Ask 11 questions to simplify system integration
Estimating is not the place to start when seeking to simplify the systems integration process. Technology advancements have created tools that help save time by tracking communication, project tasks and status, time management and quality control throughout a project.
However, tools will not make up for a project that is failing to reach the desired outcome, going over schedule or exceeding the budget. Beyond a cliché, “Those who fail to plan are planning to fail” are words to live by when estimating a systems integration project.
For the integrator, a process must be in place with the singular goal of gaining as much information about the project as possible. Clarity on the front end simplifies every phase of the project lifecycle to follow.
The first step is identifying the customer’s needs and creating a detailed scope of work before estimating. Do not skimp on this phase; the estimate’s accuracy relies on the integrator’s understanding of the scope. Get to know the customer and identify what project success means to them. Most of us know to cover the basics, things like the overall goal of the project, technology used, equipment needed, schedule and on-site support. To get a more complete picture, go beyond the basics.
11 questions to ask
The system integrator and customer should start by answering 11 questions together.
- Why is the customer doing this project?
- What pain point is being alleviated or what need is being filled by completing the project?
- Does the integrator have all the information (drawings, programs, standards, etc.) needed from the customer?
- What does the integrator know about the customer’s existing systems? Does the customer have obsolete parts or technology that is no longer supported?
- Is everyone in agreement on assumptions being made concerning the project?
- What are all the deliverables the customer expects?
- How much experience does the customer have with the technology being used?
- How much training will be required?
- What quality controls measures are in place and how does the customer want to handle approvals?
- Does the customer understand your change order procedure and what would constitute a change?
- What defines overall project acceptance between the system integrator and the customer?
Integrators can create an estimate once they have a more complete understanding of the project. The estimate helps integrators better understand the tasks and milestones involved and how long those will take. A more accurate estimate also creates a road map for all to follow. Everyone knows what is expected and the handoff from estimating to engineering is much easier.
System integration: Eight steps
Well-defined and documented project management processes are also crucial to the health of the project. Be sure to consider these eight steps:
- Project kick-off meeting with the customer
- Standards for electrical and software design
- Internal reviews
- Customer approvals
- Acceptance testing
- Final deliverables
- Customer performance reviews
- Project closure.
Project management tools that facilitate and track communication, scheduled milestones and tasks, internal reviews and resource allocation can help keep the project on schedule and budget. At the completion of every project, have an internal closure meeting that focuses on identifying the lessons learned in technical and overall management, so they may be applied in future. Ask the customer about what was done well and what could be done better next time.
The repeat customer is one of the most valuable resources an integrator has. The better an integrator knows the customer’s systems and processes, management, communication preferences, and goals and expectations, the more equipped he or she is to know what will be needed for the next project. Trust is also built with the customer, and they become confident in your ability to handle any issues that may arise throughout the course of a project.
There isn’t a magic formula when estimating a project. Each project must be evaluated on its own merits, and the factors highlighted above must be considered. Focusing on the fundamentals of being prepared, having project management structures and processes in place and building trust with the customer is the only reliable way to simplify the systems integration process. The time we invest with customers up front is exponentially returned throughout the life of the project.
Keywords: System integrators, project management
A successful system integration project requires a great deal of work upfront by the integrator.
Each system integration project must be evaluated on its own merits.
At the end of the project, have an internal meeting to identify potential lessons for future projects.
What’s the first major question you ask before starting an integration project?