t have a value proposition compelling enough to turn those subscribers into members. Remember that roughly 25,000 of those subscribers ARE members and you can see the enormous dimensions of the problem.
In the meantime, staff and the majority of the volunteer leadership rearranges the deck chairs twice a year at the President’s Meetings.
And then there’s the politics. The recent Nominating Committee shenanigans over how to elect the fairhaired girl as president-elect-secretary-nominee should never have happened, nor should they recur.
This kind of thing has driven many senior volunteers away in droves. I won’t name any names, but they know who they are, and so do the people who really run ISA from behind the scenes.
Lest you think this is conspiracy theory, it isn’t. It is just association politics, exacerbated by the fact that completely outside the bylaws and Manual of Practice, there is a group of former society presidents that stick around, sit on committees, and you pretty much don’t get anything done, including get elected to high society office, without their blessing.
Then there’s ISA’s
Idiotic Intellectual Property Policy
which has caused at least one standards committee to retain outside counsel.
Then there’s ISA’s pose of fiscal responsibility. When you can spend over $400,000 for another in a long series of brand and image studies because the then Society President wants to, while sections are dying for lack of staff support (“It’s not in the budget!”) the pose of fiscal responsibility looks just a wee little bit forced. ISA has nearly $40 million in the bank. What the hell are they waiting to use it on?
Pinto and I shared an email exchange over the weekend. I’m going to share a little of one of my emails with him here:
What would it matter if ISA lost ALL its money? All it would show is the completely irrevelence of the organization…which we already know.
You say they have 28,000 members. My own estimate is somewhere between 23,000 and 25,000. They actually run a rolling three month average, counting people who have not re-upped for three months after their memberships expire…this allows them to artificially inflate their membership numbers.
The decline of ISA as a membership organization can be dated to the time that InTech (and I participated in this decision, to my everlasting regret) became a “controlled subscription publication.” As such, all you have to be is warm, and work in a process plant or say you do, to get an InTech subscription, so why should you pay $90 for it as the only member benefit most people recognize as one?
Here’s a suggested list of 10 things that would make ISA stronger.
1. Sell the show. Lease the name. There are still 80+ staff in Raleigh. They need to be reduced to fewer than 50.
2. Concentrate on regional seminars, training, and raise the level of quality in the training department, which right now, in a word, sucks, based on comments from their customers.
3. Work _with_ local sections who are successful, and close local sections that aren’t. Northern California Section didn’t used to be second biggest…it was in serious financial trouble less than a dozen years ago. Use it as the model, not Houston (which just gets richer from their share of the show income).
4. License and control a federation instead of trying to run a global society out of Raleigh NC. Maybe the Automation Federation should absorb ISA.
5. Change the draconian policies toward ownership of intellectual property. It ain’t valuable unless it can be used easily. This includes standards, technical papers, etc. which should be free, or a nominal charge (under $10) to members. Work with other content providers, don’t consider them competitors.
6. Start lobbying for certification to be a legal requirement to be in responsible charge of a process plant’s automation and control systems. If a boiler operator must be licensed, why is the guy who is doing maintenance on the controls of the boiler not licensed, and why is the operator of the entire facility not licensed?
7. Concentrate on providing value for senior management, like the new Marketing and Sales Summit that it took Shari and I only 15 years to get ISA to agree to do.
8. Benchmark against the AWWA, which is an extremely similar organization. Benchmark against ISPE, which has done everything right during its growth and existence.
9. Revise the bylaws to eliminate the “President’s Department” and disallow former presidents from chairing committees and task forces.
10. Change InTech back to a members-only publication, and start offering member benefits that are global in nature, or stop being a “global” wannabee.
I’ve said these things before, and I’m sure I’ll get the same hearing now that I’ve gotten before: “La la lalalalalala!”