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ISA Northern California Section

 

 

 

 
Time to Speak Out

Is It Time To Speak Out?

by Terry V. Molloy, PE

(Reprint from August, 2003 Transmitter)

Even before my term on the ISA Executive Board started I was expressing my concern about the direction ISA Staff and some of our volunteer leaders were taking our Society.  As many of you know I have continued that battle since my term ended on December 31, 2001.  Now I am asking for your help in my efforts to change the direction of our Professional Technical Society.  This lengthy article describes some events and staff actions that I believe demonstrate the problem.  I would very much appreciate your taking the time to read this and then send comments to me and anyone else you think appropriate.  At the end of this article I will include the e-mail addresses of ISA leaders that you can contact with your concerns and to express your opinions.  You may go to the ISA web site at www.isa.org for additional contact information.

Member Benefits:  Have you been to the ISA web site lately?  Check out your member benefits.  Look at the “Technical Information” benefits.  Are there any benefits that jump out and grab making you want to spend $85 to join ISA.  Did you know that you do not have to be an ISA member to get “InTech?”  Then there is the “Free E-mail Alias Address,” listed under both the Technical Information area and the Networking Opportunities area.  Can you still get the same thing from Yahoo for free?  I could go on but I think you are getting the drift.  Our Society is changing and some of us are concerned that it is not for the better. 

What can you do to help us get back on track?  Certainly NOT what too many others in North America have done, they have voted with their feet.  That will result in the demise of the ISA and loss of the premier technical society serving the professionals in our field.  You CAN participate is section functions and you CAN communicate with ISA leaders via e-mail and express your thoughts about the current direction of the Society.  What follows are some examples of issues I would like your feedback on so that we can better serve you.  Did we do the right thing? Are we headed in the right direction?  What else can we do to serve YOU as a technical professional in the process control field?  We want to hear from you!

Dealing With Conflicts From Headquarters: At the June NORCAL Board of Directors meeting we voted unanimously to proceed with the May 12 and 13, 2004 NORCAL TECH to be held at the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo.  We made this decision after very careful consideration of all pertinent facts.  However, the fact that we even to rethink our plans was disturbing and indicative of one of the current problems in the operation of ISA.  Even more disturbing were the tactics used by certain members of ISA staff and some of our District 11 leadership. 

ISA Staff without any coordination with our local section or District 11 leaders decided to hold a C&E in Long Beach, California in late April of 2004.  Upon discovering that we had our C&E scheduled for mid May 2004, ISA Staff decided that we should cancel our C&E and Executive Director, Jim Pearson, proceeded to contact Bob Webb.  Mr. Pearson ultimately contacted me and I told him there was no conflict in my mind since our market for attendees and exhibitors was local and we did not consider Los Angeles local.  However, ISA staff felt differently and decided to try to put more pressure on us by raising the issue at the District Leadership Conference (DLC) District 11 Council Meeting.  John Querido, Don Zee and Kim Miller-Dunn came prepared with a motion to tell NORCAL not to proceed with our C&E.  They even had a crudely drafted letter from Past President Zani requesting that our C&E be postponed.  It later came out that ISA Staff had drafted the letter and it was not clear to me that Pino had even seen it.  But the real point here is that RTP was trying to stop our event with strong-arm tactics and the three NORCAL leaders at the DLC we angered and upset at being treated this way.

Another very interesting point about this whole issue is the fact that RTP is currently promoting two basically identical conferences on the East Coast within one month of one another and approximately the same 400 miles apart.  The proximity and time between the California events were the primary reasons ISA cited for requesting us to cancel our event.  Why do not the same criteria apply to the East Coast events?  Some of us believe that ISA Staff’s real concern is that our event will be more successful than the Long Beach event.  We certainly expect to be successful in meeting our objectives; we would like their event to also be successful.  But, one of our criteria for success of our event is 1,000 attendees over two days paying $15 each to attend the technical sessions.  Another criteria is to get each exhibitor to contribute a quality non-commercial technical presentation and we are giving a 50% discount for exhibit space to the exhibitors that qualify.  The bottom line is that our event has a much better chance of succeeding financially because we will have more involvement by the membership and our cost will be significantly lower to all involved.  This will also provide more opportunities for our members to grow professionally while networking.

