Systems Integration

For the last twenty years or so I have worked in the controls, machine building and systems integration fields, generally involved with automation on some level. I understand the controls and machine building part, they are pretty self-explanatory and descriptive really, but what is “Systems Integration”? I see ads in the paper advertising for systems integrators and they usually sound more like IT jobs to me.

The job I am currently involved with is a great example of what I would consider systems integration. On a low level there is the tieing together of devices that communicate using different protocols; RS-232, Ethernet and Ethernet/IP, several proprietary languages from different vendors etc. On a higher level there is the connection and interfacing of fairly self-contained systems and machinery. There are even mechanical systems that interface by pressing a plunger in as a vehicle comes up against a hard stop, lowering a safety pin to allow components to transit from one system to another. Really anytime you have to make two components interact or communicate with each other you are integrating systems.

With Systems Integration comes the ability to create. There are decisions to be made on the best and most seamless method of interfacing different things together. Often these decisions have to be reconsidered as the system grows, its almost as if you are designing a living organism. There are often very simple and very complex ways to do the same thing. Usually simple is best, but there are exceptions to this, often relating to the choice of components.

Much of the integration does end up being software related in the end. I guess thats why so many of the ads in the paper seem to be looking for programmers and IT guys, but without experience in the hardware and specification fields it isn’t enough to simply know software. Integrators often end up not being programmers at all but more of a combination of project manager and applications engineer. There are several companies in my area that advertise themselves as “Systems Integrators” but don’t really get involved with the hardware end at all. Personally I enjoy the variety that comes with doing a little bit of everything.

Happy Integrating!


Electrical Engineer and business owner from the Nashville, Tennessee area. I also play music, Chess and Go.