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Highlights from Control System Integrators Association Exchange

April 22, 2024
A Control Intelligence podcast with editor-in-chief Mike Bacidore

In this episode of Control Intelligence, editor-in-chief Mike Bacidore, who attended CSIA Exchange in Dallas, shares memorable insights from the event.


Under the dazzling illumination of Reunion Tower, a record 536 individuals attended CSIA Exchange in Dallas. The event marked the 30th anniversary of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) meeting and conference.

“Keep plugging in,” advised Karen Griffin, chair of the CSIA board of directors and vice president of controls and automation at Hargrove Controls + Automation, a system integrator in Mobile, Alabama. Griffin also earned the 2024 Charlie Bergman “Remember Me” Award, which was given to her during the awards dinner. She noted a recent conversation with Pat Miller, chairman of Engineered Energy Solutions in Warren, New Jersey, and a founding member of CSIA, who’d said when the group was formed, it was $50 to be part of the organization.

In 2023, CSIA rolled out a new game plan around strategic pillars and renamed the conference. “A large contingent of our members are not certified,” explained Griffin. “Last year, we changed the bylaws so one noncertified member can join the board. We want to offer professional development. We’re looking to modernize our approach to certification.”

Griffin also recognized Jose Rivera for his leadership and financial stewardship. “When Jose became CEO of CSIA, this organization was not in great financial shape,” she acknowledged. “Jose has worked to change that, and that’s what makes us able to offer these things.”

Rivera recognized CSIA certified members and confirmed a healthy financial position has allowed CSIA to continue to invest in key areas, such as a new website, modernization of the CSIA certification program and enhancements to the professional-development program, centered around the addition of Eric Schaefer as the new director of best practices and professional development for CSIA. For more than 25 years, Schaefer was an integral part of Stone Technologies, including the period after its acquisition in 2021 by Gray Solutions

“There is now a remote audit option for new certifications and recertifications,” explained Rivera. “System-integrator company M&A and post-pandemic remote-work popularity have created new situations that challenge our current approach to certification.”

Most system integrators share a common tale of conception and evolution, assured Rivera. “The people who started CSIA were engineers,” he explained. “They looked at the possibility of this becoming their lives. It was the essence of the system integrator, especially at the very beginning—the entrepreneurial nature.”

A smart engineer decides to start a system-integrator company, noted Rivera. The smart engineer then sells the idea to partners and begins to recruit. The company is set up and starts operations. When the business takes off, management seems harder than anticipated. Then a plateau is reached. “Even though they’re very busy, the company is stuck in a rut,” he said. “They need to start developing procedures. This is where CSIA and the network comes into play with the best practices and certification.” The company wants to make a breakthrough but doesn’t know how.

The wealth of information already collected in CSIA’s libraries will give Schaefer a leg up on creating professional-development programs to fit the needs of association members’ employees. “There’s so much content on there now,” he said. “How do we curate that and manage the library? We plan to narrow down the options, so you can have playlists for all the roles in your companies. There are 13,000 titles in our business library. We’ll be developing playlists for certain roles—going through CSIA webinars and content that hasn’t been touched in years.”

Courses will be offered on topics such as leadership, communications, configuration and project management. “It’s all going to be online initially, but we’ll have some collaboration of value here at the conference, too,” explained Schaefer. “You can assign courses or playlists to your people. Engagement is down, and people are working remotely. There’s a focus on retention. It’s one of the biggest challenges we have. Why not make a program out of it?”

Four specific courses—sales for engineers; general onboarding; project management; and configuration management—will include CSIA-authored content for curation. “We’re going to curate the initial learning plans and pilot this with a kick-off in May,” said Schaefer, who has plans for a complete rollout in the November timeframe.

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