JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 286 : 21 October 2010

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

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ISA continues downhill slide

ISA Automation week was held 4-7 October 2010 in Houston, TX with a new conference-only format, and a token table-top exhibition.

The new format required ISA members, end-users and others in the process industry to purchase a $395 one-day pass in order to enter the exhibit hall. The 4-day conference attendees totaled only 177; what percentage of total ISA Membership is that? The exhibit hall was, "a perfect place to take a nap" according to one of the 98 companies exhibiting at the event. Is anyone surprised at the results?

ISA announced that the same restrictive format was planned for Automation Week 2011, in Mobile, AL. This prompted "emergency resolutions" which were summarily rejected. The various committees clutched at the straws of occasionally better reports and consoled themselves with mutual compliments about good efforts.

Automation Week was the culmination of futile fumbling by a host of well-meaning volunteers. No one wants to face the pain of recognition that ISA is continuing on a downhill slide. The selection of Mobile, AL for the next Automation Week event is a grasp at a straw, not a step in a carefully considered strategic plan to save the society's only national, public event.

The debacle of Automation Week now stands as witness to a serious lack of understanding as to where ISA is going, and clear confirmation that volunteer leadership is not competent to proceed. They must either change their thinking, with wrenching resolve and under full disclosure, or membership will simply wither away.

The large sections (Will-Dupage IL, Cleveland, Houston, Boston, Northern California) are becoming increasingly independent because of the neglect from ISA HQ and will almost certainly look at re-organizing to become independent.

This would leave a highly paid, posturing and ineffective executive director and a bunch of old-boy past-presidents to decide how to liquidate the society's tens of millions cash-reserves and valuable real-estate holdings. Presumably, there's enough in the kitty to support hobnobbing with senators and congressmen, foreign junkets in the quest for international expansion, and a generous golden-handshake for that same executive director when he finally decides to throw in the towel.

A change in leadership must be achieved within a legal framework which is rigid, tedious, and time consuming. The executive director must take on the role of actively attempting to force new leadership infrastructures, to face up to the immediate responsibility to place ISA on life support, and plan for the emergency surgery needed for a decent long-term chance at continued existence - perhaps as part of a similar engineering society.

If something major does not happen, decline will not be a steady reduction in membership numbers and operating revenue. Once a critical threshold is passed, that decline will come suddenly. Sad to say, that threshold is very, very close....

The cries for action are almost a decade old. The previous executive director quit summarily over interference from the old-boy, past-presidents. The current executive director, professing experience with volunteer-driven organizations, is doing nothing beyond kowtowing to the volunteer office-holders, leaving a diligent and hard-working workforce to keep day-to-day operations functional.

Soon, there will not be other local sections or collective groups of individuals making more pleas for change. Only indifference will remain. Nothing survives indifference. Nothing.

I never criticize without offering solutions. Indeed, I have offered specific solutions for over 5 years. Below are links to my writings on the subject.

Click Freemium - A Plan for ISA Resurgence (Feb. 2010)

Click Whither ISA? (Nov. 2009)

Click ISA Identity Crisis (November 2007)

Click ISA - The Melting Iceberg Continues to Melt (July 2006)

Click ISA - Only Incremental Progress (June 2006)

Click Antique Governance Plagues Cash-fat ISA (Sept. 2005)

Click ISA at the crossroads (Aug. 2005)

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Automation Creativity Sleeps

Industrial automation suppliers regularly put out a stream of "new" product announcements - sensors, signal-conditioners, displays, recorders, controllers, valves, actuators and all the "stuff" in between. But most are mere extensions and refinements of old products - nothing significant, no new creations.

Creativity is the ability to introduce something new, with value that is significantly greater than anything that already exists.

All major automation innovations date back to the 1970s, mostly developed and introduced by small, start-up companies. Each represents an inflection point that generated new growth categories.

The programmable logic controller (PLC) was the brainchild of prolific inventor Dick Morley, conceived at Bedford Associates, a small development company associated with Modicon (now part of Schneider). This resulted in a market segment that has grown to several billions of dollars worldwide.

Rosemount, a start-up involved with temperature measurement, developed innovative capacitive differential-pressure sensors for flow measurement, offering major advantages over conventional products offered by Honeywell and Foxboro.

The late '70s and early '80s marked the arrival of personal computers in industrial automation. Several innovative start-ups, like Wonderware and Intellution, grew fairly rapidly with human-machine interface (HMI) PC software.

An exception to the start-up-innovation rule was distributed control systems (DCS), developed in the early 1970s by a team of engineers at Honeywell. This product category has also grown to several billions of dollars worldwide.

