February's column introduced the Control System Integrator Association (CSIA) and its audit process for certifying members as bona fide businesses. Not surprisingly, two of the three System Integrators of the Year reported here last month are CSIA-certified.
Passing the CSIA's audit helps members learn better business practices that translate into several benefits for their clients. A 2006 survey of end-users revealed the following advantages of working with CSIA-certified integrators in the order of importance reported by their clients:
1.) Technical competence. Although the CSIA audit addresses the topics of general management, human resources, project management, quality management, financial management, business development and technical management, CSIA-certified integrators also tend to be knowledgeable and experienced with automation and control technology. They're solution-oriented and innovative, and end-users value these attributes above all others.
2.) Trust and reputation. CSIA-certified integrators must demonstrate that they can deliver what they've promised without frivolous extra charges. Anecdotal evidence suggests that end-users who have found integrators they can trust will spend more for the privilege of continuing their successful working relationships rather than switch to cheaper sources.
3.) Professionalism. Service and capability are desirable traits for any contract engineering firm, but end-users who hire CSIA-certified integrators also appreciate their ethics, commitment and empathy.
4.) Success. Like any successful service provider, a CSIA-certified integrator must have solid references and a positive track record. A separate survey conducted by Control Engineering magazine has shown that 7 percent of all system integration businesses disappear every year, though not a single CSIA-certified integrator has ever gone out of business (though one did switch to another line of work).
5.) Disciplined programming methodology. End-users have realized that computer code must be structured for continuity in order to make future results more predictable. Structured programming techniques are a must for CSIA-certified integrators.
6.) Stable, healthy business. The CSIA certification audit is designed primarily to determine whether an integrator is managed well enough and has the technical and financial resources necessary to stay in business long term. Ironically, these attributes appear more than half way down the end-users' value list.
7.) Employee continuity and proficiency.A stable and healthy business also requires a stable and well-trained workforce that understands their clients' standards and culture.
8.) Project management. CSIA-certified integrators must demonstrate that they have the skills and experience required to complete projects on time, on target and on budget.
9.) Added value. CSIA-certified integrators must be able to do all of the above for a reasonable price. It is worth noting that price ranks ninth out of the 10 attributes valued most by the end-users who participated in this survey.
10.) Risk avoidance. More interesting is that risk avoidance was rated last. Perhaps end-users simply assume that CSIA-certified integrators will be able to reduce the risk inherent in any automation project. After all, these integrators are expected to make safe decisions and provide proven solutions using the CSIA's Bench Practices and Benchmarks as a guide.
Consulting Editor Vance J. VanDoren, Ph.D., P.E., contributes articles on process control, advanced control and system integration. Dr. VanDoren also edits Control Engineering's and Packaging Digest's annual Automation Integrator Guide.