ISA Interchange

Welcome to the official blog of the International Society of Automation (ISA).

This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the automation community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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ISA Leaders to Validate and Advance Strategic Direction

This past month, ISA leaders convened in North Carolina for the first of two in-person meetings. This was our Strategic Leader Meeting (SLM) and is intended for a relatively small group (around 50) of volunteer leaders who meet to discuss strategic issues and operational details.

Our second in-person meeting, the Annual Leadership Conference, will be in October. This event has a larger and broader audience (around 150 volunteer leaders) and includes the Council of Society Delegates business meeting, professional development training, and the Society’s annual Honors and Awards Gala. Many of our standards committees also meet prior to or after the Annual Conference.

I believe that all members have a voice in our future, and I am excited to share some of the work that happened during the Strategic Leader Meeting. I hope that you will get some sense of the excitement and optimism that I feel for where we are going based on the compelling conversations had by your leaders during this event.



The meeting was held in Charlotte, NC, USA, and was a bit of a departure from past formats. We spent most of the weekend as one large group engaging in dialogue about our strategic direction.

Before I give more details, let’s remember the journey we’ve been on as an organization. During the past year, we have revised our vision and mission statements. Our vision is to create a better world through automation. Our mission is to advance technical competence by connecting the automation community to achieve operational excellence. We have also developed five core values: excellence; integrity; diversity and inclusion; collaboration; and professionalism. This work can be reviewed in my previous post.

Leveraging these concepts, the Executive Board worked to develop strategic objectives that will move our mission forward over the next three to five years:   

  1. Establish and advance ISA’s relevance and credibility as the home of automation by anticipating industry needs, collaborating with stakeholders, and developing and delivering pertinent technical content.
  2. Enhance member value and expand engagement opportunities to nurture and grow a more diverse and global community to advance the automation profession.
  3. Become the recognized leader in automation and control education, providing training, certifications, and publications to prepare the workforce to address technology changes and industry challenges in the most flexible and relevant
  4. Create opportunities for members to improve critical leadership skills, to build a network of industry professionals, and to develop the next generation of automation professionals.

With the long-term focus of the objectives established, your Board also discussed possible goals (9-18 months), tactics (up to 6 months), and key performance indicators.

The Board also knew it was important to tap into the collective wisdom of the Society, and that became the purpose of the Strategic Leader Meeting. After a brief dialogue about each objective, the leaders worked in small groups and brainstormed ideas. They summarized their suggestions for the group, which were captured in an online mind-mapping tool. With all the ideas captured, each leader identified their top two priorities under each objective. There were so many great ideas – you could feel the energy in the room, and we came out of the sessions with great input.

At the conclusion of the event, the Board convened informally to review and discuss the results of the weekend. The Board will continue to meet in small work groups to refine the recommended priorities and work with various society groups on implementation plans.

We are thrilled to report that 100% of attendee survey responses confirmed “the strategic discussions were valuable to me.” Some comments on the overall meeting included:

“I really enjoyed the format, content and people. Definitely a valuable experience.”

“I found the people at the meeting intelligent, passionate and willing to do what it takes to improve the society.”

“I better appreciate the vision and challenges of ISA.”

“ISA is in a much better place, financially and strategically.”

I have personally been attending ISA leader meetings for close to 30 years. The positive vibe at this SLM was apparent to everyone. Many used the words ‘positive,’ ‘exciting,’ and ‘optimistic’ in their feedback. There was more levity and laughter than any other leader meeting I can recall. One leader stated it was the most positive meeting he’s been to in 15 years.

At the close of the meeting, leaders and staff were asked to pledge what they would do differently moving forward. Some of the responses were:

“Think collectively. Let others share ideas and listen carefully.”

“Keep an open mind to new opportunities and ideas.”

“Pitch in to help solve a problem that I have been waiting for others to solve.” (There were several variations of ‘stop complaining.’)

“I will encourage others to join and participate in leadership at my local section.”

If you care about the future direction, success, and health of your society, I strongly encourage you to get involved. If you have ideas on what we can be doing better, we want to hear from you! You’ll be seeing tools and resources soon that will make getting involved much easier. Exciting times are ahead! Thank you for being part of the ISA community.

Paul Gruhn
Paul Gruhn
Paul Gruhn is a global functional safety consultant at AE Solutions and a highly respected and awarded safety expert in the industrial automation and control field. Paul is an ISA Fellow, a member of the ISA84 standards committee (on safety instrumented systems), a developer and instructor of ISA courses on safety systems, and the primary author of the ISA book Safety Instrumented Systems: Design, Analysis, and Justification. He also has contributed to several automation industry book chapters and has written more than two dozen technical articles. He developed the first commercial safety system modeling software. Paul is a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) in Texas, a certified functional safety expert (CFSE), a member of the control system engineer PE exam team, and an ISA84 expert. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Paul is the 2018 ISA president-elect/secretary.

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