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SCADA vs IoT: the role of SCADA systems in Manufacturing's Industry 4.0

We are all witnesses to the sustained rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the demand to ‘digitise’ within Industry 4.0. Yet legitimate SCADA-based questions, specifically in relation to IoT appear ignored, or at least unanswered. So we ask, “will IoT replace SCADA?” and “can the two concepts be integrated?” SCADA and Distributed Control Systems (DCS) are clearly prevalent automation standards, but as a new tidal wave of data from the IoT surfaces, what role will they play in the factory of the future? 

Origins of SCADA 101: The purpose of the first solid state SCADA systems, back in the 1960’s, was to collect data and monitor processes via sluggish and expensive mainframe computers. This paved the way for data logging technology. Historians were introduced to do just that; store and analyse the vast amounts of data captured by the SCADA system. Now though, with 64bit computing, bulk configuration tools, and next-level graphical user interfaces (GUIs) native to most SCADA products, traditional barriers to entry no longer exist. The question is, what will be the role of these process control systems as we enter the next phase of manufacturing?  

SCADA in the Smart Factory

The frank reality is that SCADA as an operator interface, and the features that make it obligatory (such as schematic visualisation, alarming, data logging, real-time control and the passing of data to data historians), are not going to be completely negated by IoT technology. Not anytime soon. There’s no doubt edge computing will begin to engulf certain control features and rationalise the amount of data we choose to push into the cloud over time, but the Industrial Internet of Things will not negate the need to securely open and close valves, start or stop motors or reset an actuator. At least not for assets and processes that require high-speed data collection and control. That's the key. One cannot compare IIoT solely with Data Acquisition (DA), yet forget about Supervisory Control (SC) and the need for reliability, security, fast aggregation and complex data storage. There are of course certain IoT communication protocols, AMQP and JSON to name two, that would need to be present to support the SC + DA elements via the IoT.

4th Generation SCADA: Embracing IoT

Some SCADA/Visualisation technologies have a propensity to play outside the traditional SCADA / process control arena, and have been doing so for a while. With the rate in which connected devices are gathering, exchanging and analysing data, the need for interoperability and information transparency has grown. Certain progressive, and hardware agnostic, ISV’s have always embraced this need and now natively support key Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) protocols. Their platforms are able to fulfil the role of a macro-level control and analytical toolset that can unite the IT and OT. Supervisory control and security are not sacrificed but embellished within existing infrastructure. 

It is these tools that can and will act as secure IoT Gateways (or Message Oriented Middleware (MOM)), to seamlessly unite edge devices (possibly multi-site) into single analytical views-of-the-world. Remote configuration, open and secure connectivity methods such as REST, MQTT, AMQP and OPC UA Pub Sub are the key to fuelling this merged IoT architecture. One of the most apt, yet rudimentary question(s) anyone wanting to bi-directionally control their equipment via the IoT must ask, is, therefore “can, or in the near future will, my current control system platform support open IoT protocols and run natively in the Cloud, without the need for a Virtual Machine (VM) environment?”

The heterogeneous nature of the factory of the future paves the way for these additional IoT platforms that can truly unite and manage the disparate nature of the industrial digital ecosystem. After all, interoperability, information transparency and decentralised decisions are three of the four design principles that underpin Industry 4.0 (Herman et al, 2016)

The 'What Ifs'?

For ICONICS, these common yet trending ‘what if’ hypotheses have had outcomes for a number of years. What if we could:

  1. Unite disparate SCADA systems (vendors, versions and protocols)?
  2. Collect exposed data via web services and IoT communication protocols whilst controlling our process securely in real-time?
  3. Bi-directionally control a variety of cost-effective IoT devices via a secure IoT Gateway?
  4. Provision IoT devices and deliver software updates remotely
  5. Tap into unconnected or ignored energy data sitting in the field or database?
  6. Apply complex business logic and predictive maintenance algorithms to our operational data and assets without investing in expensive analytical alternatives that require huge data lakes
  7. Filter inconsequential and subordinate alarms across multiple alarm servers, devices and systems?
  8. Run post-filtered data, from analytics at the edge, into your cloud-based control system


Digitisation is bringing about changes in the way manufacturers operate. For over 20 years, the ‘Purdue model’ of Computer Integrated Manufacturing has reigned as the foundation of how manufacturing systems are architected. Its hierarchical nature is slowly shifting as a peer-to-peer model as the IIoT opens up.

