No matter the industry, the success of companies is becoming dependent on how effectively they are able to deploy and manage IT resources. This integrated approach to technology increasingly applies to the oil, gas and utility industries. In order to find new efficiencies, improve productivity and better compete in the marketplace, companies in these sectors are merging their operational and information technologies, collecting data from their industrial equipment and connecting machines through ruggedized networks.
Traditionally used by the energy industry, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) networks are designed to help organizations connect scattered sites and equipment, allowing them to remotely monitor and control operations.
Tim Haïdar, editor of the online information portal OilandGasIQ, identified eight key factors for implementing a successful SCADA system.
- Choose a system wisely: Companies should perform rigorous analysis of their business needs before making SCADA investments and identify the providers capable of meeting those needs. “Once you know what you want to achieve, find out which providers can actually provide all of that,” says Haïdar.
- Get network integration right: Migrating from one system to another can cause significant downtime and carries the risk of data loss. “Make sure data is backed up, and that there is some kind of continuity planning in case things go awry,” Haïdar says.
- Prepare for environmental hazards: New sources of gas and oil are almost uniformly found in inhospitable areas requiring ruggedized networking equipment. “The age of easy oil is over,” Haïdar says. “It is inevitable that everything is going to have to go rugged, if it isn’t already.”
- Plan ahead for updates: Replacing obsolete components can lead to equipment downtime, similar to installing a new system, notes Haïdar: “You know what’s coming down the pike. You just have to make sure you’re prepared.”
- Watch for evolving security threats: Like biological viruses, Haïdar notes that computer viruses evolve quickly, requiring enterprises to run regular security checks on their SCADA systems.
- Realize that some threats are undetectable: Enterprises cannot count on preventing every cyberattack. Therefore, they need to have a plan for handling worst-case breach scenarios.
- Weigh interoperability considerations: Many SCADA systems use their own dedicated and proprietary communication protocols rather than shared and open systems. This may present a hurdle for companies that want their SCADA networks to interact, for example, with mobile devices. However, achieving interoperability does have security drawbacks. “The more devices you bring into the mix, the more threats there are going to be,” Haïdar says. “Now, there’s a threat in everybody’s pocket.”
- Be able to justify upgrades: Upgrading a SCADA system can be extremely costly, and Haïdar says decision-makers within enterprises will be resistant to spending the money unless they can clearly see the business advantages. “Buy-in and awareness are crucial,” he says.
For more information on SCADA networks, read the white paper “Delivering the Power of the Network.”