What Value Does an Integrator Add?
|Victoria Wollenberg – Author|
Business Development Coordinator
What is an Integrator?
There are many distinct types of solution providers within the vast industry we refer to as material handling; Forklift dealers, allied equipment catalog distributors, ergonomic equipment specialists, software suppliers, and Material Handling System Integrators. Many providers claim they do it all. The reality is that each of these types of companies have their specialization but the the integrator is the specialist who in essence is the general contractor to bring all these segments together.
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Their specialty is to provide single source accountability by offering the expertise to design a system based on the client’s needs, without bias to a particular technology or solution, and ultimately be responsible for that performance of the system after it is installed and operational.
Have you ever built a house?
Imagine you and your significant other decide to build your dream home. You have spent years building a library of pictures, photos from the many road trips, piles of catalogs from Home Depot, ACE Hardware, Lowes, and the many specialty shops reflect your own personal taste and style. Now you are faced with two tasks: a.) How do I design something that will function within my tastes and for my family and our lifestyle and b.) How can I maximize the budget that I have available for our project?
Some parallels can be drawn between a Architects and Designers when comparing the “Pre-Implementation” phase design services offered by an Integrator. Just as a designer or architect works to maximize the design and layout around your requirements an integrator will often take the same type of approach during the discovery, analysis, and design phases of a Design Build project.
This is the best analogy to define in real life “Delivery Phase” of what a “Systems Integrator” offers is that we often take on the role of a General Contractor in a sense.
What does a materials handling “general contractor” or as we call it an integrator do that you can’t do alone? I love this definition (paraphrased) from Wikipedia:
The general contractor is a manager employed by the client on the advice of the client’s team leader, engineer or the architectural technologist or the client him/herself if acting as the manager. A general contractor is responsible for the overall coordination of a project.The general contractor considers the cost of home office overhead, general conditions, materials and equipment as well as the cost of labor to provide the owner with a price for the project.
The general contractor may be the construction manager or construction manager at risk.
Drawing the parallel to our industry
The Integrator is a solutions provider employed by the client who is responsible for the overall coordination of a project. The integrator considers the cost of facility overhead and operating expense, business rules and service levels, processes and technologies to provide the client with an investment level for the project that fits a projected return on investment.
An integrator reduces risk. How so?
An integrator is responsible for providing all of the material, labor, equipment (such as conveyor, storage media, and software) and services necessary for the construction of the project. The integrator hires specialized best in breed subcontractors where applicable to perform all or portions of the construction work.
Responsibilities may include reviewing metrics, designing the overall system, simulating the system to prove the solution, procuring the equipment and related hardware, applying for building permits, managing personnel on site, providing site management and engineering, monitoring schedules/milestones, cash flows, and maintaining accurate records.
Today integrators frequently participate on the design team by providing pre-design services such as providing estimations of the budget and scheduling requirements to be sure that the client receives the largest ROI on the project. In other cases the integrator is hired at the close of the design phase. The client and integrator work closely together to refine and value engineer the solution, vet all options, to meet performance criteria, deadlines and budget. The integrator also works with subcontractors to ensure quality standards are met.
Even the most perfectly hatched plans will encounter surprises
One of the most significant value propositions of working with an integrator is that the integrator will provide single source accountability. If there is an issue with the design it can be corrected immediately through alternations and not place blame on a 3rd party and “their design”.
If there is an issue with how something can be implemented such as is often the case with a brown field or retrofit project. Working closely with an integrator can help mitigate risk by being the go to person accountable for any unplanned disruptions. It’s not “if” a problem occurs, but “when” and how it’s handled. An integrator is your Go-to-Guy who can be held accountable for prompt resolutions or changes that are required on the fly due to unforeseen operational requirements that change the initial project plan.
Bringing it all together
The success of a project hinges on how well individual parts, and the people responsible for them, come together as a cohesive whole.
It all begins with a project champion: Someone who acts as the single point of contact between teams responsible for the project, oversees the project from initiation to commissioning, and who is critical to a project’s success and ongoing support. In building the business case for a project, the champion must be sure to articulate its impact and value to all stakeholders in an organization. From the very beginning, it’s important that the champion sets realistic expectations and then drives the project to successful completion.