There’s been a trend in recent years of companies moving away from employing a team of specialized, strategic supply chain professionals. That means you might be considering engaging either a consultant or an integrator to supplement the knowledge and skills of your existing team. Therefore, I’ll answer the question posed above right off the bat…

That headline is click-bait.

BOTH consultants and integrators bring tremendous value when a warehousing, distribution, or fulfillment operation is looking to solve a challenge. Further, for the vast majority of projects, the greatest value — and best return on investment — nearly always comes from partnering with a good consultant and with a good integrator. I’ll explain why in a few paragraphs, but first, let’s define the two terms.

Consultants and integrators, defined

Generally speaking, a supply chain consultant (or consulting firm) offers a range of services; some focus on specific industries or service offerings. These might include evaluating and implementing supply chain solutions that foster a lean operation, such as labor analysis, transportation services, business analytics, distribution automation, fulfillment strategies, network optimization, real estate procurement, regulatory compliance, and more.

Organizations typically partner with a consultant who brings expertise in an area outside their core focus to help them solve a challenge or to provide a service. A consultant will analyze your business data — your existing workforce, workflow processes, inventory, order data, operations, and more — to determine a strategy that addresses your unique challenge (or challenges). That strategy will include a set of business rules that help guide the implementation of a software or system.

System integrators, on the other hand, primarily offer design, installation, and integration of material handling systems and equipment within the four walls of a facility. Integrators usually have a team experienced in project implementation, including site superintendents, project managers, safety experts, and licensed contractors. Some focus on specific technologies, such as software implementations, or on specific services, such as construction management.

System integrators may be aligned exclusively with a specific original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or brand for more favorable pricing; others are system agnostic, giving them the ability to leverage equipment from different OEMs create the optimal solution for a facility while being even more cost competitive. Either way, an integrator will develop a solution internally or take the strategy specified by the consultant and configure your final system solution to satisfy the specified business rules.

Why use both?

On occasion, when a facility has a very obvious challenge that management can clearly define or knows precisely the type of system they want to install, an integrator may be all that’s required. But if the effects of a problem are widespread and the source is difficult to pinpoint, a consultant would be advisable. Both can bring a lot of experience to the project, having likely observed and worked on hundreds of solutions across multiple industries — and there’s tremendous benefit from having a third-party cast an unbiased eye across your operation.

By the way, as you evaluate potential partners, it should be noted that some integrators have begun to offer consulting services, and some consultants have begun to offer integration services. That’s a trend we’ve been seeing over the past decade. Regardless of what they call themselves, consultants and integrators should be honest with potential customers about their own business boundaries.

Ultimately, the best arrangement is when the supply chain consultant and the system integrator both approach a customer’s situation without bias and without a preconceived strategy, but instead partner to support the operation with a solution that is customized to meet its unique business needs. Further, an OEM or brand-agnostic system integrator can offer access to a broader selection of technologies, enabling the consultant to provide you with more options. By leveraging the expertise and offerings of both, you have the opportunity to receive the solution that is optimally tailored for your organization. That’s the situation that will deliver the most value to you, the customer.

Looking for more ways to improve your operational performance or supplement your team’s expertise? To learn more about working with DCS, we invite you to connect with us.

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AUTHOR:

Matt Ferguson, President, matt@designedconveyor.com

Matt Ferguson serves as the President of Designed Conveyor Systems and leads the company with his 15+ years of industrial automation experience and five years in material handling. Matt received his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Clemson University and began his career as an electrical and controls engineer for a systems integrator specializing in material handling and process automation. He has since grown through progressive roles within system integration, including project management, sales, and leadership. Outside of the office, you can find him spending time with his wife and six children.