Standards, Standards, Standards

A young person approaches a New Yorker on a street near Carnegie Hall and asks, "Pardon me, sir, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?" To which, the New Yorker replies, "Practice, practice, practice."

{mosimage} Everyone's heard that one, but the message never gets old. To get to the top, one must continuously practice his or her craft. This axiom could be altered to become the mantra of Control System Integrators (CSIs): "Standards, standards, standards." Talent and skill go only so far; standards will make a good company great—and one you should be doing business with.

Let's start with some definitions. A practice is something that a business does regularly. A standard is a practice written down. Once standards are written and followed, business interruptions have less impact on the CSI and, ultimately, the customer.  Joe Martin, president of Martin Control Systems Inc. (www.martincsi.com), Dublin, Ohio, discusses this in a recent blog post on the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA, www.controlsys.org) Connected Community: "The more I successfully hand off routine business tasks to others, the more I appreciate the…effort put into our [standards]."

Standards should be found in all aspects of a CSI's business—administration, financial management, human resources, project management, design, programming, testing and start-up. Does the CSI have business standards? For example, how does the CSI schedule projects? How does it begin a $1,000 project or a $1 million project?

Does the CSI have design and programming standards? How does it assure that the customer is getting a consistent product? Some CSIs think that because they do custom work, they cannot develop standards that would apply to all projects and platforms. Computer aided design (CAD) standards can be as simple as using the CSI's or customer's title block. Would you accept a drawing package from a vendor that had different symbols for the same item? Would different line styles for the same items be acceptable to you? Symbols and blocks should remain consistent throughout.

Programming standards for a CSI admittedly are harder to create and enforce. Specific standards created for one manufacturer's product line may not be practical for another's equipment. Standards that outline documentation and organization should apply across most manufacturers' equipment. Variable and tag naming conventions can be created across most "tag-based" developer software. Some integrators have created "templates" that have data files and routines/tasks already created, proven and ready-to-use. Newer versions of software allow for such things as "add-on instructions," function calls and modules that allow you to create code snippets that can be reused on multiple, similar projects.

Enforce standards

Smaller companies may use a "peer-audit" system by which other members of the company review their peers' projects for standards compliance. Larger companies may have a quality manager who is responsible for managing the company's quality standards, audits and enforcement.

Does the CSI have a policy for making changes and revisions? Is this done proactively on a regular basis or just when a deficiency is discovered or when the rules change?

If you are considering which CSI to hire, ask about the CSI's standards. At a minimum, ask if the CSI is ISO- or Control System Integrators Association (CSIA)-certified. Certification shows they have implemented and followed their standards.
 
Martin sums up why standards are important to his business and the customer, "We've documented our business operations, engineering standards, project methods and sales procedures…any engineer or manager can come on board and start delivering services to our customer just like a high-school kid can make Big Macs at any store and, predictably, they taste just like they should."

Stephen Blank, CAP, Stephen.Blank@lomancsi.com, is Chief Executive Officer of systems integrator Loman Control Systems Inc., in Lititz, Pa.

Martin Control Systems Inc.
www.martincsi.com

Control System Integrators Association, CSIA
www.controlsys.org

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