How to Find the Right Control System Integrator

CSIs differ in size, scope, and experience with varying levels of competence and expertise.


L et's assume you're familiar with the many benefits a control system integrator (CSI) could contribute to your next automation project. You may need a CSI to supplement your in-house engineering resources, or for their extensive hardware, software, or application expertise. Perhaps you want to contract a guaranteed turnkey installation. Whatever your rationale, how can you find a CSI that will best fit your specific needs?

Referrals are a good starting point in any search. Talk to associates in other industries with similar manufacturing processes. Ask your contacts at distributors and manufacturers of automation products for three CSIs they might recommend. You should look for three to five CSIs to interview and subsequently qualify based on their credentials, accomplishments, and references.

Experience counts
The "downsizing" trend in manufacturing companies throughout the U.S. has spawned a surplus of experienced engineers, who have decided to go the entrepreneurial route and start their own CSI firms. An overabundance of small, startup companies now offer system integration services to industries and applications that supposedly mesh with their background experience.

Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than good engineering expertise to survive in this profession. Lacking business, financial, and marketing skills, the survival rate for new CSIs is low. While they may perform well on small retrofit jobs, clients should be leery of committing large projects to this type of CSI for fear of overextending their personnel, manufacturing, or financial resources. Another prime concern is the continuity of the firm to ensure future service, retrofits, and system expansions.

Look to CSIA
Recognizing the necessity to improve the quality standards of this profession, a group of dedicated CSIs formed the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) in 1994. Two major objectives of the organization are: assist members in developing effective business skills, and develop standards for sound business practices. To qualify for membership, CSIs must have over three years of business operation, exceed a minimum yearly sales quota, and operate at a profit. CSIA's goal is to have its 140-plus members recognized as the experts and leaders in their field of industrial automation.

To accomplish this, members are encouraged to measure their organization and yearly performance against CSIA's "Best Practices & Benchmarks" (BP&B). This document is a tool for assessing effective management and performance within a company and is structured to foster improvement. CSIA is currently instituting a "registration" audit process for its membership. Each CSI will be rated against the BP&B by a team of selected peer members along with an independent outside consultant. The bottom line is that CSIA members are committed to continuously improving operations. To further assist clients in selecting a CSI, the association is developing a "Guide to Control System Specifications & System Integrator Selection." This guide will be invaluable on these two subjects and a copy can be requested at the CSIA website in the near future.

Finally, a great source for locating a CSI is this issue of Control Engineering's "2000 Automation Integrator Guide." Although it doesn't list every CSI, it is probably the most comprehensive list available. In any event, you'll find more than enough CSIs to get you started on your selection and qualification process. Good hunting!

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