As control system integrators, we belong to a very unique niche in the business of automation. Some CSIs are exclusively engineering firms providing design and programming of control systems. Some CSIs have panel shops. Some have electricians on staff to do field installations. Most are some combination of the above.
Evidence of the uniqueness of our field can be seen often on the CSIA’s Connected Community, an open forum on the Control System Integrators Association website where members can ask questions, express ideas, etc. It seems like, at least once a year or more, a member will post a question asking other members, “What is the recommended North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code for our industry?”
The NAICS is one way that the U.S. government has established to classify industries and the products and services that they provide. Once the question is asked, the CSIA and their members, respond with suggestions that might fit or might come close, but let’s face it—even the leading association for our industry never really nails it. That’s not the CSIA’s fault; we are hard to define.
Given the fact that we system integrators are difficult to define and cannot even define ourselves, we should realize the value of our organizational knowledge. What is “organizational knowledge?” While various authors disagree on the exact meaning of the term, it is generally defined as the knowledge that an organization has developed as a collective body and individually through individuals within the organization. When you add up all of the years of experience that your employees have and all of the experience that you have developed as a company, what is this worth and how does it define your organization? Why is this important? Because you can’t buy it anywhere.
How can you define, quantify and develop your organizational knowledge?
- Determine how much it would cost you to replace your most knowledgeable employees. Not just their knowledge in “hard skills,” but your key and top employees also understand your business and your corporate culture. They understand what makes your company unique. Sit them down with the myriad NAICS codes that the industry comes up, and I would bet that your top employees can pick the top two codes that define what you do. These people are the backbone of your organizational knowledge. Without them your organizational IQ drops—a lot.
- If you have been in business for any length of time, you have developed processes and procedures that help you do what you do efficiently and profitably. These processes probably have been developed through trial and lots of error. Your processes and procedures also constitute your organizational knowledge as these items are also what make you unique and have value. How much are these processes and procedures worth to you? Can you buy them? Can you survive without them? I doubt it.
- Plan to develop your organizational knowledge. In your strategic planning, are you looking at those in your organization who are the most knowledgeable and valuable to the company? Are you planning on transitioning and capturing this knowledge for those that are not as seasoned?
Your organizational knowledge is valuable and makes you who you are. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Don’t forget to understand and invest in your organization’s knowledge.
Stephen Blank is chief executive officer of Loman Control Systems, Inc., www.lomancsi.com, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association based in Lititz, Pa. He has a bachelor of fine arts degree and is an electrical engineer.