System integrators plan, evolve for the future

Get tips on recruiting and retaining young talent to overcome the skilled worker shortage facing manufacturing and on present and future system-integration challenges from CFE Media’s interviews of three representatives from the 2016 System Integrators of the Year. See video.

By Chris Vavra January 2, 2016

Automation and system integration is constantly evolving. There are developments like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industrie 4.0 that will have a major impact on how data is gathered as well as how operations are conducted. These developments, however, don’t mean anything unless you have the right people working in the company. This is a challenge facing many manufacturers and system integrators, and it will remain an issue for many years to come.

CFE Media interviewed three representatives from the 2016 Integrators of the Year—Tim Matheny, president of ECS Solutions; Michael Gurney, president of Concept Systems; and David Blaida, executive vice president of Matrix Technologies—for their views on these topics as well as what they see in the future for their companies, for integrators, and for manufacturing.

When asked about the biggest challenges facing their respective companies and the system integration industry as a whole, three viewpoints emerged:

  • Matheny: "I think the big challenge that I see right now is really as companies are converging, the idea that control systems that we have traditionally done for years for information technology, and marrying those systems together in a way that the control systems are delivering business value and measurable business."
  • Gurney: "One of the challenges I see with system integration is the pace in which technology is evolving and staying on top of it. A lot of these technologies aren’t ready for primetime. Just vetting them out and when is the right time to deploy them in an industrial environment so that they can perform on a reliable basis for our customers."
  • Blaida: "One of the challenges that we see as a company and part of our industry specifically is recruiting and retaining quality talent. The biggest thing that we offer as a company is our people and their knowledge of the technology, the challenges that we face and our customers face. Getting the right people, keeping them interested, keeping them plugged into the company that’s the most important thing that we face."

The representatives were asked about finding and retaining skilled workers, which is becoming an issue for manufacturers as older workers retire:

  • Gurney: "It’s about working with the universities and targeting the young folks. When we go to them we’re pitching to them the variety of the technology out there and the variety of industries where you can interpret these technologies. And for us it’s about getting them on board, and part of our culture is the training and mentoring is the key to keeping them."
  • Blaida: "As we’ve grown, it’s harder and harder to find the most seasoned technical folks. You really need to grow them, and you really need to start at the university level. We have a strong co-op program, and we bring them on board. We have spent a lot of time and energy to invest in training programs for our people and a full on-boarding process is very important so that they become integrated as part of Matrix so that they can work with the folks with more experience and really train them and learn our culture, learn the way we do projects, and then really learn technology last."
  • Matheny: "ECS started, probably 15 years ago, partnering with local educational institutions to work with their departments, even to define the curriculum they were teaching to their students. We stayed engaged with them and actively worked to offer internships and opportunities to students from those local universities."

Manufacturing is continuing to produce solid results, and there is general optimism in the industry, but there are challenges on the horizon in 2016. The representatives offered insights on bright spots in their companies as well as challenges they see:

  • Blaida: "The challenge that we’ve seen in the last 6 to 12 months is that the projects have become smaller, and our customers are not investing in the huge projects they were shortly after the recession ended. We really gotta focus on customer service and make sure we deliver things on time, on budget, and making sure we meet customer expectations so they want to come back to us next time."
  • Matheny: "The bright spot for us is at ECS we continue to develop ourselves as more of a national batch process integrator instead of the roots that we came from as a local integrator, doing anything for anybody close by, and that focus is really driving a lot of change in our company. I always get worried in an election year. Historically, I have seen some hesitancy in people to actually cut those pianos at the last minute. Maybe that won’t be true next year. We just have to wait and see. Overall we think it’s going to be a very good year. Our overall pipeline is in excellent shape."
  • Gurney: "Oil and gas has ramifications in a lot of different industries for us. It hits us pretty hard in the recycling industry where oil and gas prices being down so recycling is not as attractive. From a bright spot, I didn’t anticipate continued steady growth, and I think a lot of our manufacturing customers learned some lessons in the past, and they are being smart about how they spend their money so they’re really zeroing in on those projects that have a strong ROI (return on investment)."

Learn more from these representatives of the System Integrator of the Year firms for 2016

Read more about each System Integrator of the Year

– Chris Vavra is production editor, Control Engineering,

Key concepts

  • Technology continues to evolve, and integrating these new developments seamlessly is a challenge for many companies.
  • Recruiting young people into STEM careers is important, but training and integrating them into a company’s culture is also vital.
  • The state of the oil and gas industry as well as the 2016 Presidential Election could have an impact on manufacturing, but the overall outlook remains a positive one.

Consider this

What challenges do you see for system integrators and manufacturers in 2016?

Author Bio: Chris Vavra is senior editor for WTWH Media LLC.