Merging SCADA and business processes

The underlying technology that enables traditional supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) functionality has changed dramatically. ARC's definition of SCADA encompasses hardware, software, and services used for the control of geographically dispersed assets such as oil and gas pipelines and water distribution networks.

By Russ Novak, ARCAdvisory Group May 1, 2005

The underlying technology that enables traditional supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) functionality has changed dramatically. ARC’s definition of SCADA encompasses hardware, software, and services used for the control of geographically dispersed assets such as oil and gas pipelines and water distribution networks. These systems typically included remote terminal units connected to a master terminal unit. Emerging technology is enabling SCADA to be tightly integrated to the domain of business processes, creating an improved value proposition for its usage. SCADA systems bring improved performance to geographically dispersed assets and provide a framework for real-time performance management on a global basis. Emerging capabilities of SCADA systems will allow its utilization across a wider array of vertical industries for additional classes of assets.

SCADA systems reflect the combined effects of improvements in field devices, system architecture, and communications and are undergoing a convergence with IT. SCADA operational information is merging with higher level systems and into business processes. No longer is SCADA based on telemetry, where intermittent polling of limited number of specified field devices occurs. The needs of business now require additional information to be gathered from a much wider grouping of assets and operating conditions. Intelligent field devices can now deliver a wider scope of process data in a more accurate and reliable fashion. This translates to an increase in the flow of knowledge and information. The increase of available knowledge has concurrently created an increased demand for its use by additional functional groups. The increased capability of the hardware at the “lower” end of the automation hierarchy, field devices, also tends to streamline the layers of hardware involved in the collection and distribution of such knowledge.

With the combined effects of the need for agility and quick reliable responses, systems are increasingly designed for automated responses to operating conditions without the need for operator intervention. To an extent, the “supervisory” portion of the SCADA acronym for supervisory control and data acquisition is being performed by the system itself. Traditionally, the focal point of SCADA has been directed at assets in fixed locations. Traditional examples are pipelines, compressor stations, metering runs, substations, or water distribution facilities, but the focus has now changed.

A global reach for information

With the advent of wireless technology and communications links such as satellite, SCADA can now be efficiently linked to a much broader array of assets, including assets that can move. Global mobility is within the control domain of the emerging SCADA. The footprint of knowledge flow is expanding from the former regional or local focus to a global reach.

The former simple collection of data with intermittent supervision has undergone a quantum shift to a bidirectional flow of information and operational knowledge directed by continual real-time management processes. For example, an exploration platform in a developing region of the world can use SCADA to not only send data out, but an operational center of excellence in North America can simulate and direct the control the platform operations in real-time.

Data and information will be exchanged rapidly through the enterprise and its value chain. Because of advances in communications networks and IT systems, SCADA is no longer relegated to only intermittent report by exception. The trend is definitely towards realtime “always-on.” As RPM is implemented, this trend will become even more significant and will involve additional corporate groups. No longer is it only a portion of operations that have access to SCADA. The collaborative business processes of today require that additional non-operating functional groups, both internal and external to the enterprise, have access to the knowledge imparted from SCADA and the disperse assets linked to it.

With the increased complexity of SCADA utilization and closer relationship to business processes, it is even more imperative that the specifics of the SCADA data flow be developed from a business process perspective. System design considerations must take into account the increased complexity of SCADA information flow and utilization and resultant operational costs. It is more than the traditional defining of the standard operating parameters. The planning process must now include the visualization of how the enterprise will be run and optimized on a continual basis, i.e. how to adhere to the principles of operational excellence (OpX) and real-time performance management (RPM).

SCADA is now tightly integrated to the business process, and is becoming an active element in the execution of OpX. Furthermore, as it approaches the real-time metric, it will eventually fulfill the ultimate measure of performance — RPM. Technology allows SCADA to effectively deal with additional asset types across more industries with sufficient functionality and agility so as to be able to provide a business value proposition. SCADA will expand into non-traditional industries.

SCADA functionality reflects the shift from the mere exchange of data to the collaborative flow of information, knowledge, and value between nodes of an enterprise. The one distinguishing characteristic of SCADA that remains consistent is that its design basis efficiently links geographically dispersed assets.


For both end users and suppliers there are implications for the changing SCADA dynamic:

  • As the focus changes from operational to business processes, owner operators must provide for the additional data and knowledge transfer between an increasing number of participants, both internal and external to the enterprise

  • Suppliers must expand offerings and skill sets of representatives to reflect the merging of IT, communications, and SCADA.

    • Author Information
      As Director of Consulting at ARC Advisory Group, Russ Novak focuses on consulting engagements and performs analysis covering the oil and gas, energy, and process verticals. As part of the ARC Automation Team, his practice specialties include plant/asset lifecycle, engineering and design, and SCADA technology. He can be reached at 781-471-1158, or by email at .