The last two installments of this column looked at the criteria packagers consider most and least important when selecting a system integrator for an automation project, at least according to the end users who responded to PD's recent Automation in Packaging survey (www.packagingdigest.com/automationresearch). Topping the list was cost. At the bottom were afiliations with preferred vendors.
Reasonable arguments could be made to explain both of those findings, but the last three criteria on the list, financial stability, business skills and professional certifications/awards, really shouldn't be last. After all, what good would it do to hire the most cost-effective systems integrator if their financial stability and business skills proved to be so poor that they couldn't survive the end of the project? Perhaps the problem is that packagers think these particular criteria are too difficult to verify. After all, who would a packager turn to for an independent evaluation of an integrator's viability as a business?
The answer is the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). The CSIA's Certified Member program is designed to help identify integrators capable of delivering successful projects in a consistent fashion using sound business practices.
To become certified, CSIA members must meet stringent performance standards measured in an intensive audit conducted by an independent third-party consulting firm. The audit verifies that the integrator has—and actually adheres to—policies governing general management, financial management, project management, quality management, technical management, human resources and business development.
The certification audit is specific to the control system-integration industry, and the auditors are all industry veterans. End users need not be familiar with the operations of a successful system-integration business in order to assess a particular integrator's viability. They need only visit the CSIA's website, www.controlsys.org, and check the Certified Members list for the integrator's name. For end users that don't already have a list of integrators under consideration, the CSIA's website offers a search engine that can locate certified members focused on specific industries, including packaging.
The CSIA also offers all of its members a blueprint for running a successful business, so even associate membership can be a plus. The organization's collection of Best Practices & Benchmarks represents the combined experience of their most successful members and many member clients from a broad range of industries. The Certified Member audit is based on these recommended practices. But with only 94 CSIA-certified integrators to choose from, packagers may not be able to rely exclusively on the CSIA's audit process to help assess every job candidate. But if a member has the right expertise, there's no reason to ignore business skills as a criterion.