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The CSIA Annual Conference – What We Learned

I recently attended the Control Systems Integrator Association (CSIA) 2015 Executive Conference in Washington DC, April 29 – May 1. Since I’d attended these events before, I had high expectations for a well run conference with lots of useful information and networking opportunities. I was not disappointed! Here are a few things I learned…

The conference opening session featured Alan Beaulieu, President of the Institute for Trend Research (ITR). ITR is the oldest, privately-held economic research and consulting firm in the U.S. They provide economic forecasts and help companies improve profitability in any business climate. Mr. Beaulieu has been the opening session speaker for CSIA conferences many times. He’s a great speaker because of his wit, upbeat attitude and forecast accuracy.

Mr. Beaulieu started out by saying that NOW is a good time to be in business and opportunities for growth abound! Although the rate of growth in the U.S. economy is relatively slow, the economy is growing. He expressed frustration that in spite of this fact, 65% of Americans believe we are still in a recession. Low oil prices, increasing energy independence and low interest rates make this a good time to grow a business in the U.S. However, because decades of ITR research show that economic downturns occur every ~10 years, we know that one is coming again in 2018/2019. Luckily, this dip will not be as deep and painful as the one in 2008/2009. Mr. Beaulieu stated that interest rates will creep up into the 4-5% range by 2018, so now is the time to borrow and lock in a fixed rate.

Mr. Beaulieu also reiterated an ominous prediction he has heralded for years regarding a “perfect storm” of global economic decline (worldwide debt, aging populations, high interest rates and other factors). The tipping point comes in about 15 years and the U.S. will not escape without significant pain. His advice — live below your means now, get out of debt by 2028 and look for buying opportunities while the economy is depressed. Doing so will help you weather the storm and open up pathways for wealth creation afterward.

Attorney Mark Voigtmann with Faegre Baker Daniels, spoke about control system integrator (CSI) legal emergencies he has dealt with for more than a decade, presenting a candid look at some interesting and odd real-life situations. With tongue in cheek he made sure that names were changed to protect the guilty! First, he challenged the mentality that “the customer is always right” as one that often gets companies into trouble. Other points he made: * assume all emails are or will become public * document every project delay and event; this will come in handy if/when things “go south” * lawyers are NOT in the truth business; they are in the business of saving their client’s proverbial you-know-what’s!

I picked up other pointers on engaging staff in creating website content and developing project proposals that not only LOOK good but ARE good. I came home with a few ideas on improving our employee handbook and know that I really need to read through the CSIA Best Practices Manual again as a refresher. There is always room for improvement.

CSIA is an interesting organization. Many of the members of the organization are competitors, yet every year we gather to learn from each other and share ideas. Members derive different benefits from belonging to CSIA depending on what they need. We’ve gotten to know some great people, found some good resources through membership and have used CSIA tools to improve NorthWind. For example, we became a CSIA Certified Integrator 5 years ago and are looking forward to being re-certified in 2016. The certification process has improved our internal procedures and use of best business practices. As a result, we are better able to serve our customer’s needs and provide a more secure, stimulating environment for our employees.

Attending conferences like the one in Washington DC helps us keep up-to-date and is refreshing. Next year’s conference April 19-22 in Puerto Rico. It’s too soon to know if we will be able to attend, but we will continue to use the resources and relationships gained through CSIA. Now if I can just remember where I put that Best Practices Manual…