Delivering Automation Success

Control System Integrators Association

The Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) is focused on promoting the control system integration industry and educating companies of the advantages of employing certified control system integrators (SI). It was founded in 1994 and is headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin.
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Twenty-four years ago, a small group of system integrators joined forces to help one another. The not-for-profit association was driven entirely by the volunteer efforts of its fourteen dedicated founding members. The board of the CSIA was, by necessity, very hands-on at first, and board-members − and even the wife of one representative − took on many of the administrative tasks.

Over time, a salaried representative was nominated, and an office was provided at no cost by a generous SI member. CSIA grew along with its members’ companies and transitioned its administration to an association management company, with a director who was the ambassador of the association to the automation industry and the link to the SI community.

“In 2015, the chief executive officer position was created, reporting to the board and responsible for the association management company. This is the time I was hired,” says Jose M. Rivera, chief executive officer of the Control System Integrators Association.

Prior to taking on his current role, Rivera spent years in the electrical and automation industries, working in product management, sales, strategy, planning and general management roles with industry leaders such as Siemens, Emerson Electric and Schneider Electric in six countries. “In these roles, I got close to the work done by system integrators (SIs) as they represented an important solutions delivery channel or through the work of our internal groups performing system integration work themselves. My current role at CSIA is my first one in a not-for-profit organization, but one that fully leverages my background.”

The association has grown to over five hundred member companies in twenty-seven countries and works for its members through events such as the annual executive conference which is scheduled to take place in San Francisco this April. It also provides extensive array of exclusive membership benefits including insurance, legal services, dozens of marketing tools, the CSIA Best Practices and Benchmarks manual, the CSIA Pulse financial benchmarking program and much more.

Since it started, the CSIA has been dedicated to expanding the association across North American and internationally. One large international member is SAGE Automation of Australia, which provides smart automation solutions to sectors including defense, infrastructure, resources, utilities and manufacturing. Despite the distance, SAGE sends multiple representatives to the annual executive conference, held most recently in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“To get the most out of the conference, you have to bring more than one person, because there are parallel tracks,” says Rivera. “People who go there get what it is and don’t just get it by having their bosses describe what happened there.”

The CSIA made a conscientious effort to increase the reach of the association in Latin America and has a regional director based in Mexico City who is in charge of this area. The association has forty-six member companies in Latin America.

The next territory for the association is going to be Europe. Rivera – who speaks Spanish, English and German – was in Europe last October, where the association has twenty-two members, mostly system integrators. Owing to Germany being home to many automation companies, the CSIA believes it will start in this country.

Manufacturing processes are becoming increasingly complex, and clients need customized automation solutions to fit their operations, says Rivera. Control system integrators use knowledge in business, engineering and information technology to design and implement complex systems used in process, manufacturing and other industrial facilities. These men and women coordinate often complex projects, and the value they bring to automate plant equipment and processes cannot be underestimated.

“Automation helps manufacturers and processors reduce cost, increase production, use less energy and lower environmental impact,” states the CSIA. The control system integration industry enables industries to have access to automation technology that is successful, safe and low-risk and to operate within an environment of cultural respect, collaboration, professionalism, inclusiveness, integrity and value.

“In the past, system integrators added a lot of value just by making things work – being able to connect different equipment from different manufacturers, patches and making it work – and there was a very big part of the value proposition. Some of these things are getting easier because of standardization,” comments Rivera.

Control system integrators work to fully understand customer problems, and this information has been captured, reviewed and updated in the CSIA Best Practices and Benchmarks manual, widely considered to be the industry standard for system integrators. The manual provides a wealth of information on management – general, human resources, financial, project, marketing, business development and sales – along with quality assurance, service and support. The CSIA is in the process of releasing Revision 5.0 of these best practices.

Last October, the association released a white paper entitled Proven Better Performance, currently available on its website. The document provides quantitative backing that gaining the SI certification has made companies better. Between 2012 and 2015, CSIA shows that fifty-eight certified U.S. companies had a higher revenue growth rate than the non-certified companies. Comparing various SI company relevant key performance indicators across certified and non-certified SIs in the period June 2015 to March 2016 showed certified SIs leading by ten to fifteen percent.

“A better run SI company is good for those hiring SIs as it makes it more likely that SIs will deliver on their commitments, do a better job managing the various risks associated with deployment of automation projects and display overall higher resiliency,” states Rivera. “Many SI projects go over longer periods of time, and a long-term relationship is beneficial to all parties.”

The association promotes itself by working together with SIs – members and prospects – and automation vendor partners. SIs come together at its two-and-a-half-day executive conference to share experiences and learn from outside experts. A panel called ‘The lessons I learned from touching the hot stove’ also has SIs discussing mistakes, how they recovered and the often-stronger companies that resulted. Additionally, CSIA is often invited to present at industry and vendor partner events or contribute with articles or interviews to trade publications.

“We work to have relevant material and interesting presentations that in some cases reach into the future, and that includes audiences beyond the SI community,” comments Rivera. “We have done this in 2017 with our focus on the topic of ‘Transformative CSIA business models’ that we anticipate as a result of the digitalization trend. The move toward the Internet of Things (IoT), smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 will affect Sis, manufacturers and makers of automation equipment.

The rise of automation will accompany increased demand for certified control system integrator specialists. This is driving the need for system integration in many fields including industrial, residential and information technology. These future opportunities may not be present via traditional project-centric approaches and delivery through subscription may require changes in the business models of system integrators. However, this may translate into the development of an offer to sell to a wide audience of users.

“This creates the need of upfront investment and enhanced proactive sales approaches,” says Rivera. “Certification creates a good business foundation, still very valid going forward. Along with entire SI community, the certified members will have to adjust their business to take advantage of the nascent business opportunities brought by digitalization and thrive.”

As well as growing throughout Latin America and making inroads into Europe, the Control System Integrators Association has tremendous presence in the U.S. and Canada – the second-largest represented country in CSIA after the United States. There are twenty-six Canadian SIs, six of which are certified. There are also six partner members, including one of the association’s auditing companies.

CEO Rivera is looking forward to welcoming new members at the 2018 executive conference in San Francisco, April 24 to 27. He wants to see the CSIA become relevant to a wider system integration community, with a deeper penetration of the building automation and IT spaces beyond its core industrial automation.

“Technology will continue to blur the lines between disciplines and fields. The sound management practices of the enterprise will remain common between these technology solution delivery groups,” he says.

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Past Issues

April 13, 2021, 12:20 PM EDT