Why Do Automation System Integration Projects Fail?

May 15, 2013
A panel of certified control system integrators share the hard questions end users should be asking to ensure they get the automation systems they need. They spoke to attendees during Day Two of The Automation Conference in Chicago.

When an automation system integration project goes wrong, one question you might ask is, why? The integrator you chose knows the technologies. They have experience with the industry and the process. They promised it would be on time and on budget. So why did the project fail?

The panel of presenters on Day Two of the Automation Conference answered that question with questions of their own—questions that end users should be asking of integrators before work even begins.

The panelists are all members of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), an organization dedicated to “helping integration companies be better business people, not just good designers, integrators and programmers,” said Bob Lowe, CSIA executive director. That means they have the project management, human resources and risk management skills they need to ensure their customers’ projects are successful.

Of CSIA’s more than 270 integrator members, 86 have gone through the rigorous process of being certified in a collection of best practices that helps them create a sustainable business and serve their end user customers better. Most are already skilled technicians with experience in specific industries and technologies, said Lowe. “The goal is to have more certified in business best practices, so they’re better able to partner with and meet the needs of their end user clients.”

Ed Diehl, co-CEO of Concept Systems, gave an example: “The CSIA benchmark document has a project lifecycle methodology, the System Development Lifecycle. It makes sure all that raw talent we have on our team works effectively to the benefit of our customers.”

As for what questions end users should ask of integrators before they award a project, Diehl said, “Ask integrator how they’re planning to make you successful.

Make sure they have a plan. Ask to meet the project manager, not just to make sure that you like them, but to know that they appreciate a structured approach.”

Diehl said, ask about their risk management program: Can you provide an example of your risk a management process providing value? Can you give me an example of when you didn’t adequately manage risk? What did you learn from that?

 Jim Sellitto, sales project manager for Martin Control Systems suggested these questions:

  • How do you select your project team?
  • Do you provide a detailed scope of supply and work, and are all expected costs accounted for?
  • What training have you had with automation equipment vendors?
  • What are the deliverables once the project is installed: Program files? Digital drawings? Passwords?

Steve Goldberg, director of IT for Matrix Technologies, said good system integrators

“want to be an extension of your engineering team and eventually, your trusted advisor. You want them to become optimized to service you, and to be around for many years.” So questions you should ask are: What are your human resources policies? How do you train and develop your engineers? Etc.

“All these best practices are part of CSIA certification,” adds Goldberg. “That means that if you look for the CSIA Certified logo, those questions have already been asked and answered.” That can save end users a lot of time, as well as prevent lot of projects from failing.

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