Navigating System Integration Projects

March 4, 2024
There are many things out of your control that can affect an automation project schedule and budget. But with a clear scope, awareness of potential risks and a commitment to open communication, the project team can be empowered to overcome challenges and adapt to changes.

Dr. Stephen Covey says in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind.” At Malisko, “Listen, Define, then Design” is a core value we commit to when beginning work on a new project. But what does this mean? 

We strive to truly understand what makes our customers tick and, more importantly, what keeps them up at night. As system integrators, we deliver the most value when we achieve this alignment and only then can we define requirements, set expectations and finally get to designing and deploying systems. This means looking at the bigger picture in the beginning, defining the scope of work, being mindful of risks and ultimately following a project execution process. 

These sound like simple steps, but as technical people we can sometimes get caught up in the task in front of us without considering the long-term impact or the strategic objectives that we’re trying to achieve.  

Scope of work

A meticulous outline of the work scope becomes not just a document, but a blueprint for success in any project a systems integrator undertakes. Without this clarity, the lines defining project deliverables and expectations can become blurred, leading to potential misunderstandings and conflicts. 

Projects can span from a few weeks to several years, and the dynamic nature of systems integration means changes are inevitable. A change order, therefore, becomes a necessary tool for addressing tasks that fall outside the initial scope or for adding new tasks critical to project success.

A clear, well-defined scope of work simplifies the change order process, making it less cumbersome and reducing stress for all parties involved. In the end, the scope of work serves as a comprehensive checklist that bolsters our confidence in meeting client expectations, minimizing the risk of overlooking critical components, and staying on schedule and within budget.

Identifying risks

There are many potential risks during the lifecycle of a system integration project. The integrator must diligently exercise foresight and planning while remaining flexible. These projects are typically intertwined with the work of other contractors, such as mechanical, electricians and datacom professionals. 

In recent years, long lead times on industrial hardware has been an issue all the trades have had to grapple with. Delays in receiving essential hardware not only jeopardize project timelines but can cascade into further delays, impacting the work of dependent contractors. 

For the integrator, ordering control panel hardware, instrumentation and network infrastructure as early as possible might mean the difference between success and failure. Any delays throughout the project lifecycle can also have adverse effects on securing other resources which deal with the human element. Whether those resources involve personnel, travel arrangements or project scope additions, it is always better to identify those risks as soon as possible. Incorporating a risk identification and management strategy that accounts for all these interdependencies from the outset is crucial.

Project execution

A well-executed project means staying on track, and everyone involved clearly understands their individual responsibilities and how their contribution fits into the bigger picture. With a detailed scope of work agreed upon and an understanding of risks, each team member is equipped to begin the project. 

A regimented project execution process will reduce risk and ensure success for all involved. The process should begin with a kickoff meeting—including the customer and other vendors—to ensure all project expectations align. During the kickoff, gather customer insights, discuss timelines and set up future status meetings. Having periodic status meetings throughout the development, including 30%, 60%, 90% reviews and a final factory acceptance test with the client will help ensure the project and expectations stay on track all the way through commissioning. Regular communication can help identify risks and offer an opportunity to pivot, if needed, in an ever-changing environment.

Carlos Rosado is senior automation controls engineer at Malisko Engineering, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). See Malisko Engineering’s profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.


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