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ISA President's Column: Achieving Our Vision of a Better ISA

Improving Our Governance and Executing Our Strategy

The International Society of Automation (ISA) President Eric Cosman is featured monthly on the ISA Interchange blog with a column directed toward ISA members around the world. Eric’s column speaks to current membership priorities, challenges, news, and perspectives. We invite ISA Interchange readers to engage and dialogue with Eric, and if you are not currently a member of ISA, visit to learn more about membership.

Fellow Society members;

I hope that this month’s message finds you safe and well. It continues to be a very strange and unusual year, presenting new and unusual challenges for many of us. Whether in our personal or professional lives, we have all had to show resilience and adaptability in the face of these circumstances. We have found new ways to work, communicate, and collaborate as we adapt to what the pundits euphemistically describe using the cliché of a “new normal.” I have long believed that the traits most important for long-term success include willingness to accept change and openness to learning. This certainly seems to be true this year.

Of course, the same holds true for our Society. Our long-term health is determined to a considerable degree by our ability to learn from others and respond to changing circumstances. The first of these was one of the reasons that we chose to conduct a review of our governance structures and processes. You may know that I like to use metaphors to explain things. In this case, we can imagine the difficulty of navigating a ship through a sudden storm while making course corrections and conducting repairs, all at the same time. This is a significant challenge for any organization. ISA is meeting this challenge.

New By-Laws

If you were able to join us at the 2019 Annual Leadership Conference in California, you recall our initial discussions on potential changes to our governance structure, beginning with the society by-laws. Society staff and volunteer leaders have worked very hard to assemble a list of amendments to our by-laws throughout this year. Once the proposals were finalized, we faced the added challenge of how to vote on them without the ability to convene a meeting of the Council of Society Delegates (CSD). We met that challenge by using the technology and tools available to us to share the necessary information with all society stakeholders, leading up to our first use of online voting by the CSD. The result was the approval of all but one of the proposals, giving us a new set of by-laws for ISA. I encourage you to read them carefully.

With these changes, we now have a solid basis for the further improvements of our governance policies and procedures that will allow us to be more responsive to changing circumstances. We will identify, evaluate, and approve these using the same level of transparency that we have used thus far. Departments, divisions, committees, and other groups have already started this process and will present recommendations for board approval. Flexibility, transparency, and responsiveness are underlying themes in these efforts as we understand the need for leaders to be able to make decisions quickly while maintaining accountability to the membership.

Strategic Plan

As we have planned these governance improvements, we have also been making progress on a strategic plan that is based on the values of professionalism, diversity and inclusion, excellence, collaboration, and integrity. The plan includes the key elements of industry reach and awareness, technical education and certification, member development and engagement, and leadership. Each of these elements includes one of more objectives and a corresponding set of goals. By definition, strategies are focused on the long term, and we will need the ideas, contributions, and experience of all members to achieve our objectives.

As we approach a new year, the Executive Board is reviewing our strategy and making necessary adjustments to our objectives. For each key element, we have a team consisting of board members and other society leaders responsible for defining and developing the more detailed goals. Execution against these goals is the responsibility of our assemblies, departments, committees, and other groups. I encourage you to learn more about this work and to contribute to areas of interest. We all have a role to play in identifying and making the changes required to ensure our long-term success as a society, and to live up to our aspiration of being the home of automation.

Amid these changes, we also continue to provide products and services for our members and customers. We are responding to the changing needs in the industries that we serve and the availability of new technology and solutions. An example of this is the formation of the Smart Manufacturing and IIoT Division, with the goals of providing clarity around these subjects, developing technical content and standardized approaches to solve critical problems, and providing a forum for networking and collaboration. This new division already has more than a thousand members and recently held a very successful virtual event.

As you can see, our difficult circumstances have not kept us from adapting and improving our society. I look forward to our future evolution as the home of the automation profession. I hope that you are excited about our journey.

In closing, I wish each of you all the best. As always, you can engage with society leadership on ISA Connect, or contact me directly at with your thoughts or questions on this or any other topic. Stay safe and well, and I look forward to continuing this dialog throughout 2020.

Eric C. Cosman

2020 President


About the Author

Eric C. Cosman is a chemical engineer with more than 35 years of experience in the process industries. He is the founder and principal consultant at OIT Concepts, LLC. Eric contributes to—and has held leadership positions in—various standards committees and industry focus groups. He is a member of Control Magazine’s Process Automation Hall of Fame as well as an ISA Life Fellow. Eric has served as ISA’s vice president of standards and practices, and he is a member of the ISA Executive Board. He was a founding member of a chemical sector cybersecurity program team focused on industrial control systems cybersecurity, and he was also one of the authors of the chemical sector cybersecurity strategy for the U.S. Eric is a founding member of the ISA99 Committee on Industrial Automation and Control Systems (IACS) Security, where he currently serves as the co-chair, in addition to serving as the co-chair of the MESA Cybersecurity working group. Eric speaks and writes on topics ranging from automation cybersecurity to systems architecture development and industrial transformation, and he is the author of the cybersecurity chapter of the ISA Guide to the Automation Body of Knowledge (3rd edition). 

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