Each year, CFE Media (publishers of Control Engineering) compile a list of the System Integrator Giants, ranking “the top systems integrators by system integration revenue as reported in the “Global System Integrator Database.” Hallam-ICS was once again on this list. The list relies on the self-reporting of gross revenue and SI revenue from control system integration companies. The list is published annually and provides a glimpse into the industry, full of familiar names. It can be fun and interesting to see the growth of known companies and the addition of new firms.
The list can also provide value for those of you who hire system integrators, as it may provide a starting point in identifying SI’s who might be able to support your project or on-going operations. Revenue is just one piece of information that you’ll want to know before selecting an SI. One place to start is to ask yourself the following question:
What is most important to you when choosing a System Integrator?
The answer to this question varies across industries and projects. Five of the most common responses are:
1. Specific industry experience.
Most control system engineers I talk with are eminently confident in their ability to implement a control system in any industry. I’ve heard many times “I can make the system do whatever the customer tells me to do. It’s their process, but I know the technology.” This perception runs against how most clients feel. Nearly every time I speak to a client, one of their first questions is “have you ever worked in my industry?” Clients want a system integrator who has done it before and knows the nuances and requirements of their industry. They don’t want to pay for an integrator to learn while working on their project.
The SI Giants list doesn’t provide detailed information on specific industry experience each “giant” has. And industry expertise does not always match size. A $100 million company that might excel in water/wastewater systems will likely struggle on their first project for a pharmaceutical client. You might be better off choosing a $20 million company that works extensively in the pharmaceutical industry.
2. Technology expertise.
As an SI, one of the elements of our risk evaluation process for a potential project is the technology risk. Have we ever worked with the control system platform (Rockwell, Siemens, Delta V, others)? Have we ever worked on this type of process before? As a client, you’ll want to make the same evaluation when assessing the “risk” of choosing a system integrator. Do they have sufficient experience with the technology and process?
3. Ability to handle large projects.
The SI Giants list might help here, as the size of a system integrator most likely does indicate their ability to handle large projects. There are several aspects to large projects that are critical to success, including:
- Project management methodologies
- Leverage with key suppliers
- Ability to ramp up as needed
- Bonding capacity
Larger companies typically have more experience managing and staffing large projects. They typically will have the financial strength to secure a bond (if required) and will be able to manage the cash flow challenges large projects can present.
4. Quality systems.
Larger system integration companies are more likely to have quality systems in place. This could include being ISO-9001 Certified or being a CSIA Certified System Integrator. Having robust quality systems are needed to successfully scale an organization from $5 million to $50 million in annual revenue.
One area where larger system integrators will likely not have an advantage is on cost. The small, local integrator may not have the same overhead as the large integrators and often can win on cost. We’ve seen this in particular with cost-sensitive industries such as municipal (water/wastewater) projects where the project is awarded to the low bidder. Many system integrators in this space run a “lean” organization.
About the Author
Keith is a graduate of the University of Vermont with a BSEE and an MBA. He has been with Hallam-ICS since 1988 as an electrical engineer, manager of integration services, CFO, and CEO. He focuses the company on understanding and meeting the needs of each individual client while at the same time delivering the highest possible level of technical expertise.
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Hallam-ICS is an engineering and automation company that designs MEP systems for facilities and plants, engineers control and automation solutions, and ensures safety and regulatory compliance through arc flash studies, commissioning, and validation. Our offices are located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and North Carolina and our projects take us world-wide.