Jim / All,
I think the six-point plan is an excellent way to turn around an ailing “for-profit” company like ISA. However, as a not-for-profit corporation what will our mission then be? I do agree that we have a “war chest” that is going to be wasted away chasing old paradigms, but is the six-point plan even doable given our by-laws?
Perhaps there is another point to consider as well, the US economy and jobs in our profession. Jim raises the point that there is high interest in India, China, and other countries in the technologies we have developed. We are seeing jobs of all kinds being exported to these countries because their workers will work at ten cents on the dollar compared to US workers.
There is also the problem of the “law” and intellectual property that we have no control over once the “property” leaves this country. I believe that Microsoft profits would be at least twice what they currently are if they could stop the illegal copying of their software. They are now sending the software development to China and other places, possibly in the hope of getting more cooperation from those governments to protect their copyrights.
So I guess I have to disagree with Jim and others that want us to further promote the exporting of our technological superiority. Maybe it is time to go back to our old name; “ISA – The Instrument Society of America.” While this may sound “radical” please consider that Jim gave us all the reasons in his article to give this serious consideration. “In the US and Europe, the instrumentation and controls business is flat, at best, and the activities of all related technical societies show the same trends – there is simply lack of interest. In areas such as China, India, Singapore, Brazil, Mexico, engineering is a much-sought-after career and technical-society related activities are growing. But ISA and other similar U.S.-based organizations are slow to seize these growth opportunities.”
Will our country be a super power ten years from now if we continue to give away our knowledge so the top executives of these international conglomerates can make the big bucks? Why should the members of today’s ISA help create high paying jobs for a group of business people in RTP (or elsewhere) that will ultimately reduce the members’ earning power?
ISA started out as a professional technical society with a goal of sharing information about how to solve process control problems and to develop standards so that the process instruments sold by one supplier would work with those sold by another supplier. As Jim points out in his article, “In the past, most end-users (the customers) sponsored ISA membership (the annual dues, and attendance at conferences and exhibitions), seeking for their employees the educational support and supplier networking that ISA offered. But with the recent business decline, company sponsorship has mostly been withdrawn, and members must pay their own dues. Most individual members see nothing of value.” While I cannot recall an employer that paid my membership dues the cost of my participation on standards committees was covered by my employer as well as the office clerical support need for my responsibilities.
I believe we had several dynamics at work that have led to the impending demise of ISA, as we knew it. First the “annual conference” became the primary focus of the headquarters staff. The “good jobs” at Headquarters were not the “clerical” membership tasks or the Standards and Practices support services; these tasks actually “cost” more than the revenue they brought in the way ISA did the accounting. During the 1980’s many of the larger I&C equipment suppliers wanted every other year shows, the annual show was too costly in terms of money, labor resources, and “bang for the buck.” ISA headquarters responded by making the shows “bigger and better,” seeking venues like the McCormick Center in Chicago and Houston because they were the only locations with facilities large enough for ISA’s mega show.
Meanwhile the environmental issues where stifling industrial growth all over the United States. The large companies that needed the increased capacity did the right business thing, they went to the cheaper labor markets where they could easily get the facility permitted and built. Of course they still needed the skilled engineers and technicians to operate these facilities, but the rest of the labor costs were so low they could easily justify very high salaries for these few individuals that they had to bring to this foreign location.
Then along came the Internet and cell phones and all forms of “high speed” information transmission. This opened up new opportunities for creative entrepreneurs, not all of whom were honest and ethical. An Internet business did not need an expensive physical office; it just needed periodic access to the Internet and a place for customers to send money. The customer could typically not even tell where the business was located. But, this inexpensive source of information, products and services, and communications was embraced early on by techies and many members of ISA were among this group.
ISA Headquarters responded by trying to capitalize on the “business” opportunities provided by the Internet instead of finding ways to use it to better serve our membership. At the same time during this period many of our sections were floundering due to a lack of leadership resources and funds; and, the average age of our membership continued to increase.
I could go on but I am not sure I can hold your attention any longer on this thread. However, there are many debates about where and how we should go from here. We have not gotten good feedback from our North American membership on “the where” and if there is any information on “the how” it only comes from those that are walking away; it is the sound of their footsteps. So when you are in quicksand and you do not know what lies ahead it may be helpful to understand how you got there and explore if there is a way out based on how you got in.
I think Jim Pinto’s ideas have merit as long as they do not result in the further weakening of the US technological strength by giving away our proprietary information just so current and future ISA staff can remain fully employed. The intellectual property of the Society belongs to the membership that developed it, not to the ISA staff as some of our documents state. This is not a legal opinion, but rather a moral issue from my perspective.
I said this earlier, but I think it needs to be said again. “The ISA membership will never vote to give up our rights to “run” the Society as they exist under the current by-laws. The solution to the future of ISA is to break it apart into two companies, one a for-profit organization that pays royalties to the not-for-profit society for use of the intellectual property that Board of Directors agrees can be shared in the international market place. The for-profit company would receive an initial loan to cover the first year operating expenses not to exceed $5,000,000.
The not-for-profit company would retain all of ISA intellectual property, establish a standards organization similar to our current organization, and it would be responsible for maintaining the North American membership database, collecting dues from that same group, providing coordination and support for local sections so these sections can bring services to the members at the local level and be a source of future national leaders.
I have no personal agenda here and nothing to gain or lose by any of the out comes.
Terry V. Molloy, P.E.