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ISA President's Column: Putting the 'I' Into ISA

Reaching Our International Aspirations

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 aren’t currently a member of ISA, visit to learn more about membership.

Fellow Society members;

In considering a possible theme for this month’s message, I have been thinking about one of the essential characteristics of our Society. It is embodied in the word “international.” Please indulge me as I reflect on the implications of this word for our society, as well as for its stakeholder groupsfrom staff and members, to customers and those in our profession. I am certain that each of us has a slightly different understanding of the term as well as its connotations. The details of this definition are much less important than the need to engage all perspectives.

This begins with elected and important leaders. At this time each year, we gather together the members of the Executive Board for the current year and next year to prepare incoming Board members for their new role, review the status of our strategic plan, and make plans for the future. As with other meetings and conferences, this year’s event is being conducted as a series of online meetings.

It was in one of those meetings that I led the group in a discussion of what I called “Putting the ‘I’ into ISA,” with a focus on incorporating specific recommendations in the strategic plan. These recommendations were presented to the Board by a task force that was chartered in 2016 and delivered its report in 2017. In discussions with members and leaders, there is a consensus that we must strive to provide support, products, and services to members, customers, and our profession in virtually all regions of the world. As with most aspirations, making the statement is generally much easier than achieving the goal. This is particularly true in this case, as the goal speaks more to how we operate and conduct our business than any specific services or products.

As I said, I am certain that we all have our own views on what constitutes effective operation of a truly international society. It is important that we consider all views and have open discussions about our needs, relative priorities, and specific goals. In the context of our strategic plan, internationalization is not a separate objective, but rather a major factor in defining the goals within the existing strategic elements.

It is overly simplistic to assume that responsibility for meeting these goals rests solely with the Executive Board, other leaders, and staff. It can be tempting to take a more passive role, waiting for “someone to change things,” but this will not accomplish the level of change that we need. Acting as a truly international society involves much more than providing products and services tailored to regional needs. It also requires that we examine our own behaviors and understand that we can each contribute in our own way.

When we look for prospective mentors or mentees, we should look beyond the usual model of pairing more and less experienced members, and welcome opportunities to broaden our appreciation of regional, national, and cultural differences. We can be more sensitive to the use of language or regionally specific idioms and expressions, as these may not have the same meanings and connotations for those with different backgrounds. Our Society is a diverse community with a common interest in advancing our profession. It provides many opportunities to participate in teams or committees with people from other regions who can help us better understand broader needs and expectations. Simple measures like understanding and respecting differences and constraints related to time zones, languages, accents, and holidays can go a long way toward promoting and achieving a more international culture.

Tools, technology, and the constraints placed upon us by developments such as the COVID-19 pandemic provide an opportunity to improve our performance in becoming an international community. I believe that one of the more exciting tools now available is ISA Connect. It allows us to have meaningful discussions on an unlimited range of topics spanning countries, time zones, and cultures. We are already seeing increased use of this tool, and I fully expect this to continue. Even when we are once again able to meet face-to-face, we will be able to use this and similar tools to keep conversations going between events, building consensus, and learning from our colleagues.

This can be the beginning of a new level of collaboration, allowing us to progress in our journey to becoming an international community. I encourage to explore the options available to you, be open to learning, and be willing to share your knowledge, experiences, and perspectives with your fellow members.

As always, you can contact me 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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