This post is authored by Paul Gruhn, president of ISA 2019.

The 2019 ISA annual leadership conference was our largest annual leader conference in many years. For example, there were 130 leaders registered for the event in 2014. This year there were 209. What might be the reasons for that?  

One might have been the location. This year’s meeting was held at Paradise Point Resort in San Diego, California. Built during the early 1960s, the resort’s ambiance was that of an exotic South Seas paradise complete with lagoons and waterfalls. There was an abundance of tropical and subtropical flowers and foliage among cabana-style cottages. Each cottage featured a picturesque view of Mission Bay, the lagoons, or the tropical gardens. The weather was gorgeous, with only one cloudy day during my nine-day visit.  

Another reason might have been the positive response to furthering our strategic objectives and goals. Department, division, district, section, and committee leaders discussed what each of their groups could do to promote the strategic objectives, goals, tactics, and key performance indicators that have been the focal point of our work this past year. Limiting this discussion to just objectives (3-5 years out), and goals (up to 1 year out), these targets would be:  

1. Member Programs: Enhance member value and expand engagement opportunities to nurture and grow a more diverse and global community to advance the automation profession.  

  • Review the value proposition for membership and benchmark to similar Societies. This review should consider the career stage, global location, and benefit from the employer’s perspective. 
  • Launch an online community. 
  • Review and define a “healthy” section. This review should consider the location, number of members, and years of existence. 
  • Review and define a “healthy” division. This review should consider the number of members and years of existence. 
  • Engage and grow the young professional member community within ISA.  

2. Industry Reach and Awareness: 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.  

  • Prepare a comprehensive analysis of stakeholders; Identify, analyze, map, and prioritize stakeholder groups and their needs and expectations.
  • All parts of ISA will contribute to and operate from a single society-wide plan that will coordinate and drive the development and dissemination of ISA’s technical content in multiple forms. The program will define opportunities, priorities, responsibilities, dependencies, and expected outcomes.  

3. Technical Education and Certification: 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 ways.

  • Assess the global needs and viability of ISA’s training and education program. 
  • Develop and deliver agile modular training and certificate programs that can serve as a model for automation community stakeholders. 
  • Develop testimonials and statements to better promote the value proposition of ISA certification and education programs.  

4. Finance and Governance: 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.

  • Complete an operational assessment using a third-party association expert to review our governing documents and structure for optimal operations.  

There are too many tactics (up to 3 months out) and key performance indicators to list in this brief article. The point of this significant effort is to get all the different operational areas of ISA to row their collective boats in the same direction.  

Another reason might have been the nature of our awards gala. The gala was a bit less formal than years past and did not include a sit-down meal. Instead, we held the “formals and flip flops” dinner on the beach. People line-danced to DJ’ed music provided by our very own Brandon Cornthwaite. I wore the upper half of my tuxedo sporting swim trunks and flip flops. While the music officially ended at 10 p.m., many continued the party well beyond that. We enjoyed the camaraderie and have formed long-lasting friendships over the years.  

Another might have been the nature of some of the fun events we planned. For example, Saturday morning for 40 people started at 6 a.m. with the I-S-A-mazing race. Six teams competed in a treasure hunt, collecting clues from all over the resort. No doubt, many other resort dwellers must have thought we were crazy, but running around the island before sunrise was a real hoot!  

Another might have been the positive and transparent nature of the Council of Society Delegates meeting. While there were no resolutions that required the delegate body to vote, the group heard reports from their society leaders, along with a presentation from the organizational consulting firm that the Executive Board has been working with during the year. We have been reviewing our governing and operating documents that total approximately 200 pages. I believe the delegates understand the need for such an assessment (much like visiting your doctor for a check-up, even if you’re feeling fine), and can see the early stages of the transparent nature the Executive Board will use in communicating the expected changes that will be put forth for the delegate body next year.  

Another might have been the impact of the surplus budget we set for 2019. (That hasn’t happened in a decade.) It was announced that we expect to end the year with an even greater surplus than originally planned. An even larger surplus budget is planned for 2020, still accounting for growth and expansion efforts, along with a variety of activities scheduled for ISA’s 75th anniversary in 2020.  

Another might have been the impact of membership growth in 2019. That also hasn’t happened in a decade.  

Another might have been the many standards committees that met before, during, and after the leader meeting; 18.2 (alarm management), 75 (control valves), 84 (safety instrumented systems), 95 (enterprise-control system integration), 96 (valve actuators), 101 (human-machine interface), and 112 (supervisory control and data acquisition).  

Another might have been that two of the 14 ISA districts held their annual district leadership conferences the day before the leader meeting. That was an excellent way for even more volunteer leaders to get more bang for their buck, receive more training, and meet and interact with even more society leaders.  

It does not get much better than this! Volunteer leaders are feeling positive! If you are an ISA volunteer and missed this meeting, you missed a significant, positive, and fun event! Perhaps you will consider attending next year’s conference in Puerto Rico.

About the Author
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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