Material Handling Consultants, Integrators, Manufacturers
Defining the roles of these types of companies
We are often asked who should “run point” when a client determines it is time to upgrade an existing facility or consider a new location to meet their supply chain requirements. How might they move forward with professionals who will provide a solution without a product bias, or a predetermined template.
Should the starting point be a consultant, an integrator, a manufacturer, or even a cross-functional team?
Our clients tell us that ideally they want experience, knowledge, access to an entire range of hardware and software solutions, and accountability for the finished product.
If I manufacture a family of products, I can theoretically “fit” those products into an endless range of solutions. The end result will probably work, and ostensibly meet the needs of the client. We (and the client) would prefer to do more than simply “meet their needs” – we want the optimum solution. There are many wonderful products, systems, and technologies available today. There are both significant and subtle performance differences in these offerings. Subtle differences translate into significant bottom line improvements.
Contracting independently with a manufacturer presents its own challenges
Who is responsible for what? Or more specifically, who is accountable for “system” integration and performance. Where does the buck stop? I’ve long made the case for consideration of the true “systems integrator”. The systems integrator has been down that road many times in correctly marrying multiple products, including hardware, software, controls, WMS, WCS, etc. Fitting these together fluently is the integrator’s role. Trying to hold one product provider accountable for everything upstream and downstream is neither realistic nor practical.
What about consultants?
We have worked with many consultants through the years. Some see the services provided by the consultant as the precursor to what the systems integrator does. I’d make the case for not separating the two. Systems integrators offer the same substantial front-end data capture and quality analytical work which the consultant fulfills. You have the entire package of services already available from a single source, the systems integrator. Why try to reconcile and coordinate information, communication, and accountability among various parties?
True integrators are multi-disciplinary. They don’t expect you to ride herd over various parties.
The systems integrator has a wealth of knowledge to tap. They deal with virtual every aspect of a project from understanding the problem, to identifying, implementing, and maintaining the solution. When you sign up with an integrator, ideally that is a long term commitment on the part of both parties to support the client’s continuous improvement.
Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.