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August 31, 2017

Why is System Platform Different from SCADA?

Omer Qadri
Omer Qadri
omer.qadri@schneider-electric.com

Omer is responsible for product marketing for Wonderware Supervisory and HMI software. He has over 15+ years experience evangelizing the power of software in Industrial Automation, Enterprise software and SaaS applications.


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Distributed control systems connecting ‘things’ into automation systems have been around for ages. SCADA and HMIs can easily provide real-time data access to I/O and time-series information in terms of historical data. So, is there really a need for yet another software or industrial platform?

Consider for a second, if you needed to make sense of other types of data, whether that's scheduled maintenance data, lab data, or standard operating procedures for a particular equipment or asset.  Very often you would have to go find those in other systems. This would result in loss of productivity and efficiency. As such, over the years we have inadvertently built islands-of-automation around MES, SCADA, and DCS systems etc.  So how is System Platform 2017, with its new visualization engine, InTouch OMI, different?

In order to maximize business value, while minimizing cost and complexity, a new approach is needed that provides a standards-based infrastructure for enterprise-wide Information, where domain applications simply ‘plug in’ – thus supporting both vertical domain and cross-domain value-add insights.

Today, useful volumes of data are coming from everywhere at an exponential pace.  But building traditional domain-bounded systems to exploit data, presents a number of obvious problems and limitations. Moreover, stovepipe systems lead to many custom software infrastructures to support.  This results in higher costs and proliferation on any scale just exacerbates the problem.

System Platform 2017 offers a single point of access and the addresseses the expectations of cross-functional end users ranging from Executives to Operators. Moreover, System Platform 2017 provides ability to extract valuable insights from data in ways never before possible at an affordable cost.


InTouch OMI provides the Operating Environment for Enterprise-Wide Information Exploitation

So, how do we progressively move from the 'as-is' world of enterprise islands-of-automation, to the 'to-be' digital information-enabled enterprise?

Industrial IoT is all about exploiting data horizontally as well as in traditional vertically bounded systems.  This is the leading value driver behind IIoT. Just as social media opened-up new ways to communicate and add-value in our social and professional lives, InTouch OMI will do the same for operational data. 

The main critical requirement for any IIoT platform must be to ‘free the data’ to allow meaningful relationship of data, similar to what Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. did for our personal and professional relationships.

The platform must serve as infrastructure for end-users, ISVs, OEMs and systems integrators to underpin their solutions that supports both:

  1. vertical apps (e.g. operational domain, tactical apps) and
  2. horizontal (e.g. cross-domain optimization, seamless supply-chain)
integration to free the data from local constraints and make them available, on any device, to create new insights, and thus business value.

Scalability must be considered when evaluating IIoT Platforms

Much has been written about modern automation trends, such as Industrial IoT, cloud, mobility and predictive analytics. However, the scalability factor cannot be overlooked. Scalability is not merely starting small and growing big. There are many dimensions to consider and most are critical to true investment protection. Scalability is something that requires extensive planning; it has to be part of the system design at the early stages.

“Scalability cannot be an after-thought. It requires applications and platforms to be designed with scaling in mind, such that adding resources actually results in improving the performance” - Werner Vogels, CTO - Amazon.com

A truly scalable system requires a fine alignment of organization, people, processes and software architecture. Below are the dimensions of scalability which organizations need to consider when selecting an industrial platform.

  • Vertical: Tightly couple more systems in a well-integrated fashion. It involves integration with peer-level systems such as Historian, MES, DCS, Workflow, LIMS, and Mobility Solutions.

  • Horizontal: Making each connected system more efficient. This involves integration with enterprise-level systems such as ERP, Supply Chain Automation and Enterprise Asset Management.

  • Functional: Grow Small Systems into Large Systems. It is all about gradual evolution, increased capacity, quality and energy efficiency.Single Application or Machine to a Networked Solution or Network of Multiple Plants.

  • Geographic: Deployment across Single site or region to multiple sites or regions. Allow space for diversity of languages and regulations, without hampering usability and performance.

  • Operational: Efficient workers. Re-use engineering efforts, best practices and standards across facilities and projects.

It is important to remember that enhancing the system with minimal effort and cost is the real test of scalability. If your system or software architecture is such that even a minor upgrade requires serious time, effort and money, then it is not a scalable system.

In summary, to create enterprise wide information accessibility between new data sources ('things'), legacy systems, enterprise systems, web browsers and cloud services, a scalable industrial platform is required that moves us beyond islands-of-automation and towards the seamless digital enterprise.