Latest CSIA Best Practices and Benchmarks Manual clarifies existing practices
CFE Media asked the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) about its the recently released version 4.0 of the CSIA Best Practices and Benchmarks Manual, designed to help control system integrators manage a successful integration business. Jeff Miller, director of automation services at Interstates Control Systems and chair of CSIA’s Best Practices Committee, shared details on the latest release.
CFE Media: What do manufacturers most need from their system integrator? How does the updated version of the manual help meet those needs?
Jeff Miller: Manufacturers are typically looking for a well-designed and fully integrated control solution that meets all their functional specifications. They expect that the system integrator is a technical expert in the automated solution and that, if issues are seen in their design, the integrator will offer value-add solutions. They are also looking for the delivery process to go smoothly, with regular communications during the project to ensure that they know the status of the project and feel comfortable that the defined scope will be delivered on time and on budget. The manufacturer also needs long-term service and support of the control solution.
The latest version of the CSIA Best Practices manual addresses all of these needs. Section 5 of the manual deals with project management, section 6 deals with the system development lifecycle, section 7 deals with project delivery supporting activities, section 8 deals with quality assurance, and section 9 deals with service and support.
CFE Media: What are the biggest changes in version 4.0?
Miller: The newest addition to the best practices manual is the service and support section. However, our main priority for version 4.0 was to clarify the sections that integrators struggled with most, according to the independent auditors who conduct the certification audits. For example, we added best practices for sales management to the section that covers marketing, business development, and sales management. Risk management best practices were changed, based on feedback from the CSIA insurance broker.
Finally, because we have more integrators from around the world interested in becoming certified, we made changes throughout the manual to make sure standards applied globally, not just in North America. We will continue to fine-tune best practices as CSIA’s international membership grows.
CFE Media: Does version 4.0 make it easier to get certification?
Miller: The audit did not get easier, but the manual is easier to understand and implement. We modified and clarified several sections to make the best practices more instructive. The feedback from our certified members and auditors was that we did not need to “raise the bar” any further, as previous versions had. It was felt that the bar had been raised significantly when we released version 3.0 several years ago.
CFE Media: Why is CSIA certification important, both to the integrator and to the manufacturer?
Miller: For the manufacturer, CSIA certification is verification that the integrator is a well-managed business that can successfully deliver on its promises. When procurement sees the CSIA certified logo, it knows the integrator is committed to being successful, both in business and technology services.
For integrators, being CSIA certified is a valuable marketing tool that distinguishes them in the marketplace. Many certified members say the process of preparing for an audit and becoming certified is of tremendous value in and of itself. Making time to examine business practices and determine ways to improve processes fosters an environment where everyone on the team is thinking about continuous improvement. We all want to make “better, best,” and adopting CSIA’s best practices is a proven method for doing that.
CFE Media: What was the process to develop these changes? How did your committee go about finding ways to improve the manual?
Miller: Every four years, a group of certified members from the Best Practices Committee as well as our independent auditors convenes and discusses developments in system integration that have transpired since the previous version. This committee also reviews any feedback that has been received by the auditors from system integrators going through the certification audit process. We write a first draft and send it to clients and vendor partners, with a request to tell us if we’re asking for the right information and if we’re auditing for the right thing. We take in their feedback and introduce a pilot audit process based on the draft version. Comments from auditors and members who participated in the pilot are incorporated in the final revisions. The cooperative effort among clients, integrators, and vendors results in a better guidebook.
CFE Media: How will you measure the success of this version of the manual?
Miller: The third-party auditors retained to determine if system integrators are applying the best practices appropriately will be our best judge if the new version is making a difference. One major goal of this revision was to make the document easier to understand and not raise the certification bar during this update. If we were successful we should see more companies becoming certified system integrators in their first audit. This does not mean that the audit is easier to pass, rather that the best practices are easier to understand and implement.
CFE Media: In what languages will the CSIA Best Practices and Benchmark Manual be available?
Miller: The manual released June 15 is available in English. We hope to release a Spanish version by late July to early August. We also are looking for translation services for Portuguese. The Portuguese version will likely not be completed until late 2012. No other translations are planned at this time.
CFE Media: How can members and others who are interested learn more?
Miller: CSIA members can obtain an electronic copy of the manual by visiting the association’s Web community, the CSIA Connected Community, where the complete document is stored in the “Member Resources for Managing Your Business” library. Others who are interested in learning more will find the certification and audit process summarized on the association’s website, www.controlsys.org.