• By Paul Gruhn
  • The Final Say

By Paul Gruhn, PE, CFSE

No one likes change, yet change is inevitable. The noted quality guru W. Edwards Deming was known for saying, "It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."

There is no doubt that change is disruptive and often painful. Some people complain that automation is displacing workers. It has for hundreds of years. The printing press did away with scribes, who could then move on to bigger and better things. Factory robots have done away with jobs, but the same thing happened in the first industrial revolution long ago. Did those displaced workers not move on to bigger and better things? The automobile did away with an entire industry that had to pick up and dispose of horse "products." And how many people wanting to remain in that job might have fought against the automobile? Automation simply moves people into new and better-paying roles.

The only constant in life is change. Many have written that we cannot even think of most of the jobs, products, or services that will exist in 20 years. So just how does one know what service, product, or organizational structure to develop or change?

Customers do not always know what they want or what they might need in the future. People once could not conceive of-let alone ask for-the automobile, airplane, television, personal computer, iPhone, or programmable logic controller. Surveys will not always reveal such desires, either. Henry Ford said that if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have said "a faster horse." (Well, that is essentially what he gave them!)

Yet ISA, like any organization, must be data driven in order to understand its markets and the interests of its members and customers. We cannot simply rely on the whims or personal opinions of leaders. What one leader may consider important, another may consider irrelevant, and neither may be of real interest to actual industry professionals. Also, what a professional with two years of experience wants is different than what a professional with twenty years of experience wants. What an employer wants may be different than what an employee wants.

ISA has been evolving continuously since its inception in 1945. Our leaders have not always agreed over the years. Early on, there was not complete agreement regarding the composition of the society, the requirements for membership, or on holding an annual exhibit. In the late 1960s, six long-range planning committees published a 300-page report with hundreds of recommendations on ISA's future direction. All in an effort to remain relevant. It is the same today.

ISA's vision and mission statements were updated last year. I believe they will help guide us in the future and help us remain relevant. Our vision statement is: "Create a better world through automation." Who wouldn't want to be part of that? Our mission statement is: "Advance technical competence by connecting the automation community to achieve operational excellence." We are advancing people's knowledge to help companies be more successful. What employer wouldn't be interested in that? But how will we accomplish that?

An organization's high-level strategies should not change year after year. It is better to have one five-year plan than five one-year plans. ISA's Executive Board sets ISA's strategic direction. Our high-level strategic priorities are to: (1) be recognized as a standards authority, (2) be the global source for automation, (3) go through a content and digital transformation, (4) further education advocacy, and (5) review our governance and leadership culture. I doubt anyone would question the appropriateness of those goals. They do line up with our vision and mission statements.

The question then becomes what specific programs and actions will we put in place to accomplish those goals? Some of the programs we are discussing and fleshing out to accomplish our priorities are: (1) market awareness and sponsorship, (2) membership development and engagement, (3) technical education and certification, and (4) leadership and professional development. The Executive Board has broken into four smaller working groups to address these issues. We are working to make these programs and goals specific, measurable, and timely. These working groups will include other society leaders as needed. After all, we're all in this together.

If you care about the society, where it is going, and how it can better help you and your employer accomplish your goals, please get involved. After all, the world is run by people who show up. Don't abdicate your responsibility to others 

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About The Authors

Paul Gruhn, PE, CFSE is the 2019 ISA society president and a global functional safety consultant with aeSolutions in Houston, Texas.