Standardizing the delivery, performance of system integrators

Automation system integrators contractors can provide a central point of coordination and responsibility for all aspects of an automation project.

By Anil Gosine April 9, 2021


Learning Objectives

  • Choosing the right system integrator can save a lot of time and money long-term.
  • System integrators need to do a lot of background work before a project can start.
  • Documenting everything in an integration project provides cover for the integrator and the client.

Utilities throughout North America are often dealing with an environment of constrained capital and operating budgets and how decade old policies on low rates made adoption of technologies less attractive. Automation system integrators can help.

Despite past constraints, there are increasing opportunities for technologies that enable greater efficiencies to be achieved in existing infrastructure systems and enable a company’s workforce to be adaptive. These technologies must be administered in standard workflows and early engagements with key stakeholder for success.

As utilities increase the interconnectivity of their processes, they also add an increasing number of applications that are required to be implemented. With the rapid pace of innovation, partnering with a qualified system integrator who is aware of the latest technology and whether technologies are applicable to your business goals is valued. System integrators often work in many industries and have valuable cross-industry experience to share with your team. Addressing the challenges automation projects present early on will deliver a lower total cost of ownership.

Automation project risk mitigation

Risks are inherent in any project, but especially in automation projects because of the complexity and need for understanding on how to commission various scopes of work. This makes knowledge and experience the primary ways to mitigate project risk.

Many automation system projects run into problems in the late phases of an overall project schedule, where “unforeseen revelations” disrupt the careful planning of the various disciplines. Project stakeholders must consider and take the systems integration efforts and scope into the overall project plan early in the process and categorize it as a major project item. These automation projects are no longer just for automating process operations, but also laying the foundation for digital transformation within the organization.

These integration efforts, if leveraged properly, will change how capital projects are delivered and also reduce the risk of project implementation. System integrator standardization also reduces the engineering effort required in designing, developing and testing, allowing stakeholders to reduce risk mitigation contingencies in project proposals.

Setting metrics for automation projects

For successful automation implementation projects, the focus sometimes only concentrates on the controllers and software used to operate in these industrial facilities. The foundation of these systems relies on field devices, data communication cabling and electrical wiring that must also be addressed as part of this effort. Automation allows organizations to work differently, so when setting metrics it is important to understand what success looks like from a range of perspectives, instead of just time or money saved. With many processes resulting in better user experience, metrics which focus on their satisfaction and feedback are key. Integration standardization should be expected to benefit automation projects by reducing customization, complexity and dependencies as well as having a supply chain that is participating as stakeholders in the project’s success. Focus must be on value rather than technology, with the goal of employing automation only in processes it delivers evident value to the organization.

The Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) continues to impact how system integrators work now and in the future. This initiative began a few years ago when ExxonMobil partnered with Lockheed Martin to develop a next-generation open and secure process automation system, who suggested the Open Group be used to lead the effort. The standardized, interoperable modules envisioned by this initiative could make an automation integrators job much easier by workflow improvements such as, eliminating repetitive tasks and multiple ways to perform the same tasks.  It is in an automation integrators best interest to follow and/or participate in the initiative to best learn how it could maximize value for end users.

System integrators, automation project planning

Automation system integrators contractors can provide a central point of coordination and responsibility for all aspects of an automation project. Many owner-operators no longer have the considerable automation departments they once had and managing the large network of automation contractors and subcontractors for a given project, particularly the large, complex and groundbreaking projects of the past decade, can be overwhelming.

An increasing number of utilities and private sector companies are working towards contracting directly with one of their qualified automation contractors to be engaged from specification-design phase and throughout the construction phases, without being sub-contracted under general contractor.

Key to select and evaluate your system integrators.

  • Registered professional engineering firm
  • Registered professional engineers
  • Affiliation with:
    • International Standards Association (ISA)
    • American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)
    • Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE)
    • Control System Integration Association (CSIA)
    • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
    • American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
    • American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE)
    • Institute of Validation Technology (IVT)
    • Project Management Institute (PMI)
    • National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE).
  • Controls and testing facilities: Distributed control system (DCS), PLC and programming test bench, field measurement instruments
  • Computerized drafting and design capabilities: Plant 4D industrial workgroup software, 3D modeling, Trane Trace, crane piping analysis, AutoCAD, Microstation, MS Project, Genesis and other CADD programs
  • Preferred system integrator status with “name of vendors based on organizations need” and experience with applicable “vendors” and other DCS/PLC architectures

System integrator qualifications

A typical submittal from an automation system integrator may include:

Corporate overview

  • Company overview
  • Areas of expertise
  • Industries served
  • Qualifications and capabilities
  • Details of key team members

Project management and project execution

  • Overview
  • Service (Project planning, design etc.…)
  • Process engineering service
  • Facilities overview and experience
  • Automation and control engineering services with experience
  • Process system experience.

Specification for selecting a system integrator

The automation and control vendor (system integrator) shall be responsible for the final design and assembly of the control system. The system shall be designed to provide the control capabilities and functions indicated and implied by the drawings, control strategy and specifications including applicable electrical sections of the utility’s master specifications and to provide trouble-free operation with minimum maintenance. The system shall enable manual operation of all functions in the event of failure of component. Include in the system integrator scope of supply and commissioning – applicable electrical section of specifications, variable frequency drives (VFDs) and other system and network related sections.

