Back from CSIA 2010

May 4, 2010

I’m back in the office after attending the Control Systems Integrators Association (CSIA) conference. I always enjoy attending the conference to connect  people who are dedicated to the betterment of system integration by sharing best practices and promoting the recognition and importance of excellence.

Familiar Faces

Despite the fact that most of the constituents focus exclusively on industrial automation, the challenges of managing a system integration business are much the same. Several NI Alliance Partners there including:

  • VI Engineering
  • Viewpoint Systems
  • Bloomy Controls
  • Optimation
  • Data Science Automation
  • DMC

It was rewarding to see them there. In many cases, I likely introduced them to CSIA. But, it is a testament to their commitment to run a quality system integration business that they they invest the time and energy to participate in the conference.

Direct from the Horses Mouth

As always, I enjoy (and get the most out of) the presentations given by managers of an SI company. Speaking from their own experiences, they offer the best insight and practical advice on how to be successful as well as how to avoid failure. So, the best 3 sessions in my opinion were:

  1. Applying Lean Manufacturing Principles to the System Integrator’s World
    Jeff Miller, Director of Automation Services, Interstates Control Systems, Inc., Sioux Center, IA
    During tough economic times clients expect to see price cuts. So how does a systems integrator survive and remain poised for tremendous growth? One way is to apply lean manufacturing principals to our everyday work.

  2. Are You Selecting Your Customers or Are They Selecting You?
    Dean Streck, CEO, VI Engineering, Farmington Hills, MI
    Not all customers are equal. This talk examines the importance of selecting your customers wisely and the far reaching impacts on your future. Dean will review various customer selection techniques and measurement methods including project margin, account margin, total lifetime value and the impact on your culture. Actual examples include the impacts of both wise and poor choices in changing industries.

  3. The Top Ten Concrete Business Tips Learned Over 25 Years as a Systems Integrator
    Rick Pierro, President, Superior Controls, Seabrook, NH
    Rick will share valuable, easy to implement, and proven ideas which will produce more profit and add more value to your business. From marketing, hiring, contracts, structure and additional services, this talk will leave you with practical ideas to improve both your customer satisfaction and your bottom line.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to pass along some of the ideas from these presentations. But, if you really want to get the most value consider joining CSIA and attending the conference for yourself.

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CSIA Post Best Practice Criterion

January 26, 2010

As you probably know by now, NI recommends the Control Systems Integrator Association as a great way to learn about the system integration business from colleagues who also manage the same type of business.

Setting the bar

You may also be aware that CSIA has developed a set of guidelines and and audit process that certify your business practices (a bit like ISO but specific for system integrators). Potential members have often asked what the criteria in the audit for CSIA Certification are, but the criteria were not made public . . . until now.

 For Your Benefit

Why would you want to know the criteria? Perhaps, you are curious to know what  integrators had to do in their business to pass the audit for certification before joining the association. For instance, was the audit about technical ability, business practices, or both.?

Chceck them out

To help inform folks about the CSIA Certification process, the audit criteria are now listed on our website under Certified Member Program. Find them online at: http://www.controlsys.org/about/documents/AuditCriteriaV302.pdf

I encourage you to review them. If nothing else, it is a quick check list of the areas that CSIA believes are critical to your success as a system integrator. Further yet, consider joining CSIA to get more details about these and other practices, have access to other material, attend their meeting and annual conferences, …..


Top Ways to Lose Money On Projects

January 20, 2010

After spending a couple weeks blogging about how to ensure project success, I was reminded about a presentation given by Dean Streck from V I Engineering back at NIWeek 2001. He gave a humorous presentation on the top ways to lose money on projects.

1. Don’t communicate … ever … with anyone (not your coustomer and not your vendors.)

2. Don’t train you sales team – on how to make contacts, assess customer needs, estimate projects, validate quotes, negotiate terms, close sales, ….

3. Verbals are as good as gold. Don’t worry about getting final specifications. Forget about kick-off meetings. Just take any version of the project proposal and dive right into building the system.

4. Don’tbother with project management. Just put junior engineers to the task. No need for a design review or leveraging existing technical assets. Encourage them to do it their way without constraints. 

5. Plan to use 100% of your budgeted time. And, if the customer asks for changes, just say yes. Memories are perfect, so don’t bother documenting anything especially changes. The only status updates occur at the beginning and end of the project. If your engineers do have extra time, have them spend it perfecting the system beyond required specifications.

6. When you think your done coding, try installing the system right away. The best place to find errors is at the customer site. Don’t bother the customer by calling in advance and scheduling time. Assume you will have clean power and noise free environment.

7. Support contracts are a waste of time, so forget about them. Just agree to fully support your system if the customer is ever dissatisfied or makes any changes.

I must admit I got some chuckles looking back through this presentation. Hopefully, you will too.


How To Ensure Project Success

January 13, 2010

Last week, I referenced this article, written by Vance VanDoren, of Control Engineering about how to avoid project failure. In addition to discussing the most common reasons for failure, he provided a list of ways to succeed:

  1. Define project goals;
  2. Develop project scope and schedule;
  3. Establish multi-discipline project team;
  4. Define the mechanical process;
  5. Develop functional process controls descriptions;
  6. Develop network configuration drawings; and
  7. Develop equipment and programming specifications.

