Where is SCADA heading?

SCADA is the acronym for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. A SCADA system is a collection of software and hardware that allows a business to control industrial processes, gather real-time data and interact with devices through HMI (Human Machine Interface) software.

A (Very) Brief History of SCADA
Before we look at where SCADA is heading, let’s have a quick look back at how it’s developed over the years. That way, we can see how SCADA has been shaped over time into the set of systems we’re familiar with.

SCADA systems could connect to all related systems (PLCs, DCSs and RTUs) and vendors, with the aim of improving plant procedures. The rise of modern IT technology saw the traditional SCADA systems fall out of favour – they weren’t integrated with new databases – and were seen as outdated as a result.

Fast forward to the present day and SCADA systems have evolved and adapted to meet today’s challenges head on. Real-time information is easily accessed thanks to greater connectivity and web-based applications. It’s never been easier than it is now for plant operators to connect remotely with experts elsewhere to diagnose and fix an issue – each leveraging vital data to suit their needs.

The wider industry is always looking for any way to operate in a faster and leaner manner. Productivity, efficiency and profitability are at the heart of all business goals with the key aim being to remain competitive while also minimising costs. This ideology is going to have a major impact on SCADA and the direction that it’s heading.

What’s Next for SCADA?
SCADA will continue to be a mainstay in industrial automation applications – in fact the SCADA story that’s around now has been 70 years in the making show no sign of ending anytime soon.

This is because today’s SCADA providers have recognised the need for evolution. Instead of standing still, they’ve considered how their technologies can be utilised to meet customer needs quickly and accurately without raising costs.

Millions of connected devices
IIoT and the rise of connected devices have already caused a seismic shift to take place, but the sheer volume of data that will soon need to be managed is something that SCADA systems will have to handle. Forget hundreds, thousands of hundreds of thousands – it’ll soon be millions of devices that are part of networks. This means that SCADA systems will scale to communicate and process data from across all these networks and the devices connected to them. Traditional poll-based communication protocols will become obsolete and replaced by lightweight publish/subscribe protocols like MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry transport).

Edge and Cloud will become a blur
Devices and software services will all need updates and configurations which we expect to see rolled out by the cloud seamlessly. The predication is that the entire process will be frictionless and, as long as you’re able to input what’s critical, the software will automatically make decisions if a software service needs to be run on the edge, in the fog or in the cloud.

The whole thing will be cloud-managed and the blurred lines will mean it’s difficult to know what is actually on the cloud and what isn’t. But, all that’s important is functionality and capability.  

Integration using the Internet of Everything will be standard and trivial
Today’s integrations are expensive as a result of legacy messaging protocols or file transfers. In the future, this is expected to not only be less costly, but standard  practice across the board. There’ll be no need to translate the information because the system will automatically know what it’s connected to and all publishers will adhere to standard schemas.

Adaptive, self-service user experience (UX)
UX is changing too. With rising populations and the growing demand that follows, the need for efficiency increases. To avoid disaster and meet demand, we need systems that require less manual work and more decisions made by software. The faster and more intelligent the machines, the better throughput we can achieve.

This doesn’t mean a reduction in the human workforce. Instead, there will a changing skill set for the next generation of workers who’ll be carrying out different jobs to us today.