Integrator selection: another option

In Control Engineering's June 2005 issue, the p. 80 "Back to Basics: System integrator alternatives" article listed the strengths of four system integration services options. As executive director of CSIA (Control and Information System Integrators Association), I obviously have a biased outlook on just what clients should seek in a system integrator.


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In Control Engineering's June 2005 issue, the p. 80 'Back to Basics: System integrator alternatives' article listed the strengths of four system integration services options. As executive director of CSIA (Control and Information System Integrators Association), I obviously have a biased outlook on just what clients should seek in a system integrator. However, I would like to address the four choices highlighted in the June piece by looking at some of their potential weaknesses and suggesting that a solution does exist to these concerns in the system integrator selection process.

Automation vendors: They certainly have engineering expertise on their own product offerings. And, as pointed out in the article, some have developed technical expertise on other vendors' products required as part of the automation system. While most suppliers offer a fairly complete line of automation products, there are occasions when a similar item from another manufacturer would do a much better job. But it's almost a forgone conclusion that by selecting the vendor's system integration department, the automation solution will utilize most, if not all, of their own company product items. It's not that their system won't work. The question is: Is this the most effective solution for the client's system? A second possible weakness is that these firms' engineering expertise is heavily based on their own products' performance and not that of competitive designs.

Distributors: Some are now offering proposed system-integration services to provide more value to their clients and, in the process, increase their revenue. With simple applications, this works fine. But complex systems may require products not handled by the distributor. Establishing a competent, viable system-integration unit requires a major investment in time and personnel. Longevity and experience are keys to success; and a few, hard-working, jack-of-all-trades technicians just won't do.

Architectural engineering and construction firms: Many of these companies do provide automation-engineering services as part of their overall package. Unfortunately, the control and instrumentation cost on a new factory is often dwarfed by the costs of other major requirements, such as the building itself, the HVAC system, and perhaps even the landscaping costs. As a result, more ambitious employees tend to follow the money trail, leaving the tough control assignments to a few dedicated instrumentation engineers in an understaffed department. Experience, longevity, and a variety of automation product expertise often are lacking. On many new installations, control and instrumentation are put off until the last minute and then farmed out to a control-system integration firm. Unfortunately, the timing at this point leaves little opportunity to influence the client regarding automation options they should have considered initially.

Independent control system integrators: There are literally thousands of them, ranging in size from one-man operations to the more typical 20-60 person firms. From an automation standpoint, many are quite competent in providing an engineering solution that will work. Experienced, long-term employees with expertise gathered through hundreds of projects are their primary assets. However, some system-integration companies lack the business skills vital to both their project success and their own profitable growth.

Firms performing system integration services should recognize the need to improve their business expertise and have that expertise verified by an independent organization. CSIA, for example, audits its members in seven areas, including general management, quality management, project management, technical management, financial management, human resources, and business development. Many of our equipment vendor associate members, such as National Instruments and Schneider Electric, require their top system integrators to be CSIA registered members.

Thus, I would recommend that prospective users could save themselves a lot of effort and time and still make an excellent choice by selecting a system integration partner whose business viability has been verified by an independent organization.

Author Information

Norm O'Leary is executive director of CSIA;

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