SCADA systems have progressed along the same evolutionary path as any computer-based system. Every generation has been defined by the new challenges it must address.
First-generation, monolithic SCADA systems were characterized by radio modems and local data aggregation. Second-generation, distributed SCADA systems used telecommunications networks and PC-based systems. Third-generation SCADA systems were defined by window-based HMIs, along with standard network protocols. Fourth-generation systems are Internet-based networks with browser-based HMI and COTS infrastructure, and are typical of today’s systems.
Perennial innovation drivers common across all generations of SCADA include:
• Maximizing system reliability (no unscheduled downtime);
• Minimizing operational costs;
• Minimizing capital expenditures;
• Minimizing risk, including protecting workers and intellectual property;
• Providing more data, more reliable and longer distance coverage and faster analysis; and
• Competitive pressures to reduce costs and cycle time while improving quality.
These same perennial drivers are the impetus for fifth-generation SCADA systems, which include:
• Expanding IIoT devices inside and outside the traditional OT environment;
• Real-time integration of OT systems with non-OT systems including the cloud; and
• Cybersecurity for critical infrastructure.
Scott Greig, senior product manager at Willowglen Systems, and I recently presented on SCADA at the AIMST 2023 Conference in Dallas, and discussed how these perennial drivers are driving the need for adaptable SCADA, including:
• Emerging cybersecurity threats;
• Environmental, safety and security legislation;
• Availability of ML-based efficiency tools;
• Availability of IIoT devices; and
• Amalgamation of companies and service providers due to mergers and acquisitions.
These situational changes are driving the requirements for the fifth-generation adaptable SCADA platform, which needs to be capable of supporting these emerging needs:
• Frequent patches to support legislative requirements for installing software updates on a more frequent update cycle. Facilities normally having full outages are driving a need to support live updates without reboot;
• Managing new security threat vectors and understanding how the security threat can affect operations incrementally rather than a full operational shutdown;
• Obtaining safety and security certification from independent third parties to verify compliance with international standards and regulations;
• Managing operator overload with AI-based and ML-based efficiency tools to guide operators through increasingly complex operations that they may not have observed before;
• Exponential growth/incremental expansion of systems through integration of IIoT devices to drive more accurate models and understanding of facility’s operations;
• New paradigm for maintaining system reliability including, not only integration of multiple different suppliers into a single supervisory SCADA environment, but also how to upgrade legacy systems with new systems that can support situational requirements, while satisfying the perennial needs of every SCADA installation; and
• Pressure to adopt new technologies to realize cost efficiencies and manage risk through better understanding of and integration of real-time data into business planning processes.
The increasing complexity and expectations of fifth-generation SCADA systems mean, other than the aggregating and presenting data function from previous generations capabilities, it's no longer a “pure SCADA” play. SCADA is becoming a data orchestrator connecting information across all layers of the enterprise—from sensors to the cloud.