How To Future-Proof Your SCADA
Published on: Oct 4, 2022

SCADA is not a particular application or piece of software. The term is an acronym for three mission-critical business processes: Supervisory, Control, and Data Acquisition. 

The three processes serve different but equally vital functions: 

  • You must supervise your operations and get notified when something is wrong. 
  • In parallel, you must be able to control processes, for example, by changing set points. 
  • Finally, data acquisition from machinery and processes for further analysis is essential for running any business.

With this definition and understanding in place, it should be crystal clear that the debate about this or that SCADA software is better is futile. The best application is the one that best supports the three mission-critical business processes. Now and in the future. The latter is essential because of the rapid change in business requirements. 

The futurist thinker Kevin Kelly coined the term “becoming” for a new situation where everything is in constant flux. In his own words:

“At the center of every significant change in our lives today is a technology of some sort. Technology is humanity’s accelerant. Because of technology, everything we make is always in the process of becoming. Every kind of things is becoming something else, while it churns from “might” to “is”. All is flux. Nothing is done.”

Kevin Kelly

On a more practical level, I hear stories that confirm this development. Through my many talks with tech people from different types of businesses, one recurring theme seems to emerge: it was easier years back! 

I do not hear people say it was better, but I can subscribe to the idea that it was less complicated. When a SCADA system was required, the tech people drew up the requirements. A vendor would build the required solution to order and hand over to the client.

The job was done when the delivered solution met the requirements. Because of a less changing environment, the delivered solution could serve its purpose for a long time without significant changes. Some of the existing SCADA solutions I see are twenty years old or older. 

Today, the situation is entirely different

The underlying business requirements for SCADA functionality appear to change frequently. The race for detailed specifications turns into a Sisyphean battle with new requirements arising left and right. 

The scope of your SCADA project seems to change, and not for the better. The people responsible for the implementation experience scope creep and find it difficult to get to an agreement with all stakeholders, especially regarding data. The need for reliable data is growing; therefore, we experience more demands from the SCADA solution as the data source. 

In parallel, when you ask the users in operations about their existing systems and future needs, they want more of the same. It is similar to the famous Henry Ford statement where he said that if he asked people what they wanted, the answer would be a faster horse. 

What we have here is a dichotomy. On the one hand, the organisation generally demands more functionality, especially concerning data. On the other hand, the daily users want more of the same, maybe slightly faster. We experience this dichotomy firsthand in our work with larger SCADA projects, and we must adapt to this situation. 

How to future-proof your SCADA

The changes are driven both by business requirements and technological opportunities. Technological development opens the door for new opportunities, and business requirements will soon follow. 

For example, mobile devices, where a technology change opens a plethora of business opportunities for working smarter. Why should we not want to pursue such opportunities? Therefore, we need ways or methods to deal with a fast-changing environment and, at the same time, deliver tangible results. 

I believe a successful path forward combines the right technological platform with a practical mindset. The choice of wording is deliberate. The chosen technology must be a development platform upon which you can develop and maintain your tech solutions to support business requirements. That, combined with a mindset that aligns with Kevin Kelly’s ideas about “becoming”, will help you towards a more efficient future. 

Choose a development platform as your go-to technology

Essentially, I advocate putting yourself in a situation where you are more resilient toward future changes. Because we have no idea what the future brings, it is a fool’s game to try to foresee which specific features or functionalities we might need. Instead, we should put the requirements on the technological platform we choose. 

In a nutshell, you are not on the lookout for the perfect SCADA application. No, you should find a development platform where you swiftly develop the ideal SCADA application for you now and in the future. The platform must be versatile and robust and support open and modern software development. The platform must support open standards such as SQL, and you should avoid proprietary solutions. 

An agile mindset contributes to a more resilient organisation 

I emphasise the generation of tech people, who might claim constant change is not necessarily a good thing. But if you buy in on the premise that the fast-changing environment is here to stay, our prime focus must also be on developing organisational resilience. 

Agile development is often mistaken for a specific methodology like, for instance, Scrum. Agile is a mindset founded on a set of values and principles. It is not my intention here to go into the details of agile development, but let me point at Agile Principle #1: “Early and continuous delivery of value”. 

It is impossible to overstate that principle’s importance in a fast-changing environment. 

A versatile platform, in combination with an agile mindset, is the best bet for the future. 

The premise for efficient SCADA functionality changes and requires a different approach. Your SCADA solution is “becoming” – which is a good thing. It will change both in features and functionality as the business requirements change. 

Gone are the days when SCADA resided in a control room, and only a select few had access. A modern SCADA solution is a cornerstone in the digital strategy; essentially, the entire organisation must have access.  

“Alright, SCADA is becoming, but what does that mean for my organisation?”

Let me first circle back to the introduction and reiterate that SCADA is not a particular application. It is a technology that supports three mission-critical business processes. And because the underlying business requirements for these processes change over time, your SCADA solution will inevitably become different. That requires a versatile and flexible technology platform and a resilient organisation. 

In the daily interaction with various types of users, the SCADA solution must deliver value. It must be straightforward to interact with, and we must abandon the idea of one-size-fits-all. The SCADA solution adapts to a wide variety of users, who all customise its functionality per their individual needs. 

One part of the solution is to focus on High-Performance HMI (Human Machine Interface), considered the industry standard for an easy-to-use and more productive HMI. 

From some of my previous writings, I offer this recipe for High-Performance HMI:

Turn data into information, draw attention to the critical information and do so in a way that gives users freedom of choice, fosters curiosity, and builds trust and cooperation.

With the idea of SCADA “becoming,” we see High-Performance HMI as an over-arching concept that does not change over time. But how we achieve that goal will change over time and differ for various users.  

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