To SCADA or not to SCADA?

Jul 30 2014

The hidden costs and risks associated with SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) for managing M2M withing an organization's digital energy asset network is not initally apparent, but often lead to a serious shortcomings that result in a very short lifespan of the project and never fully achieve the original intentions and expectations. So, how do you decide if SCADA is the right choice for you? The following questions are not exhaustive but will provide a clear start in evaluating your ultimate path towards implementation:

#1-What is the plan when "done"?

One thing I have certainly learned in my many years in both enterprise software and industrial automation is that ther is no "done". Things change; that is just the nature of our world and ever-changing priorities and needs. So, what is the plan after the initial rollout is complete and you add a piece equipment, change an operating parameter, or want to operate your facility in a slightly different manner? This is BIG, because things will change and not having a plan will cost you some serious dollars.

Two options I have seen work:

Plan A: Retain in-house expertise to maintain and support the platform. This allows for the greatest flexibility going foward and highest level of potential for staying current. If your system isn't large enough to support fulltime/on-site personnel, time for Plan B.

Plan B: Engage your solution provider to offer a maintenance contract with specific provisions for ongoing modifications and support. Make sure that not only are they willing to provide it, but also have a bench deeper than one person. Whether inside or outside your company, don't fall prey to what I refer to as "SCADA Bob" syndrome, which is: "Where did Bob go? He is the only one who knows how this works."

#2- What are you trying to do?

The classic Buy vs. Build question is this arena comes down to whether or not there are any Buy options even available. Niche markets are hard in this way. Water treatment, oil & gas, manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals are all difficult niche markets for finding pre-built platforms that merely configure into your environments. It all comes down to scale. Is there enough volume in the particular niche to drive product development? The energy sector is an example of an industrial automation space that is far bigger than niche. That scale has produced some alternatives to custom stick built approach of traditional SCADA.

The challenge in weeding out what appears to be product oriented platforms is determining whether the adverised solution is really a capability of SCADA product that has been remarketed or whether it is truly a product. The proof in the pudding is looking at a proposal from the provider and identifying the amount of labor required to implement. If you are looking at weeks of "configuration," be wary; you are likely paying for custom SCADA 

The hidden costs and risks associated with SCADA...what is the right choice for you?