Picking the right System Integrator from a multitude of contenders can be daunting, even if you think you know what you’re looking for in terms of systems. Some of the most project-critical factors will decide whether you deliver on time and on budget, or are hampered by delays and cost overruns. Here are our top things to look out for when deciding on a System Integrator – and they are not all related to the technology you may be investing in.
When choosing a System Integrator (SI), look for one which has great collaborative relationships with established automation OEMs, for example with Emerson, ABB, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Siemens and others.
In line with what we consider good practice, Drakken is vendor-neutral and we maintain good working relationships with numerous OEMs. This makes it possible for us to take decisions based on the needs of the project, rather than being tied to particular equipment based on vendor, platform or compatibility.
Vendor neutrality also ensures that it is easier to maintain and replace systems and components down the line, giving the end users greater flexibility in making changes, developing or upgrading equipment and systems. It also makes integration itself much easier.
The benefits also go both ways when resources are combined between the SI and the OEM. Where the OEM has expert knowledge of its manufactured products, the SI has the capability to smoothly integrate those products into the final systems and platforms, creating a powerhouse of expertise and problem-solving in the integration or start-up process.
Good working relationships benefit all stakeholders. It will smooth the way for project success and set you up for a long term partnership
Question to ask: Can the System Integrator demonstrate good working relationships and successful projects with their OEMs?
Strong Communication and Great Teams
Among the many exciting things about working in a global industry are the possibilities provided by a global team. Employees will hail from vastly different cultures and have unique experiences to bring to the table. An effective team leader will look for cultural insights to unlock potential opportunities in various markets.
If you observe strong and flexible communication within and across teams, chances are you’ve found a System Integrator that is going to work efficiently and deliver on its promises. Things to look out for include:
- The team structure doesn’t concentrate all its power at the headquarters or the location with the most members. Effective delegation and the continuous inclusion of employees who are farther away signals a team where everyone feels empowered to voice their input, which will definitely benefit projects that span continents.
- The team has clearly worked to build empathy and rapport, despite working in different time zones. Comfortable, easy rapport doesn’t come automatically to teams who rarely meet in person. When you see that team members are sometimes able to switch off the work mode and talk informally about sports teams, holidays or family, it’s a sign they are actively making the effort to maintain the relationships necessary for project success.
- Team language is integrated and respectful. Coming from different countries, teams will necessarily still have to resort to one main language to communicate. Where you observe a mismatch in how much native and non-native speakers may be talking, and where there seems to be miscommunication based on language used, there unfortunately is a tendency for problems to continue down the line and spill into delivery of the project. A team that has a unified way of speaking with one another and with other parties, which empowers non-native speakers, avoids the dominance of native speakers, and ensures that everybody means the same thing, is a team much more likely to know what everybody is doing and able to go above and beyond in delivering for you.
- The team has to be balanced with regards to experience. Project Management, Engineering, Quality, Safety, Construction and Commissioning are all essential aspects of these types of projects and expertise is required from all of these fields to successfully implement any project.
Questions to ask:
- Do the team communicate effectively with each other and with you?
- Are they all on the same page regarding procedures, expectations, and company practices?
It should go without saying, but one of the most important things to thoroughly investigate is whether your choice of System Integrator has successfully executed projects similar to yours. There are two aspects to this which just cannot be faked: great industry knowledge and practical experience of having ‘boots on the ground’ in a variety of different operations. Make sure that you know their process and reliability inside out before you start.
Drakken has an approach to this that differs from other System Integrators in several important ways. For example, our field experience covers both brownfield projects and greenfield projects from design (we execute Front End Engineering Design (FEED) as well as the Detail Design stage of projects), engineering supply, installation, through to testing and commissioning, or any combination of the above, for Electrical and Instrumentation works.
An effective SI will own the whole E&I process from design through to construction and commissioning, managing all interfaces and eliminating risk for the stakeholders by providing turnkey solutions.
Project execution differs vastly in different geographical and regional locations. Commissioning an offshore facility is a different ballgame compared to working onshore in a tropical or a desert environment or region in geopolitical turmoil. Field experience is a massive spectrum and your choice of SI should be able to demonstrate proven practice in your particular area of interest.
Question to ask: Reliability - What is their tried-and-tested way of carrying out projects on time and within budget?
Capability of Engineering Team
You need to be assured that the people on site are suitably qualified for the needs and complexities of your project, both technically and in terms of project execution. Do the engineering team or teams have experience of complex projects in the specific industry or sector? Do they all have an understanding of communication networks? Technically speaking, do the teams have training and certification from the OEMs and from other authorised bodies like TUV or ISA? Have they successfully executed third party inspection programs from the likes of DNV or ABS?
Interface management is an important aspect of system integration. Can they demonstrate their ability to get the power distribution system to communicate and interface correctly with the control system? Everything needs to be tied together – PAGA, access control, fire and gas, safety systems, fiber optic communications, power generation, air compressors – all complex systems which need to be reliably integrated. How will they demonstrate fully tested interfaced communications before getting on site.
Questions to ask:
- Experience - Have they undertaken projects similar to yours? What was the outcome?
- Proven skills - Have you seen evidence that they have the ability to problem-solve and implement complex integrations?
Other requirements for your choice of System Integrator that should be non-negotiable in any industry, but get an honorable mention in this list:
- Value - Do they price their services competitively and flexibly?
- Do they have sufficient resources to manage this project and the rest of their projects successfully?
- Where is the construction & commissioning going to happen and when was the last time your SI executed there?
- Who is going to manage the installation and testing on site? This is a critical role and having the right person and a good leader in this position can save a lot of time and money.
- How responsive and clear is the SI in the tender process? Have they been able to demonstrate any level of pre-FEED engineering and design?
- Do you enjoy speaking with them while there are no issues? Your project is going to rely heavily on the System Integrator in the last phase of the project. It is not going to get any easier than it is in the tender process, when there are no schedule demands or project issues.
- Have they built and executed large scale commissioning programs and do they have the capability to handle these volumes of documentation accordingly?
The right system integrator will demonstrate the experience relevant to your project. It will have a successful track record of execution with the specific OEM equipment required. In addition, it should meet the highest expectations in adhering to Project Management principles, maintaining ISO quality systems, adhering to a safety program and demonstrating excellent communication by following a clear reporting process to stakeholders at every stage. Every project is different, and has different risks and priorities. The capabilities of the SI should match up well with those risks and priorities. The critical factors we have covered indicate that relationships and communication are really at the heart of SI success.