by Andrew Green, Business Development Manager
Every successful project requires the right combination of qualified personnel, tools, and the job scope itself. This is true for projects in any business, even down to seemingly miniscule tasks around the house. No one wants to have an electrician using carpenter’s tools to fix plumbing problems. Without the proper mix of these three elements, any project is destined for failure. This is especially true in control system projects; even more so because control systems require very specific skill sets to execute properly. In order to maximize value from a control system project, the blend of personnel, tools, and scope needs to fit the outcomes of the project as closely as possible to ensure successful delivery.
Scope of Work
The scope of work for a project determines what of the other two elements are required to perform the job properly. Without a well-rounded scope of work, the job is likely to go over budget in the bidding process due to the actual experts (the bidders) knowing what the job really requires more so than the author of the scope. Another issue that commonly arises is a scope of work that is vague. Oftentimes, owners and operators know the outcome they wish to achieve with a control system project but do not know the path to arrive at that final destination. Just like with any industry, control system integrators all operate a little bit differently from one another. A vague scope of work with three bidders is likely to have three completely different project approaches, and thus three vastly different prices. Another factor for consideration is who will take the majority of the contractor’s risk. Most control system integrators in the United States do not have the capability to take on projects with a large amount of electrical construction or perform front-end engineering and design assistance prior to the project’s bid.
One possible way to alleviate some risk here is to have a trusted control system integrator review the scope of work prior to advertising the project. Getting the opinion of a company that has successfully performed that kind of work in the past is often very beneficial in making sure that bidders are all approaching the job in the same way. This creates better competition and a greater chance of meeting the project’s budget. Another option is to review technical proposals from qualified control system integrators prior to discussing price. This process typically involves a pre-bid meeting and then technical proposal submittal and review. This could also include an interview with the system integrators to hear more about each particular approach to the job. Customers are enabled through this process to determine which approach best suits those needs and and has the best chance to achieve the desired outcomes.
Tools of the Trade
As previously mentioned, different control system integrators are going to approach projects in different ways. This is also true with the tools that each integrator brings to the table. There are some that are very good at small projects and small systems because they operate with very low overhead. However, that same company is not going to be able to execute a large project due to capacity constraints. Integrators exist that specialize in every single major industry because automation is a field that transcends the vast amount of industries in the world.
Determining the types of tools held by each integrator can be a tricky process. This is especially true if the integrator’s salespeople are performing their roles correctly. One thought is to ask for references from projects of similar scope and magnitude. Another example is if the project is being executed via a design-build process or will require a licensed electrical contractor.
The Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) prides itself on providing certifications to qualified integrators. This process includes a site audit, policies and procedures to follow, and best practices shared throughout the organization. CSIA certification is definitely something to look for when working to identify the proverbial tool bags of the preferred integrators.
In spite of the scope being well-documented and selecting integrators with the right tools, we still need to know who is really going to be working on the project. Does the integrator have enough capabilities in-house to perform the work properly? Will that integrator take full responsibility for the project or be passing too much of that back to the owner? Does the integrator even have experience with this specific control system? What company will work on the system once the project is complete? Are the requested products going to be available from anywhere (non-proprietary) or will the owner be locked in with one control system integrator for the entire life of the control system?
These are some of the questions that must be answered when selecting qualified personnel. One very effective screening tools is a prequalification process for the system integrators. Coming up with a list of questions and information required to be provided by all system integrators bidding on the project can be a great way to answer all of the questions above and a plethora of others. In contrast with the plumbing project at the beginning, qualified integrators are not always as easy to identify as an electrician, a carpenter, or a plumber. Prequalification ensures that those bidding on the project are genuinely interested in performing the work and maintain the capabilities necessary to deliver a quality system.
You want to receive maximum value. Credible and qualified integrators want to deliver maximum value. That’s their only path to future business. The key is to communicate your desired outcomes through a comprehensive scope of work and then to evaluate responses and ask questions to assure a match of tools and personnel to fit your project.