System integrator – Automation and control vendor

The system integrator shall be a single business entity located (x miles from the job site – local or national based on a utility’s needs). All necessary engineering, programming, fabrication, service, and training shall be performed by the system integrator with no aspect of the project subcontracted, developed, or obtained from any person(s) or company outside the firm. The automation and control vendor shall be an authorized systems integrator for the “Named vendors applicable to the owner’s system” with documented experience in the design, assembly, testing, installation and service of control systems for municipal, private utility facilities of the same scale and complexity as this job under its present company name for at least (X) years.

In addition, at least one Microsoft Certified Professional Systems Engineer shall be present on staff. All system integrator employees assigned key roles associated with this project will have a minimum of (X) years of related experience. All human-machine interface (HMI), programmable logic controller (PLC), remote terminal unit (RTU), motor control center (MCCs) and control panels associated with the project and provided by the system integrator shall be calibrated, commissioned and tested using system simulation equipment prior to customer delivery. The system integrator will carry general liability insurance and professional liability (errors and omission) insurance. 

Fabrication capabilities from system integrators

The system integrator shall maintain an in-house panel fabrication facility certified by Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL-508,913) and Electrical Testing Laboratories (ETL).

  • All panels shall be laid out for logical and functional order with maintenance friendly organization and permanent interior labels for easy recognition.
  • Fabrication personal shall be skilled in their areas of expertise with a minimum of 10 years of experience. 

Service capabilities of a system integrator

The system integrator shall maintain a service department supervised by a full-time service manager staffed with dedicated full-time factory trained field service personnel available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or some other minimum requirement satisfactory to the utility.

Field service capabilities will include start-up services, on-site programming for DCS, PLCs and operator interface (HMI) systems. The system integrator will also provide emergency control systems repair, trouble shooting, testing, remote assistance via modem for quick diagnosis and repairs, preventive maintenance and calibration service, documentation (O&M and drawings) maintenance, and system-wide training inclusive of all related field instruments.

Warranty provided by system integrator

The system integrator shall perform the repairs, replacements, modifications and adjustments required to eliminate the defects in design or workmanship that may be identified within the one-year warranty period. The system integrator shall begin these repairs, replacements, modifications and adjustments within 24 hours of notification by the owner or engineer and shall complete such repairs, replacements, modifications and adjustments within 48 hours of notification. Should the system integrator fail to complete the work within this period, the owner may proceed to complete the work. In such event, the system integrator and their surety shall be liable for all reasonable costs incurred by the owner.

Acceptable system integrators, approvals

The process automation and controls vendor shall be selected by the general contractor from the following pre-approved acceptable companies. No equal unless modified by addendum as required below for pre-approval.

The owner reserves the right at their sole discretion to reject any and all proposal submissions for an alternate system integrator. The contractor, sub-contractor, or submitted non-pre-approved system integrator shall not be entitled to an extension of time or to any claim for damages because of extra and unanticipated costs, hindrances, delays or complications caused by or resulting from the Owner not approving the system integrator for whatever reason.

Vendors not listed under acceptable system integrator listing

A system integrator not listed under acceptable system integrator for automation and control will require strict specification compliance, no exceptions, and be pre-approved prior to bid by the owner. A submission packet by a system integrator requesting pre-approval will include a copy of this and the above specification section with system integrator notations as follows:

Each paragraph will require the initial in the right column by the system integrator indicating specification compliance. Any area of non-compliance will be circled and explained. The following supplemental information should be attached to this document.

Submission for system integrator pre-approval requires a list of a minimum of five similar projects in size, complexity, and value completed within the last 3 years that will include:

  • Names of system integrator employees involved in each system
  • Detailed description and drawings of each system.
  • Cost of each system.
  • Names and telephone numbers of owner site individuals involved in the operation and maintenance of each system.

Submission for pre-approval must include a company profile and description of the ownership and organization.

Responsibilities for an automation system integration project

Include resumes of principals and key employees who will be working directly in the engineering, assembly, testing and commissioning of the system for this project.

Indicate who will be responsible for integrating the following parts of the project:

  • Project management
  • Human-machine interface (HMI)
  • Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) design
  • Telemetry design
  • DCS programming
  • PLC/RTU programming
  • Control system connectivity
  • Start-up

A “letter of assertion” to the owner will be included, which states that the employee responsible for his/her respective part of the project will remain the same individual throughout the duration of the project.

Anil Gosine is global program manager, MG Strategy+, a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,


Keywords: system integrator, project management


What is your company’s most important criteria when choosing a system integrator?

Author Bio: Anil Gosine has over 18 years of construction management, operations and engineering experience within the Industrial Sector with a primary focus on electrical, Instrumentation and automation process and systems in the U.S., Canada, and Central America. He has been heavily involved in the utility industry for over 11 years engineering, implementing and project managing a wide range of projects, utilizing a wide array of products and control system technologies within this industry segment. Anil is an active member of several professional organizations and independently participates in industry forums and technical committees for infrastructure development, industrial automation design and implementation, data analytics, and cyber-security processes. Anil is the global program manager for global industrial projects with MG Strategy+ and leads the Strategic Efficiency Consortium Security Workgroup with specific focus on cybersecurity metrics, threats, vulnerabilities, and mitigation strategies for ICS and security intelligence and analysis.