6 reasons why system integration is not a commodity

Integrator Update: Reduce risk and improve results by not treating automation and control system integration as a commodity; six reasons follow explaining why system integration shouldn’t be treated as a commodity.


Robert Lowe is executive director of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), a not-for-profit, global trade association that seeks to advance the industry of control system integration. Courtesy: CSIAReduce risk and improve results by not treating automation and control system integration as a commodity. Control system integrators use engineering, technical, and business skills to help manufacturers and others automate industrial equipment and systems; six reasons follow explaining why system integration shouldn't be treated as a commodity, according to the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), a trade association which helps system integrators be more effective.

1. While commodities are shipped with little risk, that isn't so with high-tech solutions.

A rock is a rock. Oil is oil. A fuse is a fuse. An intelligent, high-tech automation solution is a risk. Will it solve your problem when installed and tested, or won't it? There is a lot of room for error and many risks must be managed.

2. System integration does not come out of a box.

Though not always apparent, a control or information system is mostly the result of brain power from the system integrator, not the hardware and software platform on which it runs. The hardware and software are the vehicles that carry the intellectual capabilities of the integrator.

3. Not all system integrators are created equal.

Being a successful system integration company requires more than being able to engineer, design, and program. A successful system integration company, one that delivers consistently good results to clients, must also have good business practices to complement the technical skills. Unfortunately, not all system integrators have good business practices. End-user clients should look for the CSIA Certification mark, which ensures good business practices are in place.

4. Specifying a commodity is easy.

Specifying a system integration solution is hard. Have you ever read or written a user requirements specification? That's what a system integrator needs to provide a solution. It must include scope of work, project overview, safety and environmental requirements, performance criteria, terms and conditions, and other details.

5. The dollar value of services rendered can vary greatly between system integrators.

For instance, two system integrators could both be paid $250,000 for the same project. One integrator might take one approach with its team and provide the client with, say, $500,000 in economic value, while the second integrator might take a different approach and provide $2 million in value. If system integration were a commodity, you would expect the same investment of $250,000 to yield the same economic benefit, but that is not the case in system integration.

6. No system integration company can do it all, or is suited for all.

System integration solutions to automation problems come in all sizes and shapes. A small system integration company may be the most effective solution to a $50,000 project but may not be able to manage a $1 million project. Likewise, a large integration company may over-engineer a small project.

- Robert Lowe is CSIA executive director. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering, mhoske(at)cfemedia.com.


Below is additional information beyond what appears in the April 2014 issue of Control Engineering.


CSIA offers system integrators training to articulate the value of system integration.

ONLINE extra

Note on engineering terminology differences: Engineering terms differ: Systems integration versus system integration. Some prefer systems integration (plural systems) with the idea that multiple systems are getting integrated. Control Engineering uses system integration (singular system) as a simpler and broader term, acknowledging that most systems have sub systems and are part of wider systems.

About CSIA: Founded in 1994, the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) is a not-for-profit, global trade association that seeks to advance the industry of control system integration. CSIA members provide a range of services in dozens of industries. Headquartered in Madison, Wis., CSIA is the "go-to" resource for control system integration providers. CSIA helps members improve their business skills, provides a forum to share industry expertise, and promotes the benefits of hiring a certified control system integrator. CSIA has more than 400 members in 27 countries.

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