Optimism mixes with caution as ISA launches SCADA systems committee

SCADA logoISA’s Standards and Practices (S&P) board has approved a new committee to be designated ISA112, SCADA Systems. This approval follows solid support for the idea from a survey conducted via InTech and online media.

ISA112 will develop standards and technical reports to improve the overall reliability of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system design, installation, integration, and operation of the infrastructure for pipelines, water and wastewater, power, oil and gas, and other industries. The standards and technical reports will provide guidance for implementing effective and reliable SCADA systems by documenting best practices in a range of industries. Initial ISA112 standards are expected to be supported by subsequent technical reports expanding on implementation details and industry-specific guidelines.

In approving the new committee, the board determined that existing industry guidelines address individual components, such as controllers, human-machine interface, and alarming, as well as associated protocols (e.g., DNP and IEC 61850) that represent various aspects of SCADA systems. However, there are no existing consensus standards that address the need for consistent definition and implementation of the infrastructure to connect these elements to create, operate, and maintain a SCADA system throughout its life cycle.

Board member Greg Lehmann was appointed by 2015–2016 ISA S&P Vice President Nicholas Sands of DuPont to serve as ISA112 managing director, overseeing the startup of the new committee by drawing on his experience as founding co-chair of ISA101, Human-Machine Interface. Lehmann is the process automation technical manager, engineering and operations and maintenance, oil and gas, at AECOM.

“Documenting best practices in a range of industries will likely end up being the lion’s share of the work in ISA112,” points out Lehmann. “However, the first order will be to focus on the basics and the multi-industry and inter-industry aspects of SCADA systems—that is, definitions, terminology, normative/informative references, and common hardware.”

S&P board member Ian Verhappen, senior project manager, automation, at CIMA, led the survey and analysis for the S&P board. “With the increased connectivity of the wide range of devices used to monitor and control our environment, SCADA systems are becoming a more important part of today’s control infrastructure,” Verhappen notes. “For this reason, ISA has identified a requirement for a series of standards to capture best practices on how to build a system from the many individual parts—many of which are based on other standards.”

Verhappen is the chair of International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) SC65E, Working Group 10, which is adopting the work of ISA108, Intelligent Device Management, at the IEC level. Although the need to carefully take into account the work of key standards committees such as ISA108 is not an uncommon challenge for a new committee, ISA108 co-chair Herman Storey sounds a note of caution about what he believes could prove to be a much greater challenge:

“Open standards for open SCADA is a topic where business issues and incentives are not aligned between all parties. The lack of alignment may well be a complication in trying to create standards for an open SCADA system,” Storey states, offering the following factors that could impede ISA112:

  • SCADA today is largely based on proprietary technology. Many parts of this technology have never been standardized, and significant time and effort will be required to fill the gaps.
  • Vendors regard the proprietary technology as valuable intellectual property that helps them provide market value through innovation and product differentiation.
  • Users typically want a more stable platform with a more open architecture and a slower rate of change.
  • The SCADA market has evolved to be based on commercial off-the-shelf technology that has a high rate of change, requiring frequent system updates.

These differing goals lead to a lack of common interests for different parties, Storey says, “Technical standards may help somewhat, but technical standards will not resolve divergent economic interests that could continue to dominate this problem. Unless business and technical interests are aligned, we could see a very difficult environment for successful standards development.”

Lehmann will lead an initial meeting of ISA112 on 27 September 2016 in Newport Beach, Calif., in conjunction with the ISA Leaders Meeting. Storey, Verhappen, and other standards leaders will be present. For information on standards committees and related meetings during the event, visit www.isa.org/flm2016.

To contribute as an active member of ISA112, contact Torry Bailey, ISA Standards, tbailey@isa.org.

Have an idea for an ISA standard, book, training course, conference topic, or other product or service? Send it to idea@isa.org.