One size doesn’t fit all: The value of a highly differentiated SCADA offer

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) software is a mature offer that has been around for over 30 years. At its core, it includes basic functionality such as data acquisition from control systems and the presentation of this data for operators. We all know a biscuit factory is quite different from a wastewater treatment plant so how do we ensure that customers get the best solution?

Let’s take the example of an auto manufacturer. Not everyone is looking for the same thing in a motor vehicle. Customers will walk into a dealership with different needs – big families want minivans; singles might opt for sports cars; some need to carry big loads; others might want fancy sound systems. A car manufacturer that can accommodate these demands with different models and options will secure the sales and satisfy the market. Otherwise, the customers will look elsewhere.SCADA, automation, process control

Similarly, a supplier with a portfolio of SCADA products which can be tailored to meet the specific requirements of specific industries can better respond to the needs of its customers. The advantage of such differentiation means the customer gets a much better “fit” out of their SCADA solution.

A good SCADA strategy is based on this premise and should be able to cater to the needs of a wide array of customers and industries.

Technology trends such as object orientated design, cloud computing and mobility solutions are increasingly being demanded by customers. A key success factor is the speed at which these can be integrated into the offer and put in the hands of customers. A broad technology base means development time is drastically reduced and leveraging best-of-breed components adds immediate value to users.

What does the future hold?
Consolidation and simplification are the natural next steps. For SCADA users, this will mean a consistent look & feel across multiple software applications to streamline the operator experience as they move between their SCADA and other systems. Integral connectivity will also provide the proverbial glue for processes from shop floor to top floor, giving customers the benefit of a comprehensive solution.

Ultimately, the evolutionary roadmap is headed toward a core SCADA offer that is enhanced to suit the particular needs of individual vertical markets through variants such as dedicated segment libraries and add-on applications.

SCADA providers who recognize that a one-size SCADA doesn’t, in fact, fit all and who embrace the diverse needs of the different market sectors are the ones who the customers will turn to in the end.

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  • Tom Keeley

    9 years ago

    (my opinion) The future of SCADA is distributed reasoning (beyond distributed control). Embedding policies into SCADA applications allows distributed sites to make decisions that today require headquarters human-in-the-loop. Using technology like Compsim’s KEEL (Knowledge Enhanced Electronic Logic) makes it relatively easy to address dynamic, non-linear, inter-related, multi-dimensional (complex) problems. Whether you call it SCADA in the industrial space or autonomous command and control (C2) in the military space, packaging auditable adaptive behavior will change the game. Ultimately it will be those with the best policies that can offer the best service.

  • Tom,

    You raise many interesting points in focusing on distributed reasoning for SCADA or effectively for process automation. The idea that we should create a set of rules to enable several processes to operate independently and to take corrective action automatically would indeed create a new generation of automation systems.

    From my position I also see the need for increasing automation of more actions within the automation system. I still see however operators (and hence the need for a Supervisory Control or SCADA system) as key to the decision making process within manufacturing sites. To make the higher levels of decision the operators need to interact with multiple sources of information across different areas on their business. For this reason Schneider Electric products are built linked (via Struxureware Web Services) and open to third party systems though our use of open standards. From your power network, building automation, data centre of security systems they all integrate with Schneider Electric.

    Connecting to increasing numbers of systems creates the need for analytical tools based on big data and other advanced analytics and algorithms. Having multiple independent SCADA offers means we will support these new technologies either as product add-ons. The platform approach will allow us to bring new core technologies to all our customers and have it made applicable to their needs.

    The movement for change in the role of the operator from simple to higher level decisions is something we see across our many markets. The sight of operators controlling multiple plants across networks of water or mining operations is becoming real. There is however no sign that distributed intelligence is taking full control, at least not yet.

    The role of the operator is very much still relevant and their need for high quality information from the SCADA tailored to their applications evermore so

  • It’s funny you should make the comparison of selling your antiquated scada software like a car dealership. Dealerships are fading out for online direct sales like Telsa.

  • In fairness, the comparison is to a manufacturer with the dealership being merely one of possible several delivery channels. Not everyone wants an electric car or can afford Tesla’s offers, which is the point.

    Not sure of your criteria for “antiquated” since there are several SCADA offers around the globe, but the key here is whether customers’ needs are met by their choices, ancillary adjectives notwithstanding.

  • Andrew West

    9 years ago

    No successful SCADA company to date has done anything outside of a single vertical slice of SCADA. No distractions with also trying to do DCS. No distractions also trying to do a second vertical SCADA to a market with different requirements. Each vertical SCADA market is simply too difficult to get right to be able to diversify. It isn’t really a technical problem, it’s a management and accounting issue. The accountants simply can’t believe that this thing labelled SCADA could be so different in the water supply utility, the gas pipeline, the power grid and the widget-making factory automation system that they need different products. Pushing to provide a single offering always fails because the requirements are so varied: either the product fails to meet requirements or it is too expensive to find a market.

    A portfolio of products might be one way to handle this, as long as the temptation to “cross the streams” to reduce the number of offerings is avoided. It needs a strong technically-focused manager to keep the accountants away from that kind of interference. Even in Schneider’s portfolio of SCADA acquisitions there are systems with heritage going back to the 1960’s… That’s significantly more than the 30 years cited, although it gets hard to find traces of that DNA.

  • Darren Fraser

    9 years ago

    Andrew, I agree that it is difficult to address multiple verticals with a single product offer. As you say, trying to address the specific regulatory, business and usage needs of different verticals is inherently fraught with challenges (to put it lightly).

    As David highlights in the article above, catering for the needs of a wide variety of customers and industries that deal with their own specific challenges is required. But at the same time, we know that there is a lot of commonality across SCADA system features, even across different domains. Basic alarming, trending and data acquisition for example may have some differences across different industries, but in many ways leverage the same basic concepts and approaches. The challenge is to leverage this commonality inherent across multiple domains to provide simplification and consistency for customers where it makes sense, thus helping to ensure our solutions can be cost effective for our customers that span what may otherwise be classed as entirely different domains.

    Does this mean the market is moving to a generic “one size fits all” solution? Definitely not! But can we get smarter about how we approach solving that problem by providing functionality targeted at specific segments and their requirements and issues, while also leveraging SCADA functionality with a level of cross-industry commonality. I think we can…

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