Under Control


What are Systems Integrators? Are they glorified resellers? Are they employees of the manufacture? Or, to put the best face on it, are they "technology partners?" In the purest sense, a systems integrator delivers turnkey solutions for projects outsourced by the client. The integrator provides expertise in hardware, software, and communication tools needed to complete the contract per the user's specifications.

Manufacturing is a unique arena for the adventure of a system integration project to play out it. Unlike banking or insurance, each manufacturers a distinct, whole supplier to the market. Therefor, each client's industry, and the technologies used in the plant's processes and functional areas. Familiarity with the client's business culture and customs is always a big help.

The system integrators also assumes financial responsibility for the job and, as part and parcel of that, responsibility for the technical performance of the installed systems. Like a building contractor, a system integrator takes full responsibility for all the subcontractors. In short, the integrator serves as the overall project manager, the single point of contact, assuming all the praise and all the blame.

Markets for systems integration service continue to grow. Projections for revenues in 1993 are in the $80 million range, indicating growth of about 15 to 18 percent. While current economic conditions have probably caused the cancellation or postponement of some large projects of over $5million, enthusiasm for medium-size projects continues unabated. This enthusiasm tends to be strongest in companies with annual revenues of $50 million to $500 million. Larger companies are holding back and using in-house services wherever possible.

In the areas of contracts of $5 million dollar or less that open systems and reengineering initiatives are being played out. Open systems and reengineering concepts are there to remind us that technology is not the solution. Technology, and computers, are the tools.

Just having computers is less important than how they are used and how their systems are maintained. That's why it's so disappointing to see how persistently users continue to make buying decisions based on price alone. I see some life-cycle costing, but lamentably little. Outsourcing, though, is continue to grow in popularity as a strategy for reduced labor costs in almost all industrial sectors. Today, real men outsource.

Two-thirds of the growth in the system integration markets will be attributable to the proliferation of software for manufacturing and the growth in this sector of the market in the complexity of the both the tools and the process involved. The intricacies of networking and open systems also contribute heavily to the need for specialists.

The trend toward specialization and division of labor will continue. The modern systems integrator needs to define a niche market wherein his expertise can be clearly demonstrated. With more and more of the hardware vendors, including the very largest computer companies, taking up the business of system integration, it incumbent on the small, niche players to emphasize their strongest suit, process expertise.

I wish system integrators would take a page from the advertising business. In fact, many of them already have. The relationship between the client and the server is paramount. It is not defined by the duration of any one project. For the system integrator, the term "client" suggests a special relationship. The role of the integrators is to propose specific vehicles for meeting clearly defined strategic goals. Perhaps in the future more integrators will be on retainers to their clients.

If you are a system integrator, define the market that you serve. Look there for your market-share growth. Define a bumper sticker for your service. Make sure you're centered on the process, not the technology. In other words, emulate reality. The year 1993 will be a good one for the system integrator

As appeared in Manufacturing Systems Magazine December 1992 Page 8

Manufacturing Systems Magazine Articles
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