Aligning ISA messaging and resources to the critical needs of customers and prospects

  • February 01, 2016
  • Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

Aligning ISA messaging and resources to the critical needs of customers and prospects

Last month, in my ISA Insights column, I outlined the following key areas of focus for ISA in 2016:

  • Alignment
  • Leadership
  • Globalization
  • Voice of the Customer

This month, I want to discuss the first one – Alignment – in more detail. When I started in ISA more than 30 years ago, it’s no big surprise that many things were different than they are today. Some of the changes that have occurred through the years have had a significant impact on ISA as well as the profession.

In exploring the issue of alignment, we need to do so in light of changes in these three areas.

The Automation Profession – Significant improvements in process automation have reduced the number of positions, especially in terms of traditional manufacturing jobs. Many companies are increasing the use of third parties and contractors for some of the detailed design work. That engineering manager who was personally involved in ISA 30 years ago and encouraged his or her group to be active on committees or with local sections has long retired.

Standardization – Many companies have standardized or have become “guidelined” on designated suppliers for most of their automation requirements. As a result, large manufacturers now see little value in broad, horizontal exhibits and would rather support “user groups” supported by their one or two key suppliers. This also has negatively impacted vendor support and activity in some sections where one end-user company constitutes much of the membership.

The Role of Automation – We’ve made so much progress in underlying technologies that upper-level corporate management often doesn’t fully appreciate the value of their internal automation groups. Sometimes, it takes something to go wrong in a manufacturing plan for that to happen. To a certain extent, we’ve become a victim of our success. It’s important that automation managers and professionals reinforce and quantify the value they bring to safe and efficient operations so that their areas are not viewed as just another internal cost center.

If you think this sounds a bit pessimistic, it’s not!  Each one of these changes represents an opportunity for ISA to provide real value by improving operations, safety, and the bottom line. The needs are there; only the discussion and delivery model have changed. 

We’ve listened to companies and they tell us that workforce development, process safety, and cybersecurity are three of their biggest concerns. It is up to us to ensure that companies understand how ISA can help them address these concerns.    

The reduction and outsourcing of automation and manufacturing positions have created challenges for companies in terms of ensuring that their automation professionals (whether direct, third party or contract) are knowledgeable and acquiring the new skills to keep themselves and their companies competitive. There is also a clear workforce gap; automation professionals with 30 years of experience are retiring and today’s senior engineers and technicians may have less than 10 years of experience. 

Who better than ISA to help companies ensure that their workforce provides them with a competitive edge? ISA can work with companies to baseline the skills and knowledge of their workforce versus peer companies in their market space. Based on analysis, we can help create or supplement existing career development programs.  ISA has a diverse range of training options—including instructor-led classroom and online instructor-assisted offerings; live and recorded technical webinars; and more than 300 interactive, multimedia courses. 

ISA also offers two highly recognized certification programs:  Certified Automation Professional® (CAP®) and Certified Control Systems Technician® (CCST®). We also have developed two certificate programs related to our ISA84 Safety Instrumented Systems (SIS) and ISA/IEC 62443 industrial cybersecurity standards. These programs recognize demonstrated proficiency within—and comprehension of—a specialized body of knowledge and based upon these ISA-related industry standards.  Please take a few minutes to review the following examples of our Automation Engineering Survival Training and brochure entailing all of our Cybersecurity Resources and let me know if you are not convinced.

Another way that ISA provides value to automation practitioners is through its division symposia. We’ll offer seven symposium and technical conferences during 2016. These are vertical opportunities for targeted audiences and highlight the latest technologies and industry trends—offering high-value tutorials, educational courses, and networking opportunities. Along with enhancing the skills and knowledge of those attendees, these industry gathering help automation and manufacturing companies remain competitive both today and in the future. 

Some of you may remember the Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams. One of the memorable lines in the movie was “If you build it, he will come.” Through our global standards; certification and certificate programs; education and training; books and technical articles; and conferences and exhibits; ISA has built the finest career development programs and networking opportunities for automation professions.

But we can’t expect companies, members, and customers to just come our way. We need to take our message to the market through every possible avenue—most certainly through our sections and divisions.  We need to equip our volunteer leaders with the marketing messaging and collateral that will support meaningful conversations with both professionals and companies. We need to build direct connections with companies by listening to their critical business issues and aligning ISA communications vehicles and resources that speak to their vital needs. By becoming “trusted advisors” we can increase ISA’s visibility and relevance and make real impact by demonstrating how we can help companies improve operations, reliability, and safety. 

Please contact me at and let me know what you think.

Jim Keaveney
2016 ISA President