Improvement by association: engineers collaborate on best practices

At the core of Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) are people willing to share experiences and best practices to help each other succeed with business skills and technologies for control system integration.

By Lisa Richter September 17, 2019

Editor’s note: Some of the best attributes of humanity can be seen in a roomful of engineers openly helping and learning from each other, rather than regarding others with distrust and suspicion. This case study in collaboration shows how associations can create a brighter future by integrating knowledge and cooperation.

In 2019, the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) celebrated a quarter of a century and came full circle when it returned to North Carolina 25 years later, April 29 through May 3, for its Executive Conference. The event, which drew more than 530 attendees globally, offered education and networking in formal and informal settings to help system integrators (SIs) stay current, grow their businesses and prepare for the future.

It also offered the opportunity to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its founding with an opportunity to reflect on its humble beginnings.

Steve Jobs of the CSIA

Originally known as systems houses or simply integrators, control system integrators emerged as an independent profession in the 1960s, when computers first arrived on the factory floors and inside industrial control houses. The people who developed the expertise to program and connect the technology that heralded a new industrial revolution came from various academic and professional lineages; no one forum existed for members of this emerging profession.

Charlie Bergman, a retired engineer, recognized the emergence of the control system integrator as an independent profession and began publishing a four-page newsletter in 1989. It supported this emerging profession by publishing information on how to run a successful business. Subscribers could benchmark their progress by sharing sales trends and other key statistics.

Foundational values

Less than 5 years later, 25 of Bergman’s readers met at the Shell Island Resort, a small hotel in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. Many were skeptical about consorting with competitors and potentially giving away their secret sauce.

But instead of finding a you-can’t-touch-this mentality, these pioneers discovered a culture of sharing and support.

“Most of us were guarded, at best,” said CSIA co-founder Jamie Jordan, now president of Stravicom Global Inc., a professional services firm in Charleston, S.C. “But Charlie encouraged us by telling us that those who share with others will be strengthened and will also strengthen the industry.”

Co-founder Robert Zeigenfuse, president of Avanceon, in Exton, Pa., agreed. “Charlie established, with his now infamous pitch, ‘Share one idea and get 10 in return and save $50,000 of consulting,’” he said. “He [Bergman] established the norm of unselfishly sharing of business practices. This alone sets our organization and industry apart from all others I have seen.”

Sharing ideas, lessons

Profits from the first meeting seeded the second conference in 1994, where attendees voted to form the association as an affiliate of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), which would eventually become the standalone CSIA.

Since then, the association has grown from a small group of early adopters to its current size of more than 500 member companies in 35 countries. The association also has expanded on its core competency of exchanging ideas, solutions and lessons learned to create additional member benefits such as a Best Practices and Benchmarking Manual, certification and continuing education, and insurance and legal programs specific to system integrators.

From Bergman’s vision came the defining concept of the future of CSIA: Sharing knowledge, best practices and key performance indicators (KPIs) to advance the success of all SIs.

Co-founder Pat Miller, chair, Engineered Energy Solutions Inc., Somerville, N.J., who was instrumental in organizing the earliest efforts, recalled: “Charlie told us to share ideas with one another, and it would come back tenfold.”

But the conference was not all spent in the past. In fact, it provided the perfect opportunity to also focus on going forward.

“To keep the association relevant, we have been working with the next generation of leaders,” said Jose Rivera, CSIA CEO. “As we have been doing at recent conferences, a lunch was organized to allow this group to get to know each other better. Professional speaker Lisa Ryan shared her advice regarding onboarding younger generations. In addition, a panel of SI company owners provided career guidance to future leaders.”

The association continues to look ahead with the theme of the 2020 Executive Conference: “Claiming the Role of the SI in the Digital Transformation.” In addition, CSIA has formed a task force to tackle this emerging trend and help its members prepare for the future.

“This task force is to figure out if industrial automation SIs have a role to play in the digital transformation beyond their traditional role of technology implementation,” Rivera said. “If so, what is this role, and what do SIs need to do to prepare for this emerging opportunity?”

According to Charlie Bergman

Contemporaries of Charlie Bergman describe him as a “visionary,” “pioneer,” “thought leader.” In the same breath, they describe him as intelligent, persistent, opinionated, even “cantankerous.” It’s difficult to say which of these described traits he would have considered most flattering. But all would agree, he had a way with words. Here are some of the more notable quotables:

  • “If you’re not keeping score, you’re only practicing.”
  • “Competition is good and will take you to higher profits.”
  • “Pricing professional services is not for amateurs.”
  • “Once users’ needs are met, wants explode.”
  • “People do business with those they like.”

Lisa Richter, industry director for the Control System Integrators Association in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. CSIA, a CFE Media and Technology content partner, is a global, nonprofit professional association with a mission to advance the practice of control system integration to benefit members and its clients. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

KEYWORDS: System integrators, best practices, association case study

Associations can help members share knowledge to build a better future.

CSIA marked 25 years of sharing system integration best practices in 2019.

System integrators can help with digital transformation.


What would you have rather learned from someone else, rather than having experienced it yourself?

How CSIA helps

From the outset, the common thread throughout CSIA’s activities has been to raise the bar of knowledge and performance for those involved. To that end, CSIA is committed to:

  • Improving the business skills of its members
  • Helping integration firms of all sizes, engineering specialties, product experience and industry knowledge share their collective business wisdom to help control their individual destinies
  • Providing a forum to discuss common business issues
  • Enhancing the professionalism of independent control and information system integrators
  • Communicating the resulting benefits to the broad business community.


CSIA At a Glance

First meeting: 1993

First meeting attendees and founders:

  • Thomas W. Barton, Trola Industries Inc.
  • Charlie Bergman, Technical Marketing
  • Jan Bergman, Controls Unlimited Inc.
  • Michael J. Beringer, Metra Instruments Inc.
  • Glenn Buck, Applied Control Systems Inc.
  • Dale Caster, Square D
  • Don Eckert, Y-E-P Industries Inc.
  • Larry Ethridge, Topro Inc.
  • Calvin Ferguson, Babcock & Wilcox Inc.
  • Jack Grenard, Carefree Communications
  • Jaime D. Jordan, Applied Industrial Automation Inc.
  • Richard Lamb, Control Concepts, Inc.
  • Tony Leszczynski, Square D
  • Frank J. Lid, Manufacturing Resources, Inc.
  • Larry MacDonald, GE-Fanuc Automation, N.A. Inc.
  • Alan Maciejewski, Y-E-P Industries, Inc.
  • Ray McKinney, Allen-Bradley
  • Pat Miller, Engineered Energy Solutions
  • Stan New, New Technology Inc.
  • Chung Park, Metra Instruments Inc.
  • John Pittman, Computer Products Inc.
  • Chip Rennie, Automation Application Inc.
  • John W. Robertson, RoviSys Co.
  • Donald Steberl, Automation Controls Inc.
  • Robert Visner, RoviSys Co.
  • Thomas L. Wilson, Programmable Control Services Inc.
  • George Winstead, Siemens Industrial Automation Inc.
  • Robert Zeigenfuse, Advanced Automation Associates Inc.

Founded: 1994

Founding members: 25

Current members: 500+ in 35 countries

Member type: SIs > 430; Vendor partners > 110.

Original content can be found at Control Engineering.

Author Bio: Lisa Richter is industry director for the Control System Integrators Association in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. CSIA.