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ISA: One Member’s Vision

Thinking about ways to expand and improve the Society

Thinking about ways to expand and improve the Society

The ISA (International Society of Automation) is facing a challenging time.  As I prepare to attend the Fall Leaders’ Meeting and ISA Expo in a few days, I know that major cuts and dramatic changes are in store.  Depending upon how you look at it, I am personally either blessed or cursed not be part of the most important and far reaching decisions that will be inevitably be announced in the coming weeks. I understand that many of these changes are necessary due to shortfalls in revenue resulting from the same economic conditions facing everyone.  However, I want to put forth a few ideas that will no doubt sound crazy to some and may even brand me as a “heretic.”  Incidentally, I would take that as a compliment and if you’re curious as to why, you should watch this Seth Godin video.  The ideas are too lengthy to include a single post, so I present them in summary here and will link them to sub-articles, where more detail is provided for those who are interested.

Sell Scarcity, Give Away Abundance

Many thanks to Jim Pinto for bringing this into focus for me with his recent InTech article, “Sell scarcities, not abundance.” I’ve taken the liberty of expanding on his thesis by leveraging the concepts of “freeconomics.” I am intrigued by the possibility of making ISA membership free. Yes, I said it – free.

I go into more detail in “Sell Scarcity, Give Away Abundance

Build a free army equipped with web 2.0 tools

Build a free army equipped with web 2.0 tools

Build an Army Using the Long Tail

Making membership free will not, in and of itself, build an effective army. First, they must be recruited. This is where the long tail comes into play. Next, they must be equipped with the latest technology, afforded competent and inspiring leaders, and trained in effective tactics. The “Long Tail” is a phrase attributed to Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson, who wrote an article in 2004 about “Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.” Engineers and economists would already be familiar with the numerical component of this phenomenon, known as the power law distribution curve or more colloquially the “80/20” rule. I think the current strategies are more focused on maintaining the 20% than pulling in the other 80%. Once free membership and the long tail begin filling the membership hopper, the next step is to “arm” them with the latest web 2.0 technologies.

I go into more detail in “Build an Army Using the Long Tail

Switch from Filter/Distribute to Distribute/Filter

Content is the fuel for this new paradigm’s engine. A wide variety of interesting, thought provoking, authoritative, and even mundane content will increase member engagement and improve search engine results, driving more and more web search results to ISA. However, under the current publication infrastructure this is difficult if not impossible to realize. That’s because the current approach is to filter, then publish. The alternative is to distribute, then filter. In other words, the long tail of the membership should be enabled to become content providers.

I go into more detail in “Members as Content Providers

Be Respectful in Our Marketing

Let’s talk about email. This has been a controversial subject for many years and for several reasons. The mistake here is that ISA has been wrestling with the best way to interrupt people, sort of like looking for the friendliest way to insult somebody. The solution is, once again, permission-based or opt-in marketing.

I go into more detail in “Be Respectful in Our Marketing

The Elephant in the Room

This may sound like implementing these ideas requires the current web site to be blown up and rebuilt from scratch, which will cost a fortune. Yes and no. The current framework will not support these tools and tactics for a reasonable cost. However, the revolution in open source web content management systems (CMS) allows the rapid development of extremely powerful web sites by non-professionals for zero or little licensing cost. These CMS have enormous commercial third party add on markets that provide extensibility for very low cost – we’re talking less than $10k.

There is no getting around the fact that it would be a time consuming task to migrate all of the existing content to a new platform. However, it can be done by any mildly computer savvy user after about an hour’s worth of training. The job could be outsourced to the membership in large part and I am willing to bet the call to arms would be well received.

Don’t Panic!

Panic ButtonThese thoughts are meant to provide food for thought, not necessarily a road map. It is a momentary cross over from the way it was to the way it could be. The way it is unsustainable. Applying a tourniquet may stop the bleeding, but that is not a solution. I believe that ISA can not only survive but thrive if we can recognize and embrace the trends that will define how professional institutions organize their members for the next fifty years.

My hope is to provoke conversations that lead to innovation and positive change.  To that end, please use the comments section below and provide your thoughts.  As Linda Richman on Saturday Night Live’s “Coffee Talk” skit would say, “I’ve given you a topic. Talk amongst yourselves.”

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  • Jim Pinto ([email protected])

    I like your idea about making ISA Membership free, and then harvesting the membership content.

    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 automationMP3-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):

    Please remind our volunteer members when you meet next week – “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”.

    Thank you for your involvement and activism, which I hope will save our ISA.

    Jim Pinto <[email protected]>
    ISA Member – over 50 years)
    ISA Fellow (1992)

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  • Missy Knight

    Great post Jon! I agree with you wholeheartedly on all points, especially the “free membership” concept. In my opinion, dues or fee-based memberships are antiquated, and frankly there are ways to acquire the same “benefits” as members without fees. I also agree with your ideas on re-thinking the paradigm in order to build an army using the long tail. Empowering members to to be ISA evangelists is where the real benefit in membership will lie.

    I also agree with Jim Pinto’s comment below on ISA being INTERNATIONAL. I recently approached ISA for international information and was disappointed with the outcome. And automation MP3 music would be fun ;).

    ISA: Embrace Change. Change is good.

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  • Jon DiPietro

    Thanks, Missy. I hope the ideas get some traction. Financial crises can sometimes lead to real innovation and game-changing ideas. Should make for some interesting discussions this weekend.

  • Jon DiPietro


    Thank you for taking the time to contribute your thoughts. I was hoping to strike a slightly cheerier note than “Ask not for whom the bell tolls,” but as our incorrigible resident football genius is fond of saying, “It is what it is.”

  • Jim Cahill

    Jon, Great post. I caught Chris Anderson’s SXSW panel discussing FREE, based on the concepts of what you describe. Basically, it’s the sell scarcity, give away abundance or in his venacular, give away what has a marginal cost approaching zero, and monetize what has value and associated real costs. For music bands, they should give away the MP3 files of their songs, but charge for their concerts and custom merchandise at these concerts. It’s a strategy of monetizing fame created by free. His book is freely available in iTunes- and on Google Books-, etc. For those wanting the printed book, it will cost-

    As you saw at the ISA Marketing and Sales Summit and as I am seeing this week at Emerson Exchange, nothing beats the face to face interaction. This is something that has value and has marginal costs associated with it. Promotion around the events through Twitter tweets, blog posts, streaming video, online presentations, etc. should all be free, since the marginal cost of these channels is nearly free.

    You are definitely on the right path and understand the fundamental shifts taking place through the use of social media as the equivalent of giving away the MP3s, and identifying the items that are scarce to monetize.

  • Jon DiPietro

    Thanks for your comments, Jim. I just finished reading Free a few weeks ago (the paid version) and it definitely had a huge part in formulating these thoughts. I can’t recommend it strongly enough! The other book on my “required reading” list is “<a href=”>Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky. It’s a great companion to Free and when you consider that it was written four years ago, it shows just how well Shirky knows the underpinnings of social networks.

    I also agree with the importance of the face to face interaction. The great thing about social media is establishing relationships that can greatly enhance in-person events like Emerson Exchange and ISA Expo. I met about a half dozen people at the Marketing & Sales Summit whom I knew online but had never met in person. For someone like myself not entirely comfortable in crowds, it’s a great help.

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