These growth products all originated decades ago. Where is the Creativity that will result in growth today?

Conservative, rule-bound companies dominate the automation business, where true creativity doesn't really seem to be possible. Smaller companies don't have the resources to create new, breakthrough categories.

In contrast with today's tech world, which seems bubbling incessantly with new ideas and creativity, industrial automation is a stagnant backwater where slow growth is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In today's automation business, Creativity sleeps.

Click Automation World (Oct. 2010) - Automation Creativity Sleeps

Click Wikipedia on Creativity

Click 10 Steps for Boosting Creativity

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The business value of social networks

The desire to network is as old as humanity. Today, online social networking seems to solve a need that is different from simply using email, chat and blogging tools separately.

Collaboration tools are important for members of a team, especially if they are distributed across many locations. E-mail, with 87% adoption, is the default collaboration tool for most business people.

Are you signed up on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook? If you are not, should you?

LinkedIn is the network for professionals. Your profile is visible to anyone who is interested. People link up, with your permission. Many groups form related to specific topics of interest, which provides very valuable ideas and feedback.

Facebook started out being just for college kids (have you seen the movie?) and now more than 500 million people are signed up; if it was a country, it would be the third largest in the world.

Twitter broadcasts a message (max length 147 characters) to all of your followers. It's like micro-blogging, and the simplicity is the reason for its success.

After I send out eNews, or publish another article or video, I simply send out the weblink through one of my social networks to broadcast it to all my followers. If I have a question, or a problem, or would like an introduction to someone, I ask my social network. I always get some good answers. The value is cumulative and long term.

By stressing approachability in social media, top-level managers can stimulate communications with employees. Today, many politicians are on Facebook and Twitter, though I suspect that they tweet through assistants...

Perhaps the real reason why so many managers are uncomfortable with social networks is the fear of losing control over employees, who now have tools that enable them to collaborate easily with people both inside and outside the company.

Such individual empowerment is precisely the key value of social networks. Rather than relying on rigid hierarchic structures and formal meetings, social networks encourage employees to work together, innovating by self-organizing into communities of interest, and collaborating to tackle complex problems.

Knowledge has always been the greatest source of economic value. Today's rapid rate of change causes knowledge to become obsolete very quickly. Real economic value comes from the flow of new knowledge that can be quickly acquired and refreshed.

Today, many job searches and introductions come through LinkedIn, and that's a good way too to get job references. People have told me that many new ideas come, and many problems are solved through their groups on social networks, both inside and outside the company.

Value creation is shifting from protecting proprietary knowledge, to increasing knowledge through fostering collaboration. This is the real business value of social networks.

Click LinkedIn vs. Facebook vs. Twitter (for job hunting)

Click The Business Value of Social Networks

Click Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn will win out in enterprise

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The rise of Internet TV

Who watches TV anymore? Because costs are growing, there's more and more advertising, and less and less content, which makes me surf incessantly to avoid commercial breaks. I prefer HBO and other commercial-free programs because I am not bombarded with advertising.

Now the Internet and TV are coming together - using the big screen to view whatever programs one chooses. There are lots of little boxes that can be attached to download Internet content. Each one gives you a little something different. But no single box provides everything - at least, not yet. It's coming.

Now Google wants to replace all those little attachments with Google TV. This software, free to TV manufacturers, will be part of some TV sets, basically turning the TV into a computer.

Just as the Internet transformed the tiny mobile-phone screen, it will soon transform the big screen TV. You'll be able to surf the web and load apps onto the TV like a smart phone. You'll be able to send tweets on Twitter, listen to music on Pandora, view any computer content - like your photo albums - and download movies from Netflix. You'll set bookmarks for your favorite channels, favorite apps, favorite Web sites. And you'll use your smart phone as the remote control. I'm dreaming - but it's just around the corner...

The gist of all this is that we are entering a new era where what we now think of as TV will be just one option, along with all the other Internet content. Instead of a few hundred broadcast channels, there'll be hundreds of thousands available at your command.

I'm an old geek, and I can't wait!

Click The TV Is Dead. Long Live the TV

Click Newsweek: Geek TV - Computer makers take over the tube

Click TV is Dead. Long Live Web Video

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Jim Pinto TED speech - Chindia Global Futures

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) started as a conference in Monterey, California, bringing together the world's brightest minds, the thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives - in just 18 minutes.

I was invited to speak at TED-affiliated TEDxDELMAR, and chose Chindia as my subject. I did a lot of research and found a lot of good material on the subject which became the basis of several slides that were part of my presentation. My recent visits to India and Educator's tour of China provided lots of insights.