First Things First

I have to agree that lack of good/solid project requirements is probably the #1 challenge to project success. This can result from the customer not having a clear understanding of the project, the integrators failure to perform adequate requirements, or simply the sense of urgency to get the product started (without sufficient requirements.

Get the Customers to Help You Help Them

As I said last week, you may want to reference Vance’s article with your customers as a way to educate them about common project pitfalls. By better educating them, you can increase their understanding and desire to help you ensure the success of the project.


How to Avoid Project Failure

January 5, 2010

I found this article, written by Vance VanDoren, of Control Engineering. He discusses how system integration projects don’t always go smoothly. He lists the 10 signs of impending failure and 7 ways to stay on track. For instance:

Ten reasons for failure

  1. Incomplete requirements;
  2. Lack of client involvement;
  3. Lack of resources;
  4. Unrealistic expectations;
  5. Lack of executive support;
  6. Changing requirements and specifications;
  7. Lack of planning;
  8. Didn’t need it any longer;
  9. Lack of management; and
  10. Technology illiteracy.

Industrial automation projects may or may not fail as often as software development projects, but the reasons for failure are very similar, according to a less formal survey recently conducted by Control Engineering. All 1,800+ system integrators listed in the Automation Integrator Guide were asked to describe why an automation project might fail, what signs point to impending trouble, and how those problems can be avoided. Not surprisingly, several respondents agreed with the Chaos Report’s finding that “incomplete requirements” is the #1 problem.

Pass Along to Your Clients

While directed toward the end users, he offers some good tips that integrators should also be (painfully) aware of. Perhaps, the article is something that you can even point your customer to.

By the way, I’ve discussed many of these topics in more detail on this blog. Check out the Table of Contents as a convenient way to find them.


Creating a Marketing Strategy – Part II

November 24, 2009

Last week, we talked about defining your marketing strategy. Now, let’s define the requirements and process to fulfill the strategy. When you think about it, we’re essentially going through the similar methodology that you mighy use for your techincal projects. The better you can define the scope, requirements, and test criterion, the better your chance for success.

Develop a Campaign

A campaign is a series of integrated marketing activities that you often structure around a product launch or company vision, and that support a higher-level goal. When you roll out, or execute, a campaign, you should:

  1. Set attainable goals
  2. Determine your target audience
  3. Plan marketing activities that support those goals and target your specific audience
  4. Capture leads and drive them through the sales process
  5. Track and measure success to determine future activities

Ideally, each marketing activity meets a different need during the campaign. At the very top level, all of the inquiries represent the first stage of the marketing and sales cycle – awareness. As the leads move through the marketing cycle, they become more qualified. Customers evolve through awareness, interest, trial, and purchase stages.

Set Goals and Metrics

To define meaningful goals, you have to define how marketing will impact the bottom line, which is called marketing return on investment (ROI). You need to measure each marketing venture based on:

  1. Ability to capture. How many new leads have been established as a result of the activity?
  2. Maintenance. How many target customer contacts have responded to this specific communication?
  3. Upgrade factor. How many target customer contacts have responded in a way that gives you permission to take the dialogue to the next level?
  4. Cost. What was the cost of each of the above?

Follow Through to Sales

A key marketing strategy involves following leads through the marketing process to sales. While it can be a difficult process, it helps the company to see what marketing activities are effective and generating revenue.

To maintain a lead, marketers must create a feedback loop with sales to reflect the customer path. For example:

  • Did the customer generate revenue?
  • Why did we lose the potential sale?
  • Are there closed-loop marketing activities that you can continue to do with that customer?

Tradeshows – Maximizing Your Effectiveness

October 27, 2009

Everyone knows that tradeshows are a great source of leads, but here are some tips to make your next tradeshow a true success. Here are some thoughts on choosing the right tradeshow, maximizing your presence at the show, and measuring the effectiveness.

Choose Wisely

It’s important to look at a number of factors:

  • Relevancy-Does the attendee profile fit the profile of the person we’re wanting to talk to? Do not just look at pure attendance numbers.
  • Competitive Presence-Look at if there is a strong competitive presence at the show and how much they have invested in the show.
  • Conference Strength-Make note of opportunities in the conference, and get involved.
  • Past show performance-Double check your results from the previous year.

Think Outside of the Booth

To maximize your exposure at the show, don’t just worry about your booth itself. Take advantage of:

  • Conference-Call for papers, speakers, etc.
  • Sit in on Show Advisory Board- Show management will see you as a key player
  • Business Partner Activities-Do joint-marketing with partners or customers
  • Press Activities-Check out the press list and make appointments
  • Sponsorships-Great way to generate awareness

Measure Yourself

Finally, how do you know if your show was effective? The show is not over when the hall lights go out! You must measure the show effectiveness, including:

  • Lead Quantity-If this number is lower than expected-why?
  • Lead Quality-How was the fit? Did the attendees seem to respond well to your offering?
  • Hot Leads-These are your lead that require immediate sales attention.
  • Inbound lead activity-One of the best metrics to gauge the quality of your leads
  • Percent of New Contacts-It is important to rely on trade shows to constantly add new names and contacts to the database.
  • Article Placement/Press Opportunities-How many editor appointments did we secure? What about article placements?

Tradeshows are a lot of fun but also require a lot of effort. Picking the right show, expanding your presence beyond your booth walls and using good metrics tracking will help you make the most of your tradeshow dollar.