CSIA Event Reaches Critical Mass

Our Sr. Technical Editor, Dan Hebert, has sent in the following report about the spring meeting of the CSIA.

The Control System Integrators Association (CSIA, www.controlsys.org) recently held its annual meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., April 25-28. With the advent of single-vendor events and the demise of certain large horizontal events, the process automation industry has been searching for a place to meet and network.

The annual CSIA event has become just such a place, with attendance nearing 500 industry movers and shakers. Unlike a single-vendor event, many different suppliers are represented. For this year’s event, 50 exhibitors took part, many of them direct competitors, such as Rockwell Automation and Siemens.

The system integrators in attendance represented most of the largest such firms in North America, with most all of them maintaining a non-aligned stance with respect to vendor partners. Not only were the integrators there in force, most every one of them sent their leaders, typically the founder/owner and other key personnel.

This combination of multiple vendors and key system integrator personnel creates an event ideal for networking, maybe the closest thing to a one-stop shop in the process automation industry for meeting the right people in one place at one time. This is particularly true for end users with new capital projects, as the event provides a venue for meeting both prospective integrators and vendors.

The industry is taking notice, with the event growing at a breakneck pace. Your correspondent remembers attending CSIA events held in roadside motels with a handful of attendees, specifically 23 attendees at the inaugural event in 1994. As recently as 2010 there were 300 attendees, indicating a very strong growth rate over the last two years despite a tough economy.

This growth rate can be attributed to a number of factors. First, industry participants value vendor independence and are willing to spend time and money to attend an event not aligned with a single provider. Second, control system integrators, particularly those certified by CSIA, are seen by end users as valuable partners for new projects.

Third, attendees value the CSIA format, one that combines many opportunities for networking with business-oriented presentations. Other events do an excellent job of explaining technical details, particularly the ISA conferences, but CSIA has relentlessly focused on the business side of automation, setting the event and the organization apart.

Last and most important, the event has reached critical mass, defined as the point where enough important people attend that others feel that they have to be there, both for networking and business development purposes.

Along with growth of the event, CSIA is also seeing strong growth of its organization, with 400 member companies comprised of 331 integrator members and 69 partner members, primarily vendors. Of this total membership, 18.5% are based outside of the United Sates, and total membership has increased 27% from 2009 through year-end 2011.

For those who like to plan in advance, CSIA 2013 will be held May 1–4, 2013, in St. Petersburg, Fla, and CSIA 2014 will be staged from April 23–26, 2014 in San Diego, Calif. If your company exclusively uses one vendor and its partners, then the appropriate single-vendor event might provide more value than a CSIA event. But if your future business plans call for making lots of important and varied process automation industry system integrator and vendor contacts in a short amount of time in one place, then mark the dates on your calendar.