July/August 2011

CSIA recertification drives growth

By Ed Diehl

How many system integrators would say learning new technologies is not important to doing their jobs effectively? Any integrator whose business is on a growth path would have to disagree with that statement. The same question could be asked regarding learning new business practices or new people management skills. Successful operation of a thriving system integration business requires discipline and planning for the future and being open to learning about new best practices for all segments of the business. And there are industry resources available to help.

The Control System Integrators Association (CSIA, www.controlsys.org), for example, has been set up to establish standards of performance for control system integrators. The CSIA promotes excellence by putting integrators through a certification process that goes beyond verifying that they have the skills to do the job from a technical perspective. For example, a certified integrator must have demonstrated a good financial track record. They must have a good management team with a transition plan if disaster strikes. In these areas, CSIA certification covers a broader range of issues than the ISO certification process. And member companies must refresh their standing with the organization every three years.

Some companies go through the certification process once and decide not to re-certify. They feel having proven a level of competence once, they do not need to do so again. When they make this decision, they miss a huge opportunity to fuel their business growth.

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Every time my company goes through the CSIA certification audit process, we get better as a company. Not only is continued recertification a public acknowledgement to our customers that they can trust us with their business, it is a means by which we can enforce our continuous improvement.

Each time we recertify, we review our scores in the different certification categories and analyze where we are weak and what we need to do to improve. In the process, we assess how the improvements that we make will benefit our company. And we begin planning for the next recertification well before it is due. The result is to establish a culture of goal setting and measurement that pervades our organization and helps us continually look for ways to improve how we do what we do.

For example, one of the improvements that we made as a result of our last audit was setting up a new financial reporting and project tracking software system that enables our project managers to monitor their projects more easily. We had a system before, but the new one saves time for our project managers and makes them more efficient.

Another process improvement that came as a result of a recertification audit was making improvements to our incoming shipments control procedure in order to streamline how we receive our raw materials.

The audit process has also helped us make strides in internal quality problem investigation, resulting in a system of checks and balances that makes sure problems will always be caught before a customer's system leaves our shop.

Some years back, we hired an experienced quality assurance director to help guide us through the requalification process. Some may think this an extreme step for an integrator-more like what one would expect from the original equipment manufacturers whose products we install-but we see this as a necessary step toward ensuring we follow the processes we have established. In addition, our experience is quality enhancement programs can pay for themselves through efficiency gains and reducing waste.

Under the watchful eye of our QA director, we perform periodic internal quality audits, where we review in-process projects or completed projects according to how well they have followed our process methodology. If we find discrepancies, we dig in to see if we should be conforming to our process standards document or if we need to update the documented process to reflect a better methodology.

This last point illustrates a key reason for continuing to recertify our company to the CSIA standards. We are not the same company that we were when we were first certified, and the world of technology is not the same either. By continually measuring ourselves and revising our goals when necessary, we position ourselves for continuous sustainable growth.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Diehl (ediehl@conceptsystemsinc.com) is co-CEO and vice president of engineering and operations at Concept Systems, Inc., based in Albany, Ore.  He served as the chairman of the board of CSIA from 2008-2011.