Q&A with Bob Lowe

Executive Director—CSIA

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What is a control system integrator?

Control system integrators design and implement sophisticated control systems for manufacturing and industrial facilities. Using their knowledge of engineering, information technology, and business, control system integrators integrate plant equipment and automate manufacturing processes. Automation helps manufacturers and process industries reduce cost, increase production, use less energy, and lower environmental impact.

The Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) seeks to advance business practices of control system integration. CSIA helps members improve their business skills, provides a forum to share industry expertise, and promotes best practices for business management. Member companies that become CSIA Certified have demonstrated the highest level of professionalism and excellence.

Tell me about your personal history with CSIA.

In the early 90’s, I owned and operated a systems integrations company and was one of the founding members of CSIA. I was active in CSIA primarily on the best practices committee, and then, about five years ago, CSIA was searching for a new executive director. I decided to transition out of running a company to potentially fulfill that role. I went for it and I got it, and now here I am, four and a half years later.

What do you bring to the association?

I bring industry experience. The association management experts are located in our main office in Madison, and they’ve learned a lot about the system integration industry. I’ve learned a lot about how the association should run. CSIA is performing well and growing. We’re constantly finding new and better ways of bringing value to our members.

How are you growing?

We’re branching out and attempting to become more known and increase awareness in the marketplace as a whole, whether it’s in manufacturing, food and beverage, or oil and gas. We’re trying to increase awareness of CSIA. Not just the association, but also our CSIA certification program.

What are the benefits of a company achieving CSIA Certification?

CSIA Certification is the gold-seal mark of a professionally managed control system integration business. Certification reassures clients that the control system integrator is an established, successful professional services firm that wants to develop a successful, long-term partnership with clients.

What are the qualities of a CSIA-certified member?

The business practices of a CSIA Certified member are audited by our association, in such areas as project management, quality assurance, financial management, human resources, service and support, and so forth. To be a top-quality integrator, a company needs technical skills, but they also need good business management skills. CSIA’s focus is on business management skills. This is primarily what we do for our integrator members. We want to help them become better business people.

A company with a solid performance in addition to having good technical skills—engineering, design programming—is credible in the way they manage their company. That’s what reduces the risk for the industry client. Good technical skills increase the probability that an integrator will provide positive results for a project.

How do you gauge which markets CSIA serves on a regular basis?

Twice a year, CSIA conducts a survey in conjunction with JP Morgan, and the top markets that are served by system integrators globally. Most of the responses come from North America, but there’s a sampling from around the world, because CSIA has members in 27 countries. The top markets that our members serve are food and beverage, oil and gas, water and wastewater, metals, mining, aggregate and cement, and power and energy.

What kind of response have you received from your membership?

I solicited an open forum request among our membership and received an insightful response from Abhay Deshmukh of Logical Automation Solutions Pvt. Ltd., a CSIA member in India. His company also does business in the United States and serves the CNC equipment industry:

“Companies that keep track of concurrent innovation will find that they have great opportunities. There will be a miniaturization of CNCs on one hand, and on the other, huge machines will also need to be built. Retrofit of machines, even those 50 years old with good metallurgy, is a growing trend not only in India, but in the United States. The CNC controller drives and motors market is flooded with new entrants and giving the established biggies a run for their money. There is an opportunity if one adds the CAD/CAM, transfer line automation and shop floor monitoring through customized intelligent software for machine tools. While I’m not in a position to quantify the market size, I know the market is growing the world over.”