In a typical relationship between end users and system integrators, a project is conceived by the end user for one of its assets, a request for proposal (RFP) is released, and then a system integrator gets the order, completes the project and moves on. The end user now has the long-term responsibility for getting the most out of that asset, including maintenance, performance, effectiveness, data management and so forth.
So why might I suggest that the end user’s asset be owned by the system integrator? I mean this figuratively rather than literally, but it’s definitely something for the end user to consider. Some questions the end user should ask:
- How will I know if my asset is performing as well next year as it is now?
- Are the data points being accurately measured long term?
- If I’m getting reports now, will I be getting them next year? It’s common for reports to disappear or go unused when people leave their positions.
- If there is a preventive maintenance alert, will the right person receive it? Does that person still work here? Will action be taken?
- How can sustainable asset performance be assured long term?
These questions in turn beg one more question of the end user: How can I be assured that my asset will provide my company with optimal performance for years to come?
Smart manufacturing, Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are some of the descriptors being given to advances in manufacturing. It’s likely that connectivity of machines and people at all levels in a plant—machine operator to vice president of manufacturing—will be implemented on new equipment and when older assets are modernized. Connectivity and process improvements are components of advanced manufacturing. Measurable results will be experienced. But the question remains: Do end users have the in-house structure and skillsets required for sustainable optimum asset and plant performance?
This article builds the case for system integrators to support their clients beyond “the project.” Ongoing service and support assures end-user clients that they are not on their own for sustainable performance after the system integrator completes a project. The integrator becomes the source of sustainable performance.
An example of sustainable service and support is software as a service (SaaS). One example of SaaS is Microsoft Office 365, which provides an assurance of maximum performance of an email system (asset) rather than the one-time purchase of email software that you were then responsible for updating.
Let’s propose a new acronym: SIaaS, for system integration as a service. SIaaS replaces the concept of a one-time purchase of a project, with the end user on their own to sustain performance.
SIaaS provides the service and support for maintenance, machine monitoring, machine performance, process performance, reporting, technology upgrades, cybersecurity and so forth. The end user can focus on making its product and not be dependent on inside resources for sustainable performance. With the shortage of people in technology fields, finding the right people for sustainable performance is left to the system integrator to manage.
System integrators are uniquely positioned to be partners with end users, enabling end users to sustain optimal performance of assets and entire plants. The technology is available and system integrators have the people who know how to use it.
Robert Lowe is co-founder and CEO of Loman Control Systems Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). See Loman’s profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange by CSIA.