This month, I continue my examination of what I deem to be the four priority areas of focus for the Society in 2016. After previously covering Alignment and Leadership, I turn my attention to the issue of Globalization (leaving the fourth, Voice of the Customer, for May).
Globalization is a complex matter for any company or association. ISA is committed to representing the needs and expectations of automation professionals throughout the world. While our presence in many parts of the world is strong, we have a long way to go to realize our objectives internationally.
Let me first share with you two highly positive ISA events that were recently held outside North America: Automation India Week, which was conducted by ISA District 14 late last year; and the third annual ISA Food and Pharmaceutical Industries Division (FPID) Symposium, which was held in Cork, Ireland during March of this year.
Both events were first class and offered compelling technical programs with presentations from industry subject matter experts (SMEs). The networking and knowledge sharing provided valuable opportunities for every attendee and sponsor. Automation India Week and FPID Symposium 2016 represented ISA at its very best and were successful due to the tireless efforts and close collaboration with local sections, district volunteers, and ISA headquarters in North Carolina.
By most measures, ISA has made good progress over the past few years in terms of increasing its global participation but, like many professional associations, we are still heavily weighted towards North America. There is a large, growing consumer market outside of North America, and ISA needs to be the first choice and source for all automation professionals throughout the world.
“Think Globally, Execute Locally” is a great mantra but we need to be sensitive to some potential challenges since, as we all know, the “devil is in the details.” The three top challenges that come to mind are: legal concerns, our own bandwidth, and cultural understanding.
Legal Concerns – In some countries, associations are more regulated. This might require that we partner with local organizations that better understand all of the legal and financial requirements that may come into play. In addition, transparency must always be the basis for all of our activities and discussions. We need to ensure that individuals or operating units do not benefit from any ISA activity. Otherwise, we face the real risk of placing our 503(c) tax-exempt status in jeopardy. It is up to us to ensure that everyone understands the rationale and importance of our guiding principles.
Bandwidth – The reality is that ISA does not have the resources (financial or people) to support local offices throughout the world. For ISA, part of the answer is working more closely with our Geographic Assembly and districts so that we can leverage their strengths and capabilities outside of North America.
Another part of the answer is to work more closely with global companies that have centralized functions in North America. These companies are faced with the challenge of deploying skilled automation professionals throughout the world. For instance, some of these companies tell us that while their senior automation professionals in North America usually possess more than 20 years of experience, their counterparts in other areas of the world commonly have less than 5 years of experience. Who better than ISA to work with these companies to help address their global workforce assessment and training requirements?
We also need to increase our engagement, dialogue and visibility with automation companies and professionals in all parts of the world. For example, I’m hopeful that our economics and critical mass will allow us to schedule a Leader Meeting outside of North America.
Cultural Understanding – In his 2008 book, What If, Steve Robbins noted that the more we surround ourselves with diverse perspectives, the greater likelihood that we’ll arrive at solutions we could not have found based only on our own experiences. He also observed that “equal” treatment is not always right in a world filled with a myriad of people representing multiple belief systems. If we live in a truly diverse world, then equal treatment approaches must always be examined through the lens of fairness. Fairness, as opposed to equal treatment, entails more analysis and examination.
In summary, a “one-size-fits-all” mindset might not be the best approach to increasing our global footprint. Understanding local cultures, challenges, and opportunities—while protecting our brand and intellectual property—is hard work and can lead to some thought-provoking conversation. But it is a journey we need to continue to travel with added emphasis if we are truly to become an international association.
Are you ready to join us in this journey and help us achieve the “I” in ISA. I would love to hear your comments and suggestions. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A version of this article also has been published in ISA Insights.