In the second episode of our CSIA Executive Conference series, meet Andrew Atchison, senior account executive at Miller Resource Group, Rick Pierro, president of the Life Science Division at E Tech Group, Sam Hoff, president and CEO at Patti Engineering, and Sean Phillips, senior project manager at Hargrove Controls & Automation. Together with Grace Clark, they discuss the conference and importance of CSIA, the changing system integration industry, and marketing in the SI industry.
Welcome to the Rivergate Marketing Podcast. In this episode, Grace Clark sits down live at the 2023 CSIA Executive Conference in New Orleans. Grace chats with Andrew Atchison of Miller Resource Group, Rick Piero of E Tech Group, Sam Hoff of Patti Engineering, and Sean Phillips of Hargrove Controls & Automation.
Andrew Atchison – Miller Resource Group
To get us started, if you could just say your name, your title, and what company you’re with.
I’m Andrew Atchison with the Miller Resource Group, and I’m a senior account executive.
Wonderful. And it’s your first time here at the conference?
Yes. First time here.
And so, what brings you?
I’m just here to learn as much as possible. We have some clients that are here and really just wanting to figure out the trends of what’s new and hoping to help these companies when it comes to talent acquisition.
What’s been your favorite part of the conference so far?
Besides the food? I would say the speed networking event that took place yesterday. Just being able to talk to as many people as possible, and learn what their favorite ice cream is. [laughs] No, but learning why they want to be here. And as I’ve noticed, everyone’s rooting for each other. So how can we collectively figure out how to continue ascending in the right direction?
Thinking about ascending in the right direction and the future, what are you most excited for in the future?
I think I’m just excited for these companies to keep collaborating and seeing that all of these companies bring something special to the table, which is going to allow automation to continue to grow and grow. We’re going to be attracting the next generation of talent into this as well, where it’s never going to die, and we’re going to continue to get more and more advanced.
My last question, because we’re a marketing group, I like to ask, why is marketing important to this industry?
Really just have to get this stuff out there. I went to Purdue, not an engineer, but I was surprised. I just didn’t know about this industry that it was out there. And being able to market it is key to then attract the next generation of talent.
Oh, absolutely. Yes, I had no idea what system integration was before. I’m not an engineer. So, you needed a little explaining first.
Exactly. Well, we joke that people will forget more than we’ll ever learn, but at the end of the day, it’s fun. It’s a good group of individuals, and as long as we have people that are able to get the word out there, just keep attracting more and more talent. It’s going to continue to ascend.
Rick Pierro – E Tech Group
To get us started, if you could just say your name, title, and what company you’re with.
I’m Rick Pierro. I’m president of the Life Science Division of E Tech Group.
What brings you to the CSIA conference?
I’ve been coming to the conference for 20 years. I think this might be 23 years or so. And I’m giving a talk tomorrow on the life cycle of a 30-year-old company and growing from zero to $150 million or so in revenue and what it’s like. And I know a lot of my friends have signed up to hear the talk, so I’m looking forward to that. But mostly it’s like a family reunion here, coming back after all these years and seeing all my friends in business that are here from around the world. It’s fabulous.
That’s amazing. What value do you see CSIA bringing to the industry?
CSIA, I would say, is a premier group in the country that sets the standards through the certification program for systems integrators. It also shares best value habits and systems and policies for a good systems integrator. And it really sets the standards for the premier systems integrators in the country. Automation is changing at such a rapid pace, so all the engineers have to keep up with it. There’s new technology, new software, but this organization is really focused on the engineering company as a whole and how to run the company and grow it, how to market, how to sell, how to do proposals in a safe manner and implement projects for customers, all types of manufacturing.
You mentioned the industry is changing. What are you looking forward to or what are you most excited about the future of the industry?
Oh, I think there’s a lot of excitement. I mean, we’re in life sciences. My division, I have 200 engineers in life sciences, and we’re part of E Tech Group which has over 500 engineers and 18 locations around the country. And it’s really exciting to see how fast we’re growing. The hardware is getting less and less expensive, it’s getting much more sophisticated, the more customers are able to afford to automate. We have a labor shortage in this country for people producing labor and the manufacturing plants. So there’s a big drive to automate all types of manufacturing processes in the biotech industry. You have to automate these systems, you can’t run them manually. And I’m really excited – one of the things that’s going to change the future is AI and some of the software that’s coming out with ChatGPT and AI. And we already see it being introduced to different systems. So that’s exciting to see what will happen in that area.
Since we’re a marketing company, I like to ask why do you think marketing is important to system integrators?
