My company recently went through the process of re-auditing for CSIA Certification. As you can imagine, as the time for the audit time approached, we concentrated more and more heavily on all the various aspects of CSIA Best Practices to verify that we were still compliant or to determine if we needed to fix something. Although this is a continuous process we go through, with biannual internal audits, this time we took a more comprehensive approach, looking at all the different aspects of the business at the same time. It was during this process that I started wondering if CSIA Certification has a different value or meaning in the 4.0 age.
We are bombarded every day by news, articles, blogs and advertisements on Industry 4.0. Everything is 4.0. I had a PLC programmer position I had been trying to fill and had not received resumes for months; when I changed the title to PLC Programmer 4.0, I got five resumes in three days! Funds and stimulus are on 4.0, and products we have always used are now called 4.0. In this 4.0 euphoria, I naturally began thinking that maybe CSIA Certification should become 4.0 as well, or at least wondered if perhaps the value of certification for some reason has changed or is going to change.
CSIA began certifying system integrator companies in 2000. To become certified, a company must pass an audit based on 79 of the most critical criteria in CSIA’s Best Practices manual covering nine topics—from strategic planning to human resources management, from sales and marketing to support services. Several CSIA vendor members, such as GE, National Instruments, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric and Siemens, have incorporated CSIA Certification into the requirements for their respective system integrator partnership programs.
The value of some aspects of the certification doesn’t change, but others become significantly more important in relation to changes in technology and business models. Most of the time, it’s not the new technology or the new business model demanding a new approach, but rather the change process itself that requires attention. A solid business practice is concerned with managing and minimizing risk.
Some of the examples that came to my mind:
- Financial management. This is one of my favorite topics in CSIA’s Best Practices handbook. Many system integration companies, including mine, started from engineers that wanted to build something new and leave their technical footprint in the world. We might pay less attention to the financial part of our business, exposing it to big risks. In this time of change, attention to the financial aspects of the business is even more important, since new types of revenue streams need to be considered. Some pressure, already started, to move from a lump sum approach to a subscription approach, requires a business model transformation that can have a dramatic impact on the financials. Strong and continuous attention to bookkeeping can mitigate the risk of running out of business without even recognizing it’s happening.
- IT security. Systems availability, data protection and disaster recovery are fundamental for business continuity. Moving from on-premise to cloud solutions, even with consistent project development infrastructure from the system integrator, requires investigation into different types of risks, and to adapt the risk mitigation approach to protect the systems availability in the new scenario. CSIA Certification requires focus on developing the necessary plans for both this and data protection. The quantity of the customer’s data the integrator can or needs to have access to is constantly increasing, and requires a professional and deliberate approach to its protection.
- Project methodology. One key element of 4.0 is flexibility, adapting rapidly to any change the market requires. This means adjusting automation or manufacturing execution systems (MES) accordingly in a continuous improvement approach. To do this effectively, it is necessary to have a project methodology in place to keep track of all change requests, analyze the risk of the impact of any change on the working systems, keep documentation updated and manage the baselines of release versions. The more flexible the client needs to be, the more the integrator needs to be able to adapt his project methodology to be responsive without compromising project lifecycle control.
- Human resources. Ultimately, any 4.0 initiative has people as the core element. Having clients focused on this aspect makes them more sensitive to the HR policies the system integrator has in place. Becoming aware of the importance of people in the integrator’s business makes the client pay more attention to how they, themselves, manage people. This is another topic that many integrators underestimate, due their strong backgrounds focused heavily on technology. This can make a big difference in the success of a business.
I have only briefly touched on just four points. There are many more that could be of interest and that would provide good examples of how CSIA Best Practices can be even more relevant in the 4.0 age than in the past. CSIA is continuously providing information and training to its members to help them prepare and adapt to new business requirements. Certification is a good way for CSIA members to become confident they can keep their business successful while transforming it to its 4.0 level, and is a great indication to their end-user clients that they can be confident they are hiring and working with an integrator organization committed to meeting the highest standards for business and management.
About CSIA Certification
CSIA Certification is a mark of excellence among integrator companies. Successful system integration businesses—the ones that clients can be confident will meet their current and future needs—combine technical proficiency with sound business practices. CSIA Certification proves that a company has met or exceeded CSIA Best Practices in key business management areas, and to maintain certification, companies must successfully pass an independent audit every three years.
Luigi De Bernardini is CEO at Autoware, a certified Control System Integrators Association member based in Vicenza, Italy. For more information about Autoware, visit the Autoware profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.