NIWeek and Alliance Day 2010 Approaches

July 27, 2010

As always, there is a buzz around National Instruments during the final week of preparation for NIWeek.  Folks putting their final touches on their presentations and demonstrations. It is a bit of a crucible, but I find it always brings out the best of NI and our people.

Alliance Day

The week begins with Alliance Day on Monday. It’s a great chance to meet with our Alliance Partners to share business strategies before the customers arrive and NIWeek begins. During the keynote, you’ll hear from Alex Davern, our CFO, about how NI is faring in this economy; and Pete Zogas, our Sr. VP of Worldwide Sales, about how NI continues to evolve our organization to meet the demands of both our transactional and system-level business.

The rest of the day is packed with sessions designed specifically for our Alliance Partners. Our product managers will talk about our latest offering and how you can use them to win more business. Our system engineers will provide training on our latest architectures to facilitate your development. And, our business empowerment sessions offer insights and information on running your business, improving your marketing, and more.

Hope to See You There

If you are an NI Alliance Partner that is basing your business around National Instruments, there is no better place to be than NIWeek and Alliance Day. Catch me in the hallways to discuss your business. And feel free to let me know what you think of this blog – what you find useful and how it can be improved.

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Surviving and Thriving as an SI (3 of 3)

July 20, 2010

Marketing

Superior Control works to stay in ‘constant’ contact with their customers – using both hard-copy newsletters and e-mails. They include not only company news, but ‘fun’ information. For instance, they invite customers to regular cook-outs, to participate in a ‘Superior Madness’ college basketball pool, even to attend football games in the company’s seats.

Company Culture

Rick also think that it is important to build your company culture. For instance, they have a Summer Family cook-out for their employees and their families. They encourage employees to participate in an annual road (bike) race. There is a yearly ‘State of the Company’ address to keep employees informed of the company performance and direction. They recognize employee tenure with 5, 10, and 15 year awards. And, they host periodic trips to celebrate company success.

Giving Back

Finally, Rick advocates finding a way to give back to your community. In their case, Rick serves on the engineering board of the local University of Mass – Lowell. Superior Control has sponsored a computer engineering room and helped design and support the process control labs. He’s been very resourceful at getting his business and customers involved. As a result, in addition to the satisfaction of the charitable contributions, the networking has created 2 projects totaling over $1M, hiring 15 top rated engineers, not to mention the ‘advertising’ and visibility.

Conclusion

This concludes my series of blog posts about some of the CSIA 2010 presentationst that I found the most interesting. Of course, it is hard to do the presentations justice in a few short posts. If you want to the full scoop, I encourage you to attend the CSIA conference for yourself.

Surviving and Thriving as an SI (3 of 3)


Surviving and Thriving as a SI (2 of 3)

July 13, 2010

Sales Training

Rick recommends sales training materials from Dale Carnegie and Sandler. In the Sandler Training, you focus on identifying on the ‘customer pain’. You learn to probe to see if you can help thereby clarifying the project scope, requirements, stakeholders, ….

Terms and Conditions

Rick has several interesting recommendations with respect to an integrator’s terms and conditions. For instance, their billing terms are:

  • 40% of total system cost due upon Superior Controls receipt of order
  • 30% upon submittal of the detailed I/O List and Functional Specification
  • 20% upon execution of SFAT or shipment, whichever comes first
  • 10% upon completion of SAT execution, but no later than 30 days after shipment
    Payment of invoices is net 30 days. Payment of field engineering services is net due upon receipt of invoice. Interest of 1.5% per month will be charged to all invoices outstanding after 30 days.

They also specify their delivery relative to the acceptance of the Functional Specification. No need to get caught with a time constraint because the customer could not agreed to work that needs to be done. Rick also believes it is important to include a non-solicitation clause. And, they maintain intellectual property rights – but licenses the customer to use and copy (but not resell or redistribute) that IP.

Company Overhead

Rick also had several recommendations for reducing company overhead. For instance, he prefers to keep the organization flat (minimal management) and expect more from employees. But, he does recommend an ‘Estimator’ to oversee all ordering. He also advocates the use of administrative assistants responsible for minimizing time and effort of engineering (i.e. documentation set up). And, he says that they have no receptionist or operator – instead relying on technology.

Performance Monitoring

With reduced management, there is an increased need for good performance monitoring. So, for fixed price projects, it is important to track all engineering hours and material costs – both estimates and actual. It is critical that your engineering staff are completing projects to the specifications and not just filling the available time.


Surviving and Thriving as a System Integrator (1 of 3)

July 7, 2010

Another one of my favorite CSIA 2010 presentations was given by Rick Pierro, President of Superior Controls, Inc.  After benefiting from the association for many years, Rick graciously decided to give back by discussing the Top 10 Concrete Business Tips Learned over 25 years as a system integrator.

Recruiting

Rick had several interesting suggestions for about the recruiting process.  For instance, he recommends giving a candidate a written test in which a problem is given without adequate information.  This simulates the common experience of an integrator who must work on a poorly defined customer requirement. You can then gauge their demeanor with respect to these constraints. If he is successful, you can continue the interview. If not, be polite and respectful. Keep in mind he may be hired by your best customer. So, give him a way to save face (e.g. it looks like your strengths lie elsewhere).

 Contractors

Superior Control does advocate the use of contractors. As a matter of fact, he recommends giving them the same test (mentioned above). But, they only hire them on a time and materials basis – and make them sign a non-compete. The contractors are paid bi-weekly and expected to keep good timesheets. He also says that they have been successful at paying less by paying early (net 10).

Emergency Support Contracts

With customers reducing head count during these tough economic times, they may be more interested in emergency (24-7) contracts. Superior Control will often sign a 1 year agreement which automatically renews if not cancelled 30 days before the expiration date. Charges for support hours include 1 hour minimum for phone support, 4 hour minimum for on-site support, plus travel time. Then, pay your engineers a nominal coverage fee and an hourly rate with minimums. They also include a quarterly half-day ‘maintenance visit’ to identify any potential issues  — as well as look for new opportunities.

Surviving and Thriving as a SI (2 of 3)