Oh, it’s extremely important. And frankly, a lot of engineers, most of these companies are run by engineers, including myself. And we’re not good at marketing. That’s something that we’re not accustomed to doing. So to outsource or find a good company that’s really good at marketing and understands engineering companies and the systems integration business in general is very, very helpful for us. And so, part of my talk tomorrow, I’m encouraging companies to find a good group that can help market their expertise to the public and do it in a cost effective, efficient way using LinkedIn and things of that sort, because we’ve had enormous success going out to outside groups like that.
Sam Hoff – Patti Engineering
To get us started, if you could just say your title, your name, and what company you’re with.
My name’s Sam Hoff, I’m president and CEO of Patti Engineering. We’ve been in business since 1991. It’s named after our CFO and my wife since 1991, Patti Hoff.
What brings you to the CSIA conference?
I love the CSIA conference. I went to the first CSIA conference in 1996. For me, that was my first, but I get so much out of the conference on just the business, the system integration, best practices in benchmarks. Since 1996, I’ve missed one conference.
Wow. Good attendance record. What have you been enjoying most so far?
I thought the two keynote speakers today were excellent. I think it was Mike Maddock, the first speaker today – very inspirational. And then I didn’t think we could get a better speaker, but JP Danelle and his whole presentation on leadership and his experience was just truly inspiring. I definitely think the book by his boss, Josh Wilnick, who I think has extreme ownership, and I can’t wait to read that book.
With this industry, there’s a lot of change happening. What are you most looking forward to or most excited about for the industry in the future?
We all call ourselves control system integrators. I don’t think there are any two businesses here that are exactly alike. Some people build panels as part of their operations. Some people do electrical stuff. Some people concentrate on higher-level engineering, some people do a lot of MES, SCADA. The future of system integrators, I think, is really going to help as manufacturing become onshore. And as automation systems get more and more complex, helping to improve OEE and allow manufacturers in America to do more with less.
And since we’re a marketing company, I like to ask, why do you think marketing is important to system integrators?
First of all, what is a system integrator? You go out on the streets here outside this conference center, and you ask 20 people what a control systems integrator does, and you’re going to get a lot of blank stares. And I’ll put it this way, my mom, who’s 81 years old, still doesn’t know what I do. She just tells people I work with robots, which is kind of the truth, but kind of not. Marketing helps you tell your story; helps you find the right clients and the right people that are looking for the niches that a system integrator plays in. Because no system integrator can be the master of all products. There are certain products you partner with and you form a niche and you have expertise on. And marketing helps you find those buyers in the market.
I don’t have any other questions, but is there anything you want to add?
Yes. If you are in this business and you don’t come to the CSIA, you’re missing a lot.
Sean Phillips – Hargrove Controls & Automation
If you could just say your name, your title, and what company you’re with.
Sean Phillips. I’m a senior project manager at Hargrove Controls and Automation.
What brings you to the CSIA conference?
I was telling some people earlier today that the main thing that I’m here for is to grow the toolbox that I use on a day-to-day basis. As a project manager, when a situation presents itself, you have to make sure you have the right resources, whether it be a software partner or a subcontractor, or just an OEM solutions provider. You know, I want to have all of those ready to go when the challenge presents itself and this place is chock full of those people.
You’ve been nominated for the Rising Star Award; how does it feel to be nominated?
Honestly, just the nomination is an honor, especially when you look around and see the caliber of people that are here. It’s definitely a humbling nomination.
Shifting gears, when you look to the future of this industry, what makes you really excited?
My background – computer engineering. So just to, I guess, get that out of the way, the technology aspect, just seeing how things are progressing, especially in the visualization field. It’s come leaps and bounds just in the past few years. And so just purely from a technology perspective, I mean, it’s really getting there, but on a more personal perspective, it seems there are a lot of people here, but this is still a very tight-knit community. You know, you see the same faces over and over again. And even from the end users becoming clients, becoming OEM providers, becoming clients again, back to contractors. It’s just the way this industry works, and it’s really fun to see all those different people over and over again in different roles or even in the same role for 20, 30 years.
Since we’re a marketing company, I like to ask, why do you think marketing is important to system integrators?
I think marketing is important for any business that wants to remain in business. And not to put all engineers in a box, but let’s put them in a box for a second. I don’t always tend to be the most sociable people. I mean, hey, and I can say that I am one, outsourcing that to someone that knows what they’re doing, an actual firm that does that on a day-to-day basis, rather than us trying to do it in our spare time in between projects. The same reason we don’t do our own taxes.
Founded in 2009, Rivergate Marketing is a full service digital marketing agency serving small to mid-sized B2B companies trying to reach technical and engineering buyers. We are passionate about building strategic and data-driven marketing and PR programs to help our clients compete and be found in a crowded digital space against much larger companies with seemingly endless marketing dollars. For more information, visit us online at rivergatemarketing.com.