With 40% of the world's population, China and India (Chindia) are steadily rising towards becoming world-leading economic powers. 300 years ago, the two countries represented 50% of the world's wealth. They are rising again to dominate the world's economy.

The GDP of China is already (2010) #2 in the world (after the USA); during the next decade, India will grow to be #3, surpassing Japan and all European countries.

Please view my TED talk - I'll appreciate your feedback.

Click JimPinto TED speech - The rise of China & India - Chindia

Click Invented in Chindia

Click TED - Riveting talks by remarkable people

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Dan Trudeau [dtrudeau@prausa.com] points out America's cultural complacency:
    "The problem underlying the US economy and our entire society is cultural complacency. As tough as things have gotten here, the motivation isn't there yet to make it better.

    "A lot of people have been through the wringer in the last couple of years and many have sacrificed big. The rub is that many more have not, yet. The rising Asian economies have a lot of motivated people who know what it's like to be at the brink and fight your way back. America may have lost that edge.

    "In the early twentieth century, there was a strong belief in this country, that we could achieve anything. We weren't the world's powerhouse yet and had a lot to prove. That spirit pushed us to create industries and jobs. Not even the Great Depression could kill it off entirely.

    "After the second world war, we were fortunate enough to ride a boom that lasted over multiple generations. Even when it looked like it was going to die in the seventies, we had a technology boom to sustain it. When it finally did come to an end, instead of new ideas and solutions, we got cheap credit and Walmart.

    "The crux of the issue is the idea that America is, and has the right to be, great - because that's the way it is (American Exceptionalism). This point of view has no tether to the work and sacrifices that led to American greatness. Those things are now several generations behind us. What I'm seeing now is false superiority and tribalism. Why change my life when I can make this decline someone else's fault?

    "I hope that out of the current problems might come a renewed American spirit. The thing that led to America's original boom was industrialization. Now that it is almost fully commoditized, I don't think there's anything from tariffs, to taxes, to trade policies, that will return things to where they were. Our best hope is creating a new boom with similar effects.

    "Once upon a time, America had the feeling that we could do anything. We need that spirit back."

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David Van Der Merwe [David@PeakSeat.com] discusses the challenge of Energy Independence:

    "Your piece on energy independence and unemployment started me thinking. Why are we dependent on importing energy from unfriendly sources when the solutions exist and have existed for decades? Why is this not a subject of debate in Congress, in the media, not even in Tea Parties?

    "We could solve energy dependence, unemployment and environmental clean-up with the same policy. It won't require massive government spending, in fact, the resulting tax revenues are probably the only sure way for us to grow our way out of our present debt. The only question is why is it not happening?

    "Transportation Fuel: We have enough Natural gas domestically to last until internal combustion transportation is obsolete. It's cheap and new supplies will offset spiking demand. It is also cleaner burning. All we need the government to do is to stop blocking it, taxing it and favoring things like ethanol which require subsidies to create an appearance of feasibility. Boone Pickens is the lone voice pitching for this real solution.

    "Electricity: Nuclear energy is safe, super clean, and cheap; just ask the French. The waste disposal is a non-issue when our government stops banning recycling of spent rods into new fuels. All we need for government to do is have a policy of encouragement for the private sector to build another 100 power plants in the next 20 years. No federal funding; just reducing roadblocks and the private sector will do the rest.

    "A hundred new plants would take a private sector investment of $100-200 billion, mostly domestically spent, spawning new employment opportunities for generations. Cheap, clean power is an economic driver in itself making, among others, coal a valuable chemical feedstock instead of a cheap and dirty fuel.

    "Employment, tax revenues, no imported energy, cleaner atmosphere, significantly reduced carbon footprint, new competitive advantage, the benefits go on and on. My only question: Why won't we do it?"

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Mary Lee Coleman [ocalady@aol.com] on America's Jobless Malaise:

    "The joblessness you deplore is a complicated problem with no quick or easy solution. The loss of much of our industry, to overseas competition hasn't happened overnight and most of it cannot be recovered. The causes are complex but generally can be traced to cheaper goods in the marketplace.

    "The most intractable cause, I believe, is the revolution in technology we are living through. It is comparable to the Industrial Revolution, but is moving faster and reaching into every aspect of society worldwide. You could think of a hundred new things in a couple of minutes.

    "I see such eagerness to embrace every new gadget that comes on the market - faster, better, more 'apps' - and I think it is happening so fast and so universally that we are being swept along without being fully aware of it.

    "I don't suggest that nothing can be done to help joblessness. But I believe it will take a generation or two for humans to make peace with the new world in which we find ourselves. Perhaps it will never be more than an uneasy truce."

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