How to Trust Your Integrator– Part II

Feb. 5, 2009
The CSIA Certification Process Goes a Long Way Toward Reassuring a Potential User That It’s Found a Dependable Partner
By Ed Diehl

Last month, we discussed the importance of a strong relationship among machine builders, users and system integrators to a project’s success. (See "How to Trust Your Integrator").

The Control System Integrators Assn. (CSIA) charter is to set a performance standard for member companies. One of our goals is to make sure system integrators are as good at running a business as they are with the technology. CSIA members have figured out how to do this, and the organization networks to share best practices.

CSIA certification of integrators involves an audit process that goes beyond verifying that they have the technical skills to do the job. The association establishes a set of best practices for system integrators and the audit assesses integrators’ adherence to those practices. The CSIA best practices are comprehensive and specifically developed for control system integrators. In addition to covering project management, system development and quality assurance, the best practices look at business management, human resources, marketing and finance. For example, a certified integrator must have demonstrated a good financial track record. They must have a good management team with a transition plan if disaster strikes. In these areas, CSIA certification goes far beyond the ISO certification process. And member companies must refresh their standing with the organization every three years. My own company, Concept Systems, just completed its second round of the process for requalification.

The result of the rigorous process is that plant owners and managers can be assured that using a CSIA-certified integrator reduces their risk of project failure. Once they have teamed up with a certified integrator, the customer should share as much information as possible with them. The more the customer shares with the integrator, the better the odds are that they’ll get a solution that is the best fit for their needs. The key to success is a trusting working relationship, with each side bringing its expertise to the table.

For example, one of our OEM customers asked us to bid on the development of a control system for a flexible materials processing line. Our price was higher, so the OEM chose the other integrator for an initial installation. The other integrator was not a certified CSIA member and did not have a rigorous methodology for control system development. After the project’s initial failure, the OEM came to us.

We designed a standard control platform for them. We developed a standard process for estimating cost, which the OEM uses to develop its own proposal estimates. We developed standard building blocks that streamline the development and test of each new system. A certified integrator is not focused solely on technology. It steps back and looks to improve an OEM’s estimating, design and development processes.

In the end, this OEM now has a better package to offer its customers at less cost.

For any non-CSIA integrators reading this, here are a few more reasons why membership makes sense.

Organized peer groups provide a forum for exchanging ideas and advice with other integrators who can complement your skill set.

Annual conference sessions address marketing, sales and legal issues, as well as review automation and manufacturing industry outlooks and trends.

The CSIA has its own self-insurance program with underwriters well-educated about the control system integration business.

The CSIA’s standard set of terms and conditions are available to use or adapt as needed. Members are entitled to free consultations with the CSIA’s general counsel.

Confidential surveys of the membership show you how your company’s performance compares to other integrators. Members have access to market research published by ARC Advisory Group.

Prospective clients can use the Find an Integrator facility on the CSIA’s website to find members with a specific industry or geographic focus.

The CSIA organizes joint trade show exhibits at industry-wide automation shows. CSIA-themed mailers and brochures can help promote certified members to prospective clients.

Ed Diehl is executive board chairman of CSIA, as well as co-founder and executive director of Concept Systems in Albany, Ore.