Design Consultants vs. Systems Integrator: What’s the Difference?
The design build process, while an exciting time, can also be pretty overwhelming. Between discovery & analysis, design, implementation, and lifecycle support considerations, there are a lot of moving pieces for a warehouse manager to juggle. It’s of little surprise, that many warehouse managers choose to work with a systems integrator or warehouse design consultant while designing their facility.
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What exactly is the difference between a warehouse design consultant and a systems integrator, and which one is the best fit for your upcoming project? Below, we discuss the similarities and differences between the two so that you can choose the right partner for your needs.
Similarities Between Warehouse Design Consultants & Systems Integrators
Though the titles “systems integrator” and “warehouse design consultant” sound pretty different, the truth of the matter is that at their core there are a number of similarities.
At their heart, both systems integrators and warehouse design consultants are concerned with helping you make your operation as efficient and productive as possible. They do this by leveraging their breadth of knowledge and experience gained from years of working with many different storage mediums, process flows, and technologies.
Even though their methods for achieving results are different, systems integrators and warehouse design consultants both perform many of the same tasks, including:
- Analysis of your existing systems to see what is working and what needs to be improved.
- Review of critical data such as your planning horizon, expected business growth, item master and order history, information about your SKUs, and more depending on the project.
- Recommendations for the design and layout of your facility, with an eye towards streamlining processes and the flow of materials.
- Recommendations for different technologies that can make your facility more efficient and productive, which may include sortation systems, packaging and shipping technologies, conveyance, and more.
- Implementation of your design, systems, and technologies.
- Training your personnel on the best practices in regards to operating any new systems and technology.
- Lifecycle support after your system has been fully integrated and pushed live.
Differences Between Warehouse Design Consultants & Systems Integrators
Despite the large overlap in terms of experience and tasks performed, there are some key differences between a warehouse design consultant and a systems integrator that you should keep in mind.
The primary point of difference between systems integrators and warehouse design consultants is the focus of their work. A systems integrator is primarily focused on implementing systems and technologies that will allow your warehouse or DC to be as efficient and productive as possible.
A design consultant, on the other hand, is likely to take a broader view of your business as a whole. In addition to your warehouse, they might also focus on other larger corporate strategies in order to better understand how they can help you meet your business goals.
It is also important to note that systems integrators often have relationships with vendors of various technologies, while design consultants typically do not. This can be beneficial because a quality systems integrator may be able to leverage their relationships with vendors in order to provide additional cost savings on technology and equipment.
While it is true that a reputable systems integrator will offer their unbiased opinion when it comes time to make recommendations on various technologies, it is very possible for the integrator to have a preference in who they feel more comfortable working with. That being said, this concern speaks more to the quality and reputation of individual systems integrators than it does to the profession as a whole and in the end the overall recommendations of the integrator should be for the benefit of the customer.
It is also important to keep in mind that systems integrators and design consultants often charge differently for their services. Whereas working with a consultant is typically a paid engagement right from the beginning of your relationship, most of the time a systems integrator will provide at least some level of analysis up front without any compensation. This will of course have an impact on the ultimate budget for your project, so it’s important to understand your budget constraints before you start any engagement.
How to Choose the Right Partner for Your Project
Whether it makes more sense for you to work with a systems integrator or a warehouse design consultant will vary from operation to operation and from project to project. To help yourself determine which partner is right for your needs, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- What kind of analysis are you looking to get out of the engagement? If you are primarily concerned with just your warehouse or DC, or with certain technologies, then working with a systems integrator is likely to work well. If you want a more in depth analysis of your overall business structure, workflows, and more, then a warehouse design consultant will likely be a better choice to help you meet your goals.
- Do you have a tight budget? If so, then you may want to seek out a systems integrator who will be able to offer some basic analysis up front without charge so that you can be certain that you are happy with their work before agreeing to an engagement, versus a design consultant who will charge for their time from the first conversation.
- Are you looking for a short-term or long-term partnership? Both a systems integrator and a warehouse design consultant will play critical roles in the design of your facility and the implementation of your systems, and both are invested in the short- and long-term success of your project. But because the integrator is responsible for the technical application of equipment and systems that are the heart of the operation, they will have the best understanding to help you make adjustments and changes as time goes on and business requirements change. They will also provide lifecycle support as an integral part of their solution. If you are looking for a partner who has a vested interest in the ongoing support of your operation, then a systems integrator may be a better fit.
While sometimes there is concern that some integrators or warehouse consultants may have a bias toward certain automation technology suppliers, this can be avoided by choosing a partner who prides themselves on integrity, and who has solid references from other successful projects within your vertical industry.
Moreover it is important to trust your gut—often, it is easy to see if a potential design consultant or systems integrator is staffed with people who will put the concerns and needs of the customer first. A quick gut-check is often all you need in order to make the right decision.
The Bottom Line
Though warehouse design consultants and systems integrators both perform very similar tasks, they each have their own specialty when it comes to a design build project. Which one you choose as your ultimate partner will depend on a number of factors, including budget, the level of business analysis you need, and more.