This post is authored by Steven W. Pflantz, president of ISA 2017.
Having just returned from the 2018 ISA Executive Summit, I am feeling good about ISA—where we are going and the opportunities that lie before us. Being a bit out of the “center of action” for this summit allowed me to sit back, watch, and listen as our 2018 Executive Board and staff addressed the issues we face, but more importantly, looked toward the future and what we can achieve. Their optimism, energy, and ideas were both inspiring and comforting.
During the 2017 Fall Leaders Meeting, much discussion centered on whether ISA is a member-focused organization or a customer-focused organization. I believe we are both. They’re not mutually exclusive. Both members and customers are essential to our operational success. At the same time, I also hearken back to the old ISA saying: “We like our customers, but we love our members.”
Members are at the heart of ISA. They truly “make” ISA possible. Without the “card-carrying” member, we would not possess the intellectual property (IP) that is so valuable to those in the automation profession. It takes committed and passionate members—working within a network of peers—to volunteer and apply their talents and knowledge to assist others.
After all, while we as ISA members enjoy an extensive list of member benefits (discounts on products, services, and events, etc.) and advantages, I believe our ultimate goal is not just to serve our fellow Society members, but to serve and advance all “members” of the automation profession.
Customers, on the other hand, want to use what we produce. They recognize the great value it brings to their work; they just don’t feel compelled to be a part of ISA. That is OK in my mind, as they provide a substantial source of revenue that we rely on to do what we do. The simple fact is that a majority of our revenue comes from non-members purchasing our products and services.
We do need to recognize the two very different roles that our members and customers play in our organization, and the value they bring. By focusing on both and balancing their needs and requirements, we can continue to operate a successful business that will make ISA stronger.
We can also grow by expanding to other industry sectors—an undertaking that requires, in many cases, minimal work on our part. There are many opportunities to make our IP available to other segments of the economy involved in automation. In doing so, we can improve on what they do and make their services and solutions more valuable to their customers and end users.
We have so many strengths and so much knowledge that can be leveraged to benefit the world, to make it a better and safer place. So, why not do it? In the process, we’ll expand our membership base, add new customers, and grow. Building automation is an area where we have just scratched the surface. It’s an area that has expressed interest in our cybersecurity standards. By leading with our expertise in cybersecurity, we can explore other ways of providing service and value.
There are new business models and other ways we can put our IP to work. We have been developing, for example, new ways of delivering training, in an online format and in smaller “bite-sized chunks” that can be conveniently and easily consumed and digested. The purchase can be made either a la carte, or through a subscription-based approach.
One of the drawbacks of our week-long training events is that many people can’t afford to spend that much time away from their jobs. Ultimately, in the struggle to both access training and meet workplace responsibilities, it’s the day job that usually wins. So it just makes sense that we find new and better ways to make our training more accessible.
As for our efforts to grow globally, there is a lot of work to be done there, although our Globalization Committee is making progress under the leadership of Eric Cosman. It’s obviously easier said than done, but we need to make our business models and member operations adaptable to different cultures and business climates.
We need to apply what we’ve learned to examine alternative delivery models, find new ways of translating and marketing content, and better match the economies of scale in which we’re operating. Finding technical solutions is relatively easy in comparison to changing attitudes and engaging others.
Change and risk are part of everything we do, and we have to learn to better manage them.
Overall, what should drive us is the desire to help make the world a better place by making automation professionals better at what they do. Thanks to our outstanding members and staff, we have a lot of tools and resources that can be brought to bear to make the world a better place and make automation professionals better at what they do.
Given that there are so many new opportunities, we have to think a bit differently, modify what and how we do things, and accept change. We’re not going to move away from our core strengths—in standards, training, publications, certificate and certification programs, and events—but we need to introduce new business models and delivery formats to meet the demands of an evolving world.
To do so, we have to be open to what’s possible and not fall back into a technician’s way of thinking, which too often centers on what won’t work and what we can’t do. I have worked closely with technical people and engineers for 30 years or so, and we all need to admit that we tend to think from a “won’t work” and “can’t do” perspective. Let’s all focus on what we CAN DO.
In my final column, I purposely chose to not focus on the classic “recap” of the past 12 months. We need not dwell on the past; rather, we should learn from it and think to the future.
I have enjoyed serving as president of this fine organization. Thank you all for the opportunity, and for all the fine friends and acquaintances I have made. As I look back at my 30-plus-year career, ISA has played a major part in my personal and professional development. I have given back in so many ways through my involvement over the years, but the rewards and benefits continue to exceed what I have put into it. That is the same response I get from every other leader. It is quite simple. Give and ye shall receive and, in the process, ISA will prosper.
About the Author
Steven W. Pflantz, PE, is an associate in the St. Louis, Mo. office of CRB Consulting Engineers, Inc., a global consulting, design and construction services firm. He serves as a technical leader on many of CRB’s electrical and automation design projects, applying his extensive electrical engineering experience — particularly in the areas of instrumentation and controls. A longtime ISA member and leader, Steven brings to his role as Society president a deep understanding of the automation profession, the needs and expectations of ISA members, and the value and significance of automation careers. In 2012 and 2013, he served as vice president of ISA’s Professional Development Department. He’s also served on ISA’s Executive Board (2008 and 2012) and as an ISA district vice president (2007 and 2008). In 2012, Steven was inducted into the Academy of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. He’s also a member of the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE). He earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the Missouri University of Science and Technology.
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A version of this article also has been published at ISA Insights.