So, “will IIoT replace SCADA?” For high-value, critical industrial processes, I conclude no. “Can the two concepts ever be integrated?” Most definitely. Despite traditional SCADA systems operating in the “micro” environment of manufacturing, collecting and visualising the day-to-day operations of a factory or process, a more powerful SCADA sibling is here. And yes, Industry 4.0 and IIoT belong to the “macro” environment, and more pertinent questions hanker in the quest for optimal productivity; such as, how can we meet consumer needs quicker, cheaper and with better quality? But it is exactly these questions that the 4th Generation SCADA /IoT/Visualisation Platforms, like ICONICS GENESIS64™, have been built to answer. 

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Sam Walton

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  • I apologize saying that  some parts in this paper are boosting the confusion. IoT and IIoT sounds similar but there is a huge difference. IoT is purely consumer oriented ecosystem, while IIoT is and integrated part to SCADA/ICS/DCS etc. IoT is absolutely irrelevant for SCADA and IIoT will never replace SCADA. I published a paper on this ICSJWG 06-2017, and also in Peerlyst. I believe that prior going to the SCADA arena, people must understand the roles of IoT and IIoT. Besides that experts shall put all efforts to refer to IIoT cyber defense.

    • Hi Daniel,
      You're right, there is a huge difference between the two terms, and my article assumes the reader knows this. I wrote a previous blog that aimed to demystify some of these semantic ranges - available here:

      For quick access: "IIoT sees the world in a smart interconnected kind of way. Its vision is to connect assets, or ‘things’, to a larger system, or network of systems that make up a smart grid, of sorts. These ‘things’ retain the capability of actuation, control, automation and autonomous operation. This movement is more encompassing than just manufacturing and needs to be differentiated from domestic IoT use cases. In IIoT, reliability and accuracy cannot be compromised; the stakes are raised"

      Demystifying the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 | ICONICS UK Ltd.
      The ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is a term that truly established its presence in 2015, despite allegedly being coined by Kevin Ashton 16 years earlier…
  • It can be useful to keep in mind that the use of digital computers for machine control systems predates their use for the first business application (American Airlines' SABRE system) by about a decade.  And, that going all the way back to the Jacquard weaving machine, it has been industrial controls that have generally led the way in automation technologies.  The same is true for leveraging TCP/IP networking for linking machine controls to the desktop computers used by manufacturing engineers.  Early 3COM Ethernet cards were being used for that purpose for quite a few years while IBM was still pushing IRMA-LAN and LU 6.2, they OSI and token rings, etcetera. 

    IoT is and has been a useful term to talk about the implications of the real Moore's Law (his original 1965 article was all about the implications of the growth in IC component counts of least cost chips, not chips at the high end).  When least cost chips, whether we're talking about processors, memory, ASICs, or FPGA's, have more than a coupel hundred thousand IC components, extreme potential capability, including network connectivity, is inherent in all products that have a chip in them.  We crossed that threshold shortly after the turn of the millennium.  In fact, we entered an era of extreme IC component wastage, wherein even if a device design only requires a few hundred IC components, the least cost chips used to manufacture it are going to have millions of components anyway.  That meant that sometime shortly after 2010 there had to be a veritable explosion of headless, or mostly headless devices that were going to have connectivity capabilities.  Talking about the emergence of that situation and de3aling with its implications for a decade or so after that point made IoT an incredibly useful term.  But, we are now beginning to cross into a new realm in which IoT as a special class is going to be meaningless.

    It was fair to say that from the 1979 founding of 3Com until about now, that there were at first more, and now at least as many normal computers and servers connected to networks as there were other things.  Going forward, the percentage of normal computers and servers that are connected is going to rapidly fall into single digit percentages and then become such a trivial amount of the overall universe of networked end nodes as to be inconsequential.  When the things we call IoT now are essentially all connected things, having a special term to talk about them becomes pointless.

    This situation poses some interesting challenges which the world has yet to realistically face.  I think of it as a phenomenon that is being handled a bit like climate change.  While a whole lot of people are intellectually vey much aware of the implications, there is a monumental disconnect between that awareness and the obvious reactions that a prudent person should probably have started acting upon quite a long time ago.  The acceptance of the "dumb pipes" model of networking might be a good place to start when it comes to reconsidering our current notion of best networking practices.   Gee, someone should do something about this situation, cried the arm waving but otherwise clueless politician, while those in power even choose to deny there is a need to do anything at all.  What an opportunity for the bold entrepreneur!

  • Very useful. One of the biggest barriers to developing IIoT is confusion about the roles of different technologies in the 'ecosystem.' Your article helps to clear that fog!

    • Thank you, Finbar. 

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