Choosing a Systems Integrator
by John C. Pfeiffer, P.E.
Pfeiffer Engineering Co., Inc.

The selection of a Systems Integrator (SI) is one of the most critical decisions you’ll have to make during the course of a project.  Unfortunately, the process of evaluating and selecting an SI partner has become increasingly difficult since the market has been growing at an unprecedented pace over the past decade. 

Companies offering systems and software expertise sprouted like dandelions, offering expertise for a variety of industrial applications and processes.  Often, their process knowledge was not up to par with their knowledge of system hardware and software. Experience in the automation field for some is lacking and for others experience as a company is severely lacking. And that is where the trouble can began. Today, we need to do our homework before we select an SI. The following are suggestions on how to determine which SI is right for you.

SI’s come in all sizes and types, some very large and some small.  Some are based upon an engineering firm background, other with an electrical contractor background and still others with a machine builder background.  Some primarily work with material handling, some specialize in discrete manufacturing, while other specialize in process control.

It is important to ensure that the SI is credible. Are they recognized as System Integrators by equipment and software companies? Do they participate in certification programs? Are they a registered engineering firm? System Integration is engineering in the truest since.

The following lists contain practical guidelines and questions that should be considered before deciding to invest your trust - and money - with a systems integrator. You can also invest in the Control & Information Systems Integrator Association’s two volume “Guide for Selection & Working with a Control System Integrator” which outlines a more detailed and definitive process for selection. See for details.


1.    Choose an established SI (at least five years old) and check their references.

2.    Choose an SI who has a defined and well-established project implementation methodology.

3.    Choose an SI who is a registered engineering firm.

4.    Choose an SI who is dedicated to making their solutions work perfectly for your application.  If you have worked with an SI who has stuck with a difficult application, regardless of financial consequences to them – hire them again!

5.    Check that the SI has the right technology alliances.  Strong alliances with hardware and software vendors give the SI and their clients added support, which is critical to a project’s success.

6.    However, insist on independence from hardware or software sales income.  An SI who manufactures the hardware and software may lack impartiality in component selection decisions.

7.    Be sure that the SI can do the whole systems job.  One company should be responsible for control hardware, application software, control strategy, panels, PLC’s or DCS, factory acceptance tests, field instrument calibration, startup, training and documentation.  If this is not the case, you risk losing accountability if things go wrong.

Questions to Ask

1.    What amount of experience do you have with our industry and processes?

2.    What amount of experience do you have with the hardware and software used in our plant, or with the systems we plan to use?

3.    How does your company handle multiple projects?  Who do you have on the bench for backup?

4.    Is your staff comprised of hardware, software and task specialists, or does your company cross-train engineers?

5.    Which engineer(s) would be assigned if the project were to begin today? Do they use a team approach?  Do they have outstanding commitments, which may interfere with our project schedule?  How will your company handle this situation?

6.    Will you provide software source listings and programs?  Will we have the capability to make future modifications in-house, or will be dependent on the SI from here on out?

7.    Ask for samples of documentation packages the SI has done.

8.    Ask for specific references.

9.    Does the SI have prior application software experience at the required level?  To what extent does the SI test software before installation? Does the SI use process simulation software to verify the operation of your system before installation?

10.           Once the field is narrowed to 2, ask to have your company’s project engineers visit the SI’s offices, and meet the project engineer most likely to be assigned.  Since they will be working very closely together, it is important for good chemistry to exist.


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