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.
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.
Gary, yes I agree with your assessment. Reading Greg's blog I am quite optimistic about the Mobile event. As a non-American I don't find the prospect of a few days in Mobile of any less as a venue than any other in the US. I still have the vast Atlantic to cross!
One thing you say is that you "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." As press myself I did not find that. In fact I attended a few of the sessions although I did find that the press facilities were less than accommodating and voiced my complaints to the organisers. (No press room, inet access and conferences in a different part of the venue!)
Hopefully this will be made clear to all press people in good time for proper planning for your attendence at this event where I look forward to sharing a brew with you and you can explain the finer points of the off-side rule in soccer!!
Thanks, Eoin. I thought they were pretty clear last year, and that discouraged me from attending. Talking with exhibitors after the event, it seemed that my understanding was correct. I hope it wasn't just that you were incoming VP of Publications that got you in. I'll ask specifically this year, then see.
My blog "We are ISA" was intended to say ISA is what we make it to be. Criticism and finding exceptions is healthy and part of the scientific method. I have a great respect for Gary and appreciate him bringing up problems so we can improve.
There are a lot of miss understandings as ISA moves away from an Expo/Show to a technical conference. People still try to compare the ISA Automation Week to previous ISA Expos based on the exhibit and vendor booths.
I thought the technical content of last years conference was better than previous year Expos. I admit the exhibit was a disappointment, but this was not the main reason I attended and was not the focus of the program committee. ISA has ideas to improve vendor participation and will try to reinforce the real value of ISA Automation week as being the technical conference. The program committee has added tracks to address continuing progress and opportunities in the implementation and use of automation besides improving the communication between universities and industry.
ISA apparently did a poor job of communicating to the press that press was free last year and welcome to participate in sessions. This will also be the case in 2011 and ISA will try to do a better job of making them feel welcome.
Thanks for the comment, Greg. I almost didn't post this blog because I didn't want to take another shot at ISA. Lord knows that the organization has enough problems without me taking shots. I'm glad to see you stepping up.
I thought the communications last year were pretty clear about journalists, but I must have missed something in the translation. They certainly didn't make us feel welcome, at least until the last minute when my plans had already been laid. (I should add that I had two personal problems at the time. I was already traveling almost every week in the fall, and one more week was tough. Plus I was recovering from a severely pulled quadricep–for which Walt graciously documented on Facebook with a photo.) But nothing enticing was forthcoming. Perhaps this year will be different.
More important, we need to figure out how to get ISA members out to the conference. What would entice them to further their education by attending? My philosophy of life is to never stop learning. Perhaps even engineers get the "inoculation theory of education" (get injected with a little of the disease so that you won't get the big dose latter)?