Q&A: Can you manage a SCADA system from out in the field?

Q: Is it required to have a 7x24 NOC center, or can our supervisors monitor from the field?

My company is in the process of putting a SCADA system online. We are a major transportation company in the United States. One plan is to have supervisors monitor the system from time to time while performing daily duties outside the office.

My opinion is that the SCADA system requires a dedicated staff to monitor the system around-the-clock for it to work. The system will also control life-safety items (ex. fire standpipes), which should be monitored at all times. Can you please give me your expert opinion on the monitoring and use of SCADA?

A: The scale of your SCADA system determines how you must monitor it, but smarter SCADA makes everything easier.

You're right that monitoring the system "from time to time while performing daily duties outside the office" is a potential threat, but it isn't necessarily a bad idea.

You have to balance the benefit of remote monitoring against the time and expense.

We have many clients with small teams (1-6 people) who can't justify a 7x24 NOC center. For them, the use of the SCADA system necessarily takes place outside the office.

If you go this route, there are tools to help you. You should choose a SCADA system with alert notifications via email, SMS text message, etc.

You should also look for a system with some built-in intelligence. You don't need amazing AI, but you should have basic if-then logic. With that set up, your SCADA system can make routine decisions without waiting for a human (who might be driving to a remote site at the time and miss the alert message).

Of course, larger organizations have so many alarms happening at all hours that a 7x24 NOC center makes sense.

What else do you want to know about SCADA? There are many security, equipment, and environmental levels you can monitor and control with a good SCADA system. Getting good ROI means doing as much as you can with the system you've chosen.

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