Editor's Choice

Choosing a system integrator

January 2024 Editor's Choice System Integration & Control Systems Design

Automation is an essential part of manufacturing today. Large manufacturers generally have in-house engineering teams to carry out their automation; but most small- and medium-sized processors don’t have this luxury. Some need to migrate their legacy control systems, while others want smaller system upgrades to improve their processes and reduce downtime. Whatever the size, an upgrade or migration project can be complex, and the risks can be high. This is where system integrators (SIs) can help. They can bring together complex subsystems or components of a larger system and make them run as a whole. They bridge the gaps between different technologies, software and hardware to make all of the pieces of a system work together seamlessly. Its big business. The global system integration market was valued at $354 billion in 2022, and is expected to grow annually at 14% through to 2030.

Selecting the right system integrator is crucial for the success of a project − it can make or break it − but it can be a daunting task. So what makes one system integrator stand out from the others? Basically a good integration partner will understand your vision and goals, and help you design, implement and manage your integration project. Here are some pointers for choosing the right one.

Define your goals

Start by understanding your own objectives so you can give your SI direction and make sure your project is in line with your business goals. You could ask yourself these questions:

• Why are you considering integration?

• What business outcome do you want? Is it improving efficiency, expanding capabilities, or maybe introducing innovation?

• What KPIs should the integration help you achieve? These could include growth targets, customer responses, or internal performance measures?

• Are there any protocols or accreditations that your project has to meet?

• How will you evaluate the success of the project?

Experience and track record

The breadth of experience of a SI involves much more than just the number of years in business. It‘s a combination of qualified manpower, excellent project management ability, and an understanding of the customer’s business drivers. Select a system integrator who can match your project’s requirements and company’s culture.

Look for one with a list of successful projects in the areas you want. Check out their references. Feedback from past clients can give invaluable insight into the SI’s professional conduct, technical expertise and problem-solving skills. Find out how long they have been in your field. Being competent and well-known for one type of work doesn’t mean they can do the same for you. Here are some more areas to check out.

• Do they have knowledge specific to your industry? This can reduce the learning curve and make the integration process smoother.

• Do they have case studies and success stories to give insight into their problem-solving approach, their strategies, and the outcomes they achieved?

• Do they have a proactive strategy for risk mitigation, or is their approach to problem-solving reactive?

• Can they provide examples of challenges or lessons learned from previous projects?

• Do they have the resources to support the project?

• How do they manage changes in the scope of a project?

• What is their methodology for implementing a project?

• How do they handle migration of a complex system with minimal downtime?

• Do they offer startup support? To what extent?

• How is system knowledge transferred to plant people? Do they involve technicians and key plant operators during startup?

• Is their team available to provide 24/7/365 support?

• How do they follow up with original equipment manufacturers on standards?

• Have they implemented any sustainability projects? Can they share best practices?

Who’s on the team

Interview the lead project engineer and find out who will be on your team. Be sure to lock them in on your project. The lead project engineer can make or break the project, choose wisely. Focus on their knowledge, techniques and skills. Make sure the staff the system integrator intends to bring in have the knowledge and experience to handle your project.

Technical capabilities

Understanding the technical ability of a prospective partner is crucial to ensure they can meet the specific demands of your project.

Questions to ask are:

• What tools, platforms and technologies do they rely on for integration? These tools should align with your existing infrastructure or be easily adaptable to your needs.

• What procedures and protocols do they have in place to ensure that the integration solutions are robust, reliable and meet set standards?

Project management

Project management capability is vital. Without it, you risk ending up with a series of separate projects that are not integrated with the rest of your organisation. How do they plan, execute and oversee integration projects? Their approach can offer insights into their organisational maturity, efficiency and adaptability.


The cost of the control system and the system integration in an automation project is typically a small portion of the total cost. The SI’s pricing should be competitive but there’s more to it than that. An integrator with a proven track record of successfully delivering projects like yours on time and on budget is worth way more than the relatively small amount of money you might save going with the low cost option.

Look for over-promises

Get the SI to prove that they understood your requirements, didn’t underestimate the project, and have experience with similar projects. If you get a lower price than expected, dig into where their staff will be coming from and any possible implications.


Given the sensitive nature of integrated systems, you need a system integrator who will ensure you and your customers and partners are protected. It’s essential to understand how they will ensure the security of your data and system processes. This includes encryption, access control and regular security audits.


These answers can help you understand the SI’s technical capability and set the stage for a successful project. Rather than focusing on the project with tunnel vision, a good SI should be an extension of the manufacturer’s engineering team, bringing new ideas to the table and contributing by listening, advising and educating the members on how to reduce manufacturing costs and improve product quality.

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