System integrators looking to improve customer relations, skills gap

CFE Media’s interviews of three representatives from the 2018 System Integrators of the Year focus on what makes a good customer, what needs to be done to address the skills gap, and what their customers are looking for.


The 2018 System Integrators of the Year met at the Digital Manufacturing and Design Institute (DMDII) in Chicago. They are (from left), John Glenski of Automation Plus, Jason Savoie of Burrow Global, and Arturo Freydig of ECN Automation. Courtesy: Katie Spain, CFE MediaCFE Media interviewed representatives from the 2018 System Integrators of the Year-Burrow Global, Automation Plus, and ECN Automation-about what makes a good system integrator, how they attract talent, and what their customers in the market are telling them they need for a successful project.

What makes a good customer for a system integrator? What should manufacturers do to prepare for an integration project in order for it to be more successful?

Grant Mitchell, CEO, Automation Plus: One that's really strategic and is absolutely important so they're really out there planning. And of course that's really essential so really beginning with that in mind. So if we can actually paint that vision, boy, that's really just a knockout customer and that's what we're looking for.

Jason Savoie, EVP, automation, Burrow Global: We are most successful when we're able to fully collaborate and to fully integrate with a customer base so customers don't look at automation as a commodity but understand there is a real value to what we do and actually invite us to the table. So when we're able to participate with them in the very beginning we can help them forecast their spend plan for five years and help them integrate their projects into their turnaround schedules and into everything else they're doing.

Arturo Freydig, director general, ECN Automation: It's very important to understand what the customer's needs are and what kind of technology they feel will fulfill all the necessities.

Finding qualified personnel remains one of manufacturing's most difficult issues. How do you go about recruiting, training, and retaining skilled engineers? How has that process changed in the last few years?

Nigel James, president of automation, Burrow Global: We believe in hiring and developing young talent. Unfortunately, many young people do not find system integration as exciting as working in high tech. It is critical that we reach out to this population and get them excited about automation. Having a vibrant mentoring program is a key element of this, and we are working to build processes that engage entry-level new hires and give them access to industry veterans.

Mitchell: There is a war on talent. We know that. So what we have really been doing and focusing on is employee engagement; it's one of our strategic priorities. We just went through strategic planning this past year and employee engagement is absolutely essential. We monitor training, we look at the dollars that we spend, we get very specific and very strategic about that as well. We have co-op programs and we're bringing those folks in and we have found that now employees are seeking us out.

Freydig: What is amazing in the last few years is that new engineers learn this job very fast. I remember years ago we needed more than one year to have a fully developed engineer, but now in six months they are really ready for our process and they are very enthusiastic.

What are your customers telling you in the market that they need?

John Glenski, president, Automation Plus: I think a lot of what we hear from our clients is they hear about Internet of Things (IoT), they hear about Industrie 4.0, and they're really looking at how we can turn data into value. There's a lot of data acquisition (DAQ), but how do they turn that into true business metrics? How can we utilize it to really improve our plant operations and processes?

Are you starting to see people being more comfortable with the idea of investing in manufacturing after a long period where they kind of put things on the back burner?

Freydig: We are focused on the process industry such as food and beer, chemical, mining, and so on, and what I saw is with prices increasing, they have more money to invest in their processes.

Return on investment (ROI) is very important even more so today in manufacturing, and it is part of the process you are tasked with. It's not just bringing in equipment anymore.

Savoie: That's correct. We're integrating it in several fronts now. We're not just integrating hardware anymore. More and more, we're having to provide an integrated team to the customer as well as really bring our knowledge to the table to help them full forecast that cost.

Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media,


Keywords: System integration, skills gap, IoT

Collaboration and a clear vision are major priorities form system integrators who embark on a project with a customer.

There is demand for young engineers to narrow the skills gap and integrators are making it a strategic priority.

Customers are becoming more comfortable with investing in manufacturing and investing in their processes and improving their return on investment (ROI).

Consider this

What will be the biggest priority for system integrators going into 2019?

ONLINE extra

Learn more about the 2018 System Integrator of the Year winners below.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2017 Top Plant.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
February 2018
2017 Product of the Year winners, retrofitting a press, IMTS and Hannover Messe preview, natural refrigerants, testing steam traps
March 2018
SCCR, 2018 Maintenance study, and VFDs in a washdown environment.
Jan/Feb 2018
Welding ergonomics, 2017 Salary Survey, and surge protection
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
February 2018
Focus on power systems, process safety, electrical and power systems, edge computing in the oil & gas industry
December 2017
Product of the Year winners, Pattern recognition, Engineering analytics, Revitalize older pump installations
April 2018
Implementing a DCS, stepper motors, intelligent motion control, remote monitoring of irrigation systems
February 2018
Setting internal automation standards
December 2017
PID controllers, Solar-powered SCADA, Using 80 GHz radar sensors

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

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