System Integration

The JDI Group Inc., is System Integrator of the Year, 2021

The JDI Group Inc., is the 2021 System Integrator of the Year for the Small System Integrator Category. Giants. Mike King, principal and director of operations at The JDI Group Inc. spoke with CFE Media about its success and managing projects during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By CFE Media December 9, 2020
Courtesy: The JDI Group, Inc.

Although it’s a small system integrator according to category, The JDI Group Inc. has still made a name for itself as shown in this year’s listing of System Integrator Giants. Mike King, principal and director of operations at The JDI Group Inc. spoke with CFE Media about its success and managing projects during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CFE Media: Congratulations on receiving the 2021 System Integrator of the Year award. Talk about what this kind of recognition means to you and your team.

Mike King: This award is truly an honor. Our entire team is very excited and proud to have received it. It is something that we established as a goal on our strategic plan about five years ago, but not so much for the award itself. We were thinking of it more as a milestone or as an affirmation that we have consistently maintained our focus and path for growth in this ever-changing business and new technologies. We’ve done this while keeping repeat business steady, converting new opportunities into repeat clients and increasing the awareness of The JDI Group and our capabilities as a respected system integrator.

CFE Media: What do customers most request as a project begins? What are the keys for a successful project launch?

King: Although each client may word it differently, they mostly want peace of mind and assurance right out of the gate that we fully understand the project, that we have the right people on the team and that we have a plan for success. Most requests are related to those things — a preliminary schedule, project team org chart, identified risks and our plan to navigate them, among other things. These things are, of course, usually defined in the request for proposal (RFP) and our proposal, but they need to be carried into an effective kickoff meeting. That is always key to making sure everyone is on the same page.

The kickoff meeting and that first week of any project sets the tone and the pace for a successful project launch. The project launch is critical to the success of a project and all parties need to be fully engaged. The kickoff meeting is where most of this process first takes place. It is important to have an agenda, have the correct team in the room (JDI and the client team), establish points of contact and to discuss roles and responsibilities.

The project scope needs to be reviewed and milestone goals and objectives discussed. We also ask about any “lessons learned” from past projects on their end and any areas of concern we need to address in detail so both sides can be involved in preventing those items from becoming risks later in the project.

The usual standard practices of a good kickoff meeting should be covered concerning schedules, meetings (how often and where, if not virtual), creating an action item list and client review expectations. The main goal is for the client’s project team and the JDI team to be in alignment with expectations, to have transparency on issues and to kick the project off with a clear path on how the project will proceed.

The JDI Group’s Mike King discusses project details with automation engineer Nick Lange during a software design review meeting. Courtesy: The JDI Group, Inc.

The JDI Group’s Mike King discusses project details with automation engineer Nick Lange during a software design review meeting. Courtesy: The JDI Group, Inc.

CFE Media: Talk about project management as a strategy for The JDI Group Inc. Why is it important, and how does this help end users achieve their goals?

King: Our project management group is its own department at The JDI Group. All our project managers (PMs) are PMP certified, and have experience with a wide range of clients, sectors and the various disciplines that may be required. The PM always gets involved early in the project life cycle during the proposal stage and stays involved through the project execution to completion to provide the client with a single point of contact and continuity. We have multi-discipline projects that require many, if not all of our disciplines, since we are a full service architectural & engineering (A&E) firm. But we also have many projects that are system-integration-only projects and only involve the automation & instrumentation (A&I) groups, or sometimes the SI projects also will include our electrical power and process mechanical groups.

Our strategy of building the best project team for a specific project allows us to assign a PM to a project based on the unique requirements and scope of each project. Every project has different stakeholders, many processes and a lot of moving parts. The PM provides that one main focal point that ties all of this together. They are the front line for monitoring and managing the various scopes, schedules, budgets, the people, any risks that are identified, while ensuring quality, responsiveness and that there is good communication not only internally, but externally with the client, the vendors and the contractors.

The PM (using our JDI best practices and processes) provide the framework that ensures order and that everyone is rowing in the same direction, steering toward and ultimately achieving a properly executed project that accomplishes the client’s desired goal of the functioning system they envisioned.

CFE Media: What do customers want to accomplish with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)? How do you assess their IIoT maturity, and how can you help them toward a successful implementation?

King: For the most part, our clients are trying to collect detailed data in real time and then to use that data to make their process more efficient, to enable faster and better decision making. The IIoT devices are the root of the digital transformation many companies are striving for. Our biggest challenge is to help our clients understand what that means beyond the buzzword phrase. Once companies understand the benefits, they are more likely to invest in the upgrades and better technologies required to accomplish this.

The JDI Group can help plan out a phased approach for this adoption by incorporating better sensors, upgrading equipment so everything is capable of network communications and then move them to alarming, monitoring, tracking downtime and improving operational efficiency. We try to help our clients by having the big picture in mind and helping them get there incrementally at a pace they are comfortable with financially and operationally.

CFE Media: How are you working with your clients to facilitate their continuing operations during COVID-19? How engaged are they on this journey?

King: Since many of The JDI Group clients provide essential services and products, numerous members of our staff have been granted essential worker status at various facilities. To comply with local government and our clients’ corporate guidelines, our staff completes a 14-day quarantine and COVID-19 testing when traveling to our client’s facilities for checkout and startups. The JDI Group has felt supported by our clients during this unique time, in putting extra precautions and routines in place to do everything within their abilities to not only keep operations running smoothly, but to also ensure the safety of all the people involved.

CFE Media: Relating to the previous question regarding COVID-19, how has remote monitoring and/or remote automation applied to the way you engage with your clients?

King: Many of our clients have been accommodating to allow virtual support when possible. This has consisted of virtual design reviews, job walks conducted through video conferencing and working with our facility contacts to execute remote check out and commissioning using virtual private network (VPN) access. We have really leaned into all the technology at our disposal to engage with our clients as if we were there in person.

CFE Media: Talk about a recent customer success. What were some of the things you learned in success with the customer?

King: One of our clients was executing multiple projects that were initiated pre-COVID-19 to expand the facility’s production capabilities by more than 20%, including adding one new very large line from the ground up. Although this project was initiated before the pandemic, most of the installation was executed during the pandemic. The JDI Group had multiple staff onsite who were able to use our many vertical offerings and innovative solutions to combat COVID-19 delays and obstacles to meet the client’s demands and timelines.

There were several unique hurdles to overcome, one of which was the COVID-19 restrictions involving quarantine protocol and physically isolating the new line within the facility. Although some machines were acceptance tested at the machine builders’ facilities, this only covered 80% of the functionality on a small number of machines and nearly 0% of others (no run-off prior to shipping to the plant). Additional delays from vendors and suppliers resulted in creative procurement efforts by JDI to maintain the client’s aggressive schedule.

Equipment specification issues by others resulted in JDI redesigning subsystems to interconnect with existing components while conforming with plant and corporate equipment standards. JDI also created several human-machine interface (HMI) applications using Wonderware Archestra to align with corporate standards, which was outside of the machine builders’ capabilities. Despite all these obstacles, equipment power-up, checkout, site acceptance testing, start-up, production support and training were completed ahead of schedule. This provided the client the ability to make sellable product to meet the increased demand within their original timetable.

The main takeaway from this project was that when the client, the system integrator, the vendors, machine builders, contractors and all involved come together and cooperate and collaborate, even challenging projects can be executed safely and efficiently. All involved shared in the success of this project.


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