ISA Water / Wastewater Symposium
Quick note for your calendar. I just received an update from the program chair of the 2012 Water / Wastewater and Automatic Control Symposium which will be held Aug. 7-9 in Orlando.
Presented by the Water and Wastewater Division of ISA, in collaboration with the Florida AWWA and the WEF Automation and Information Technology Committee, the WWAC Symposium helps professionals in the water and wastewater industries understand how instrumentation, SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition), and automatic control applications affect the processing and distribution of water treatment.
Thinking more broadly
Speaking of ISA, I had not seen much advance publicity for ISA Automation Week (formerly ISA Expo, the huge revenue source for ISA and meeting place for the industry) and got into a conversation with Peter Martin of Invensys, who is heading up the conference portion.
Consider the situation–large companies stopped funding their very expensive booths at ISA Expo because there were not enough attendees to justify the expense. I think some in ISA thought it should be considered something of a donation, but CEOs driven to provide profit growth just couldn’t justify the expense. Automation Week was formed, but it still has not drawn very many attendees.
The question I have raised before is just this–why can’t ISA motivate its members to attend these events? Some are very good. I no long know what membership is, but even if it’s around 10,000 in the US alone, getting only a couple of hundred to its premier events suggests that the organization is not involving its members enough.
How can it do that? How can we get more members out to the Association’s premier event? I know that Jon DiPietro is working hard to find ways to use social media to involve members. That’s one way. I’m not involved in sections, but is there a way to get section leadership more involved in promoting the event? Is there just a huge disconnect between what leaders are providing and what membership expects? Are there just too many conferences (most of which have excellent speakers, too)?
I don’t know. What do you think?
Good questions, Gary. I don't think there's any one answer. Rather, there's a soup of factors contributing…
I think that some of the change is due to the short-term nature of CEOs looking to maximize shareholder value. They've spent decades cutting training and travel budgets for employees and now they're all complaining that they can't find good engineers and technicians. They're discovering that they never were saving money. Instead, they were deferring the spending to the future and now many industries have run out of road down which they can kick this can.
Another factor is the specialist economy we're in. The ISA Divisions are seeing strong growth in most of their symposia. The Water/Wastewater Symposium is sold out of exhibit space and some other symposia have seen two consecutive years of more than 100% growth. They are small, vertical events whereas Automation Week is trying to succeed as a small horizontal event. I don't think that's a viable design today, at least when it comes to vendor participation. They need either quality or quantity if they're going to put time and money into exhibits or sponsorships. You can be small (or large) vertical or large horizontal.
While I think there are many conferences, I don't think there are too many. However, it does mean that there is a need for innovation. This has not traditionally been ISA's strong suit but that is always going to be difficult in any large volunteer organization. That's another reason why I think the small vertical events could be more successful. They can be more agile.
Finally, you are also sniffing in the right area when you mention Sections. Despite all of the progress with social media and increased connectivity today, the vertical (national-to-section) and horizontal (section-to-section) communication is not where it could be. I was at the Spring Leaders meeting in San Diego and my Section's Executive Board meeting last night. It's funny that I would read your article this morning because I was feeling that disconnect last night. As both a Section and Department leader for ISA I have to look at myself first and acknowledge my role in that. But I think many Sections are struggling and have a bit of a bunker mentality where they are just trying to survive. I think there is a large role that social media can play in lubricating the communication machinery but it's only a tool and not an answer in itself.
Good thoughts, Jon. I'm intrigued by the insight that focused conferences seem to be doing well.
I was thinking about how to connect ISA leadership to ISA members in order to attract them to conferences. Maybe the perspective should be how to connect members to leadership so that the right kinds of conferences are organized. In other words, maybe the members have spoken!
There has been a problem for a long time (maybe 20 years) about companies no longer investing in their employees' professional growth. I have seen it in refusal to pay member dues, to not letting people off to devote a little time to professional development, to actively discouraging it. That's on the member side. On the sponsor / exhibitor side, they must be shown a return on the investment–at least in terms of a large enough amount of people looking at new things to make it worthwhile.