Professional Development of Our Members:  The NORCAL Section has been a leader in the Society in providing local training for our members at affordable prices.  We have been fortunate in that the California Maritime Academy is available to us on Saturdays at a very reasonable cost and that our Education Chair, Bob Hammaker, has taken the lead in making so many of these training courses happen.  We also are fortunate to have well qualified members that are willing to teach these classes for a nominal honorarium.  The combination of these two factors plus some additional work by your leaders results in our being able to provide quality training at prices ranging from $50 to $75 per day of training.  This price compares with that charged by ISA of $300 or more dollars per day per student. 

Many of our members attending our classes have said that they cannot afford the cost of the ISA classes or if their employer would pay for the class they cannot get the time off during the week to attend.  This is especially true for the CCST Exam Review Course.  Taught by ISA, this three-day course is over $1,000 and is done on three consecutive days during the workweek.  About five years ago, during the period when ISA was trying to promote the CCST concept and the course, the NORCAL Section again took the lead.  We set up the first local CCST Exam Review Class at POSCO in Antioch, California.   That year we had almost thirty students and got nineteen new ISA members.  ISA sent us all the course materials they had, including the Power Point Presentation, and we had the necessary class manuals printed locally.  This was a good example of “Partnering” with the national organization.

Early in 2003 we asked for the latest version of the course.  It took me several attempts to get the latest PowerPoint presentation.  ISA contention was that the course was proprietary and only available at their rates.  We were eventually provided with the course material after I pointed out to several of our volunteer leaders that we were not competing with ISA.  The people that would take our course would never even be a candidate for the CCST Exam Review course taught by ISA; their employers would not pay for it or give them the time to attend and they certainly could not afford to lose three days pay plus pay the $1,000 course fee.  Most of those taking the course were having trouble getting reimbursed for the cost of the exam. 

Again, my point here is that ISA is sending the message that it is all about money.  They view the section as competitors when the sections develop their own training programs and they have no problem sending that message loud and clear.  ISA should be partnering with the sections to promote the development of this material so it can be shared across the Society, not used as a revenue source for paying ISA Staff at RTP.  RTP cannot compete on a cost basis with local section training and local training has the potential to serve the most members.

ISA is focusing on developing “new” services to provide our members, but some of us think they are picking the wrong products.  Why should our members pay $85 per year to get a five or ten percent discount on a market rate course?   Especially when we have qualified instructors willing to teach a course for a nominal fee in a first class teaching environment.  The problem is exacerbated by the attitude of Staff that whatever the volunteer member develops belongs to ISA and the volunteer needs ISA’s permission to use it again.  The net effect on our volunteers is to drive them away. 

Fiscal Responsibility and The ISA Mission:  In past newsletter issues I have discussed the ISA Mission and how it is currently being carried out.  As many of you know I am not completely satisfied with what has been happening to our Society during the last several years.  In my opinion ISA’s most valuable asset is the membership list and the commitment of our volunteer leaders to serve ISA members by their efforts to advance our profession and improve the skills of our members.  Our second most valuable asset is our intellectual property as contained in our books, standards, and other publications.  And our third most valuable asset is the tangible liquid assets and physical property owned by ISA.  Now if we were a for-profit business we would be responsible to our stockholders to generate a profit with our assets.  But we are not a for-profit business.  However, we are diminishing our most valuable asset by trying to make a profit on everything we do.  We are driving our members away and by the actions described above we are also alienating our leadership. 

The Downloadable Standards Benefit:  During my tenure on the Executive Board I, with several others, fought very hard for a “Free Standards Download” for ISA members.  ISA Staff fought us all the way and some of the tactics used were questionable.  When it became apparent that we had the votes on the Executive Board to pass the motion, Jim Pearson came up with the “fact” that if we did not charge some fee we could not track who was taking advantage of the benefit.  We agreed to a $25 annual fee to download as many standards as a member wanted.  This benefit was approved by the Executive Board and was put in place.  During the first several months the benefit was available, several of us pushed on ISA Staff to promote the benefit, it never happened.  Instead at the next Executive Board meeting we got an “estimate” from staff on how much money we were losing because of these free downloads.  That estimate was equal to about 75% of our annual sales which had not declined at all. The information provided by ISA staff has continually stressed how much we were losing on the downloads, but it neglected to point out that revenues for standards actually increased in the years immediately following the benefit introduction while the economy and membership in the North America continued to decline.

