CSIA Certification: Path to Business Improvement

by Tom Adams, VP Safety, Quality and Compliance

Since CSIA (Control System Integrators Association) first introduced its certification program, we have been an enthusiastic supporter, including being part of the latest pilot certification program for Release 5 of the Best Practices manual. Our first certification was awarded in 2002, and we’ve been re-certified every three years since. We recognized at the outset the establishment of best practices and benchmarks was going to be a key factor in successfully growing our business. And we were right.

What is CSIA Certification?

Unlike many other business certifications, CSIA looks beyond the quality of the product, the way a program such as ISO does. CSIA looks at the entire business process for system integration, from sales to invoicing, parsing business into ten areas, as follows:

  • General Management
  • Project Management
  • Financial Management
  • Human Resources Management 
  • Supporting Activities 
  • Quality Assurance Management
  • Marketing, Business Development, and Sales Management
  • System Development Lifecycle
  • Service and Support
  • Information Systems Management and Cyber Security

Distributed across this array of business categories are almost 300 criteria that make up the organization’s best practices, which forms the foundation of the certification audit. Companies may be audited on a subset of those criteria, as we are.

The audit process, which must be repeated every three years in order to maintain certification, involves an independent auditor, screened and approved by CSIA based on their knowledge of the system integration business. The auditor spends about a day and a half reviewing policies, interviewing subject matter experts, and examining supporting material.

Upon completion, the auditor provides an audit report that determines if the integrator meets the acceptable score for that size business and provides suggestions for areas of improvement. The audit is strictly pass-fail, with no scores published. A firm that falls short in some areas has six months to make adjustments/improvements to complete the audit process.

Benefits of Certification

CSIA and most of the members have long touted the benefits of certification to the end users of our integration services. These focus on the assurances certification gives that an integrator is conducting their business according to best practices, and the peace of mind that accompanies such assurances. But the greatest benefits accrue to the integrators themselves.

The certification process forces us to keep improving our business in the areas of structured best practices. The audit will identify weaknesses and shortcomings that could affect ultimate success. One example of a shortcoming identified in an early audit of ours was succession planning. The company moved to correct that, which came into play when a senior manager passed away a few years later. Another area that would be helpful to most businesses is cash flow and the importance of monitoring financial KPIs much more closely in order to keep a proper level of cash flow. Structuring our risk management system throughout our business processes as defined in the BP&B Manual has helped us identify and contain our risks much more quickly and effectively

We come away from every audit encouraged by the improvements that we can make in our business operations. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t take advantage of this process to improve their business and differentiate themselves from the non-certified integrators.

Having a Successful Audit Process 

My suggestions for making the process successful are as follows: 

  • The most important factor is the assignment of a champion for the process, someone who cares deeply about it and is willing to commit to seeing the process through. 
  • The process will take time to build on, have patience.
  • Don’t overthink it; most of the elements required for the audit are likely already in place. You just need to collect them.
  • You can request a pre-audit in order to help you identify all the material you will need to support the process.
  • CSIA offers classes to help you prepare. Take advantage of them.

For integrators who want to support their growth with organizational structure, the CSIA certification process is the best program out there. We find opportunities for improvements in every audit, and our corporate culture is such that we’re committed to making those improvements happen. Since becoming part of the certification process, our business has easily tripled in size, and we are looking to continue that growth in the future.