SCADA: It`s Not Quite Dead Yet
There was a time when the traditional Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems adequately managed electric utilities` generation and transmission assets. But that time is gone, according to George Wren of Metricom Inc. Wren insists that distribution automation in today`s information-laden utility industry is no longer synonymous with present SCADA models. Therefore, a `not-very-gradual phasing out of the SCADA model` within the utility industry in favor of a more responsive distributed intelligence model is needed within the industry, said Wren.”
If the foregoing text sounds familiar, it should. It was taken verbatim from the opening paragraphs of the December `95 issue of the DA/DSM Monitor, predecessor to Utility Automation`s sister publication, the UAnews newsletter. It wasn`t the content of the article, however, that caused me to sit up and take notice. No, it was neither the notion that the traditional SCADA model was changing, nor was it the idea that SCADA systems of the past would fall short of expectations in the future. Instead, I suppose you might call what happened the editorial equivalent of the “sound-bite” that is so commonly used by the television press (television press: Is it just me, or does that qualify as an oxymoron?).
In any case, the impact of this article being published was swift and direct. The very day that the first issues hit the street, I started getting phone calls from clients and colleagues throughout the industry wanting to know what my reaction was to this apparent “SCADA obituary.” When the first call came in, I hadn`t yet seen the article (nor was I aware of who wrote it), but by the third one I decided that I had better see just what all the ruckus was about.
I must admit that my first inclination was to apply the “lone nut theory,” made popular during the John F. Kennedy assassination era, especially here in New Orleans where Lee Harvey Oswald spent much of his “leisure” time. My version of this theory says that opinions are like noses; everybody has one (at least). So, if occasionally an opinion that`s a tad off in the wild blue yonder gets printed, at least we get to see who`s really paying attention out there–and where a few of the “nuts” are stored. Let it suffice to say that there are indeed people paying attention, because this one seemed to really stir up a firestorm of controversy! As soon as I saw that the article was authored by George Wren–a person whose abilities and insights I hold in high regard–I immediately dismissed the lone nut theory and decided to read the article to see what George was really saying.
As suspected, the title was a little (a lot?) overstated, but as I later found out, even that was not George`s doing. When I caught up with him at the DA/DSM(TM) DistribuTech(TM) `96 Conference in January, he wasn`t yet aware that the article had been printed. Since he had submitted it months before, he had all but forgotten about it. Needless to say, he was quite surprised to learn that it had not only been published but that it had such a controversial impact. It seems that he had originally titled the paper something quite benign, but somehow his original tag line got edited down to the death kneel for SCADA that actually got printed.
After a good laugh about how his article had managed to elicit a reader-response level that most editors only dream of (George, you clever devil you!), we had a long talk about what his article was really saying. Perhaps the best way to convey the true message is to suggest how the article should actually have been titled. Simply adding the four little words “as we know it” to the end of the title would have made all the difference in the world. It is indeed time to say good-bye to the traditional hub-and-spoke SCADA topology for the power distribution segment.
Clearly, the impact of the communications factor is implicit in today`s architectural diversity when it comes to system design, and the inherent advantages of meshed networks and peer-to-peer links cannot be overstated as a means of achieving better throughput and system integrity. However, I don`t think that George or anyone else is ready to run out and buy a headstone for SCADA as an automation technology just yet. On the contrary, SCADA–as a technology–has only recently come into its own with an unprecedented level of interest and awareness that transcends virtually every industrial and utility market the world over.
While I wholeheartedly agree with the content and the spirit of the December article by my friend and colleague with the context that it was written and intended, I must also say that I am not ready to say good-bye to SCADA just yet. Yes, it is fraught with a characteristically unique set of problems, annoying anomalies and endless frustrations, but I still wouldn`t be too quick to bury SCADA as a legitimate automation technology.
Michael A. Marullo is managing director and CEO of cfar international, a global automation marketing and technology consulting firm. Questions or comments may be directed to P.O. Box 641177, Kenner, LA 70064-1177; phone: (504) 733-5504; fax: (504) 733-0754 or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.