The International Society of Automation (ISA) dropped its annual Expo trade fair last year due to declining floor space rentals, conference attendance and overall attendance. The replacement was a conference with table-top exhibit area. The overall experience was not good, and many exhibitors complained about the logistics and chance to meet attendees–the reason for exhibiting, of course.

This year, the conference was moved from Houston to Mobile, AL. The conference program leadership added Greg McMillan, a professional whom I respect greatly. I figured he could move the program from one that was overly academic to something that members might find useful.

Greg just posted to his Modeling and Control blog an essay We are ISA. I found his “agree with us or get out” message to dissident ISA members somewhat off-putting, but he did detail changes in the program. I know some of the people, and I suspect that attendees will be able to find some good sessions. I certainly hope that ISA publishes more details about the courses than it did last year. I also hope they treat potential speakers with more respect than some of the stories I heard from last year.

In conjunction with thoughts on the conference, here is a side comment. Conference organizers have found a benefit that they can offer to their sponsors–editors. They promise to line up a big group of editors and offer a long session of press conferences so that the sponsors can get time in front of us. So I, and my colleagues, are used as bait for sponsorship. However, our cost to attend these events is upwards of $1,000. We’re all small businesses. So, the cost is a concern. If we do come, we’d really like to have some substantial news to report to make it worth our while. And it would be great to have time after the meeting for an individual interview so that we can get our own spin and not just parrot what every other editor is saying. (If Walt and I write the same thing, you’d all begin to wonder–right?)

Back to the ISA conference. I did not attend last year because we would not be allowed to sit in conference sessions to get new ideas, meet the speakers for future articles, talk to attendees. We were supposed to spend the money to come down for the better part of one day to sit through press conferences. For that privilege, we would be allowed to eat the conference lunch.

Here’s how Greg describes the upcoming agenda. “The AW 2011 program will build on last year’s improvement in technical content and make a step increase in scope and expertise offered. An Advanced Control track chaired by Russ Rhinehart, an Installation, Operations, and Maintenance track chaired by Greg Lehmann, and a poster session Recent Developments in Process Control chaired by Jerry Cockrell have been added to the program. The Analysis track chaired by Jim Tatera and the Automation and Control System Design track chaired by John Munro have been restored to their previous prominence. We have added a general session where 6 prominent members of the Process Automation Hall of Fame will discuss how process control is more important than ever for manufacturing competitiveness and how users can get the most out of their control systems. Terry Tolliver and I will offer tutorials on key technologies. Charlie Cutler and Bela Liptak will present keynote addresses. Tribute sessions will show the impact of these and other leaders in our profession. Lastly, an Ask the Experts session is being planned to offer guidance on important challenging problems.”

If I were working in the field, I’d take a close look at the new conference agenda and consider making the $2,000 investment (travel, lodging, conference fees, etc.). Unless there are changes in the way journalists are considered, though, I will not be there. It’s too hard to get to Mobile for an afternoon of press conferences. The companies can send a release and call me.

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