Is That SCADA or IoT?

Clearly, SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and IoT (Internet of Things) are very different things, right? We typically don’t create new terms to describe things for which we already have terms, so yes. They are different, but maybe not as far removed from one another as we may think. As revolutionary as the end results may be, the truth is that the IoT is just a new name for a bunch of old ideas. In fact, in some ways the IoT is really just a natural extension and evolution of SCADA. It is SCADA that has burst free from its industrial trappings to embrace entire cities, reaching out over our existing internet infrastructure to spread like a skin over the surface of our planet, bringing people, objects, and systems into an intelligent network of real-time communication and control.

Not entirely unlike a SCADA system – which can include PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers), HMI (Human Machine Interface) screens, database servers, large amounts of cables and wires, and some sort of software to bring all of these things together, an IoT system is also composed of several different technologies working together. That is to say you can’t just walk in to the electronics section of your local department store, locate the box labelled “IoT” and carry it up to the counter to check out.

It also means that your IoT solution may not resemble your neighbor’s IoT solution. It may be composed of different parts performing different tasks. There is no such a thing as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ IoT solution. There are, however, some common characteristics that IoT solutions will share:

  • Data Access
    It’s obvious, but there has to be a way to get to the data we want to work with (i.e. sensors).
  • Communication
    We have to get the data from where it is to where we are using it – preferably along with the data from our other ‘things’.
  • Data Manipulation
    We have to turn that raw data into useful information. Typically, this means it will have to be manipulated in some way. This can be as simple as placing it in the right context or as complex as running it through a sophisticated algorithm.
  • Visualization
    Once we have accessed, shared, and manipulated our data, we have to make it available to the people who will use it. Even if it’s just going from one machine to another (M2M) to update a status or trigger some activity, we still need some kind of window into the process in order to make corrections or to ensure proper operation.

There could be any number of other elements to your IoT system – alarm notifications, workflow, etc. – but these four components are essential and will be recognized from one IoT system to the next. Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally), these are technologies that all cut their teeth in the world of SCADA.

The IoT is the Next Generation of SCADA

Again, In many ways the IoT is a natural extension and evolution of SCADA. It is SCADA that has grown beyond industry and seeped into our daily lives. The IoT is essentially SCADA plus the new technology that has evolved since SCADA was first devised. Just like how in the late 18th Century, steam power put a hook in all other industrial technology and pulled it forward into a new era, electric power did the same thing a century later. Several decades later, with the advent of microchips and computer technology, once again industry was swept forward into a new era by the gravity of a single revolutionary technology. As we sit here today, well aware of the revolutionary power of what we call the ‘internet’, we are now feeling that gravity once again pulling us toward a new era.

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