ISA Expo Run Ends

There were several product announcements at this year’s ISA Expo, but ISA itself stole the limelight with the announcement that this is the last ISA Expo. In the face of declining attendance, declining floorspace sold to exhibitors, little-to-no interest by the major systems suppliers in supporting the show, ISA has decided to switch to a conference format for 2010.

The new name is Automation Week and is dubbed a “knowledge-based conference event, focusing on delivering critical knowledge on application of automation technologies in processing and manufacturing environments to top professionals.” It will be held October 4-7 (note the extra day), 2010 at the Westin Galleria in Houston. It expects to continue to attract top educational, vendor-neutral speakers and serve as a central location for standards working group meetings.

“It’s all about knowledge,” says ISA President Jerry Cockrell. “ISA is a knowledge society. We have 30,000 members and we train, we educate, we run seminars and symposia, we have standards, books, educational programs — everything we disseminate is based on knowledge. We’re excited about what ISA Automation Week can offer,” he adds.

The conference planners envision a scaled-down exhibition hall with 10-foot booths in a ballroom. For comparison, I suppose you could imagine it as a much larger ARC Forum. I guess it remains to be seen if it will be a gathering place for the media–or if I get the week off.

Although this year’s edition wasn’t a “ghost town,” it is surely a small trade show occupying less than half the ballrooms allocated to it. And tremendously smaller than its heyday years. ISA simply couldn’t offer a value proposition to the large systems companies to bring back their large, expensive booths (and bring in their customers) in competition with the companies’ own user conferences, which have grown significantly over the past six years.

Facing declining revenues for several years, ISA also outsourced its association magazine, Intech, and its electronic publications/email newsletters.

So, what is the future of ISA? Feel free to comment.

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9 Responses to ISA Expo Run Ends

  1. Jon DiPietro October 8, 2009 at 8:59 pm #

    Well, those that have read my thoughts on the future of ISA shouldn’t be surprised to know that I disagree with the statement that "It’s all about knowledge." While I certainly respect Mr. Cockrell and admit that he has forgotten more about process control than I’ve ever known, my position is that knowledge is a commodity who’s value is approaching zero. Therefore, my opinion is that the value which ISA can deliver is collaboration and consensus. Knowledge in and of itself is easily accessible in 2009, and I think standards are the area where ISA has the most to offer.

    In terms of how this effects Automation Week, I think it fits better with members’ needs than a traditional exposition. It is an opportunity to facilitate collaboration and build professional networks. Social media can only go so far to create relationships, and face to face gatherings can be the accelerant to true networking.

  2. Jim Cahill October 9, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    Gary, I saw your tweet noting Jon’s comment. I think information is abundant, and knowledge is pretty abundant too–although pretty dispersed among the 30,000 ISA members.

    One of my points in a recent presentation on how to thrive in chaos I referenced Metcalfe’s Law: the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2) and the value of a social network we need to consider not just the number of users but also the affinity between the members of the network.

    The best way ISA could create value is find all the ways possible to connect and build affinity between these 30,000 in ways to freely share their knowledge.

    I also agree with Jon that the model should be to give away what’s abundant and charge for what’s scarce (like face-to-face gathering opportunities.)

  3. Tony October 12, 2009 at 8:54 pm #

    The value of knowledge is approaching zero? Where? Maybe Google has indexed all the knowledge in the world, but:
    1. It requires knowledge and skill to find that knowledge on Google
    2. #1 isn’t correct — there are plenty of answers I can’t find via Googling, and my google-fu is pretty good.
    3. And, of course, even if you can find the knowledge, you still have to have the experience and wisdom to use it well.

    Maybe the value of information is approaching zero, but the value of usable information (AKA knowledge) is as high as ever, especially domain knowledge.

  4. Mark Fisher October 15, 2009 at 1:50 pm #

    Information is everywhere. Knowledge is also widespread. The real value added [to the masses] is when the knowledge is shared. Collaberation and the effective exchange of experience is best done face-2-face (at least initially). If ISA can facilitate this exhange it will be providing something very valuable.

  5. Jim Pinto October 15, 2009 at 4:43 pm #

    Jon diPietro has already suggested that ISA Membership should be free, and then harvest the membership content. I heartily support this!

    ISA is at a dead-end – declining membership level for several years (less than 25,000 real members); 95% USA members; lots of money in the bank without any ideas about what to do with the cash, except to leave it in the bank; volunteer-driven (which means lots of talk, no real-decision-making capability).