Those of us that promoted this benefit believed that it would attract user community members as well as promote the use of ISA Standards.  One of the results would be to make ISA the premier process control standards organization in the world.  We figured that a member would download a standard that would apply to a project they were working on and use the information in the standard to specify product or service requirements.  When the purchase order was issued it would reference the standard and the supplier would have to have a current copy to be sure all the requirements were met.  Of course if a specification were issued to several potential suppliers they would all need the standard to submit a bid. 

I have downloaded many of the standards for informational purposes.   I use them to develop training courses for the classes we teach.  But now with the new limit of ten standards per year and the fee increase to $99 per year, I will not be using that source any longer.  I am sure others will follow.  My guess is that our Downloadable Standard Subscriptions will drop from the current level of 2,000 to less than 200. 

Serving the Member The Section vs. Headquarters:  This is about effective use of ISA assets.  The sections have the greatest potential for serving the member at the most competitive price.  To do that effectively the sections need tools to run the sections and products that the members want.  ISA would never have started over fifty years ago if the people that came to meetings to share their knowledge charged “market rate” for their presentation.  The products today’s members want are knowledge and networking, the same as fifty years ago; but the delivery mechanism is different.  The products must be delivered at a time and location that meets the members’ needs and at a price the member rather than the employer is willing to pay.  That is the major change that has taken place and ISA has not faced that change in either its product design or its business model.

ISA still has sufficient financial resources to implement a program to serve the members at a local level but unless they change direction those resources will not be there in the future.  The Society faces two critical problems in my opinion.  The first is the lack of new volunteer leaders and the second lack of financial resources at the section level to participate in the Society governance.  In some cases the resources are not sufficient to even run the section.  Some of the current plans I have heard about will exacerbate the section’s financial problem further by reducing and then ultimately eliminating the dues rebate in future years.  So what should be done?

Use ISA funds to develop a tool for section leaders to run the section.  This should be a runtime MS Access program that included finance and budgeting, membership list download capabilities, automatic generation of reports to ISA RTP, and other features to make the leadership role easier and more effective.  There are many programs for running clubs available on the Internet so this should not be a major project, but done correctly it could sure make life for our leaders easier.  Some will say that many sections have their own tools or they use programs like QuickBooks to manage section finances.  That is fine, they can continue to do that, but others (especially new leaders) will ultimately find that a well written program targeted at a section’s needs will be a lot easier to use and to pass on to new leaders.

ISA Staff should then compile a list of courses that our membership has expressed interest in taking.  That list should be sent to the Education Chair and President of each section with the goal of prioritizing the development of the courses and finding potential contributors for either developing or teaching the courses.  The sections might also add courses to the list.  The next step would be to identify an ISA volunteer to be responsible for the development of each course and establish a schedule for that development.  ISA staff would provide a list of publications and other documents from our Intellectual Property that would be applicable for each course.  The goal being to sell that to students taking the course with significant discounts to ISA members.  The courses would be developed in a PowerPoint format, put on a CD ROM with all supporting documentation, and made available to sections for a nominal fee to cover ISA distribution costs for each course. 

The availability of these courses should attract new members, which in turn will provide potential new leaders.  The courses will also provide revenue that will be needed to send our leaders to ISA governance meetings.  ISA’s future is not in providing “market rate” services to its membership; we did not join ISA for that purpose.  We joined ISA for the opportunity to interact with our fellow professionals, to learn, to share, and to get recognition for our accomplishments in a relaxed, inexpensive, and friendly environment. 

Your Turn To Contribute:  If you agree or disagree with these thoughts I would like to hear from you.  My e-maiI address is tvmolloy@cmes.net.  I would also very much appreciate you sending your comments to the entire ISA Executive Committee.  My hope is that they will forward your thoughts to the rest of the Executive Board.  Some have contended that I am one of only a few members that feel this way about the condition of ISA as a professional society.  I need YOUR help to prove that wrong.

Executive Committee e-mail addresses

ISA President, Bob Ives              rpives@aol.com

Past President, Pino Zani                       apizania@tin.it

President-elect Secretary, Lowell McCaw             l.e.mccaw@worldnet.att.net

Treasurer, Leo Staples                                       LeoStaples@mmcable.com

Chair Board of District VP’s, Dawn Schweitzer     dawn.schweitzer@kodak.com

Chair Board of Department VP’s, Diana Bouchard dbouchard@paprican.ca

 

new: 8/8/03 GJG