    ISA should be INTERNATIONAL, to match its new name. We need 100,000 new international members; we need blogging and tweeting and the automation YouTube and several free iPhone Apps and automation MP3-music – I could go on and on. If this does not happen – soon – then ISA will continue to decline till its demise. That will include a few die-hard volunteers, $ 30 million in the bank, and beautiful facilities which will have to be leased out.

    I refer you to articles I’ve been writing over the past several years – tolling the bell.

    ISA Identity Crisis (Nov. 2007):

    ISA – Melting Iceberg continues to melt (July 2006):

    ISA – only incremental progress (June 2006):

    Antique governance plagues cash-fat ISA (Sept. 2005):

    ISA at the crossroads (Aug. 2005):

    For years I’ve been predicting the demise of the annual Expo. For the new "Automation Week" I predict that, at $ 950 per head, there will be less than 50 paying attendees. The low interest of ISA Members in current ISA conferences is an indication of this non-interest.

    We need to do something radical to save ISA. Volunteers have no "skin" in the game, and can only wallow in indecision and compromise.


    Jim PInto.

  6. Jon DiPietro October 16, 2009 at 10:47 pm #

    Tony – I did not say that Google is causing the value of knowledge to approach zero, though that is a major factor. Social networks are also major contributors and are the second place I go (after Google) when looking for information. Between my LinkedIn connections alone, I’m two degrees of separation away from more than 5.6 million people. I’ve solved many problems, received cogent advice, and found many a short cut through this network. You’ll notice ISA is nowhere to be found in those solutions. Except…

    Mark nailed it! Knowledge is everywhere, but ideas are where the money is made. I agree that ISA can remake itself into a valuable organization if it can figure out a way to facilitate and nurture ideas through member interaction (both virtual and face to face).

    Gary – Don’t know if there is a function available that would allow us to receive email notifications to these comment streams, but that would be nice. I had assumed that was the case and missed out on this great discussion!

  7. Gary October 17, 2009 at 5:01 pm #

    Jon, I’m looking for the email response. Actually, I’m not getting it either. The FAQ says it’s somewhere.

  8. nick denbow October 30, 2009 at 2:10 pm #

    I recently published a blog editorial critical of the ISA stance over wireless webinars in particular. But what is the future for Expos? While the big automation vendors do organize brilliant (self-congratulatory) user conferences, I have never understood how they could manage to persuade potential clients to pay to attend, pay money for a week in hotels, and pay travel fares as well. I don’t doubt the conference info is worth it, but I think typically the delegates from outside the US only attend US events because they are persuaded to give papers, which means the admission fee is waived, and then the agent or local company rep pays the air fare to get there, maybe the hotel room too.

    Undoubtedly these overseas user industry speakers contribute significantly to the conference, but that then means the conference adds extra streams of lecture topics, to be able to fit in the contributions from all these delegates, in only 4 days! Still I reckon this is far too long a time period every year, for most of the real automation managers, who might justifiably want to be able to see something of what is going on.

    Maybe the answer is specific industry focused events, alongside industry exhibitions. But then these get swamped with exhibitors peddling their wares. Maybe there should be smaller regional events, or user group meetings? On specific topics, lie APC, wireless, Profibus etc?

  9. Sallyanne Ofner November 3, 2009 at 8:23 am #

    Writing as a small company CEO, I was saddened to see the lack of participation of what once was a large population of niche suppliers and knowledgeable users, both with lots of new ideas. This past month, I was seeking a source of a new offering’s components, but there were no such offerers or choices at ISA Expo.

    In our opinion, trade shows in the marketing mix retain value for engineers who like to see and handle products and to challenge the presentations. We had planned on exhibiting in 2010, but that is no longer an option, though if Jim Pinto’s prediction falls short and more than a few thousand attend, we may consider some presence there..

    A number of issues would appear to be present:

    *An aging population of I&C engineers and technicians will have to be replaced in the coming decade with trained and competent personnel
    *ISA continues to be a viable resource for training a new cohort of such engineers
    *A significant part of such training must come from learning first hand about the many advantages and disadvantages of the various technical approaches to solve the many sensor and control problems. Large horizontal shows such as ISA Expo can offer one path for learning, supplemented by on-the-job training, sales engineer presentations, editorial content and other communication media.

    I believe that Jim is correct in his assessment that society membership and show attendance needs to radically increase and that a primary source is through section revitalization. Some of this future growth may lie that new cohort who will be applying instrumentation and control in coming decades; some from global expansion and some in new areas which are not currently being served.

    In the mean time, we expect to continue active support of our Denver Section as well as elsewhere.

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