Questions Oil and Gas Companies Should Be Asking About SCADA Products

The quantity and variety of SCADA systems in oil and gas make it difficult for companies to make sense of the differences and features that are most important for doing SCADA well.

Scott Haven
May 22, 2019


Companies increasingly desire to know if they should be getting more out of their SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems in oil and gas. They want to know if their SCADA software solution is as useful as it could be.

Some wonder if their SCADA monitoring of devices is as comprehensive, frequent, and accurate as it needs to be to do meaningful analytics. Often, companies won’t know the exact questions to ask to evaluate the usefulness, but they may feel that their alarm handling in SCADA could be better, for example, because their SCADA alarm notifications get ignored almost all the time.

This leads them to start looking into SCADA software companies to help them understand what is possible. They begin evaluating SCADA packages and get a deeper look into SCADA applications in the oil and gas industry. However, there is a wide range of offerings from basic to advanced from a number of SCADA companies.

Many SCADA solutions are generic in that they offer SCADA to a wide range of industries and are not made specifically for oil and gas. This quantity and variety of SCADA systems in oil and gas make it difficult for companies to make sense of the differences and which features are most important for doing SCADA well in oil and gas.

This article will arm people with the questions they need to ask to figure out 1) if their company is getting what they need out of their current SCADA, 2) if they have a usefulness or usability problem (or both) when it comes to SCADA, and 3) the key questions they should ask SCADA software vendors about the usability of their solution because the value of SCADA hinges on who uses it and when.

How Glued to SCADA Data is Your Company?

For better and worse, smartphones stay glued to hands today. They are the connection to what is going on with people in your lives and the rest of the outside world. A recent study showed that Americans check their phone once every 12 minutes and will look at them on average 80 times a day. That is a widespread dependency.

Oil and gas companies invest in SCADA systems so their people always know what is going on with their field production and can make fast and good decisions about what to do in order to save costs, reduce downtime, and increase oil and gas production. In other words, many should be glued to the data and SCADA analytics throughout the day.

However, many companies with SCADA systems usually aren’t. Only a tiny percentage of people in an oil field typically use any SCADA data, they don’t use much of what is available, and they don’t utilize it frequently throughout the day.

This means that a company’s SCADA investment is underutilized and not nearly as effective as it should be. This is troubling for today’s oil and gas companies because most are opting to stay lean and SCADA technology should be helping them work smarter.

Some companies think the problem is that SCADA data does not contain enough analytic insights to meaningfully change their business so they begin to inquire about advanced analytics. The application of SCADA in the oil and gas industry is typically not set up well, to begin with, and then remains that way for years.

The reality is that companies are not getting near what is possible from their current SCADA system. Any sort of advanced analytics will be grounded in and dependent on how their SCADA system works to acquire and make available data, insights, and intelligence.

How Useful and Usable is Your SCADA Data?

The two major pain points when it comes to getting the most out of SCADA system data related to how useful the data is and how usable it is.

Useful data means that SCADA data has the ability to be used to prioritize tasks and make decisions in a timely manner throughout a day. Often companies will go as cheap as they can when setting up their SCADA systems to provide the most basic information and realize later that the systems are not designed to be easily expanded as their people want more data and intelligence. Usefulness remains rudimentary and companies struggle to add functionality that works well in these types of scenarios.  

Another significant barrier to usefulness is poor data quality. This can be the result of a lack of sensors, poor calibration of them, measurements on different scales, and communication systems that don’t transfer data frequently enough.

While more and more companies are accumulating a staggering amount of data each day, if the data are of poor quality, the usability drops significantly. People learn not to trust the data, alarms, and reports that come from these systems. SCADA system usage will suffer as a result.

Usable data means that the data available is easy to access, understand, and take action on. Even the most useful data will not make an impact on your company if it is not usable. In fact, it becomes useless if it is not simple and easy to use.

While many companies are sold on SCADA fixes and solutions that offer all sorts of data points from across the field, much of this can remain obscure, hard to find, difficult to navigate, and results in people not trained or properly equipped to make sense of it. While generating clean, quality data from the field is hard to do, making this data usable is just as difficult and is often overlooked when companies are evaluating potential SCADA solutions.

What’s the C:\> in Your SCADA?

C:\>

Some of you may be old enough to remember this. The “C” prompt was the original Microsoft Disc Operating System command line that required computer language inputs to access information and files. This was before the breakthrough of the intuitive graphical user interface that changed the game and made it easy for people to interact with technology. This became Microsoft Windows as we know it today, where you click or tap what you want to do and where you want to go.

In most ways, Apple created their entire wealth as a company around making technology to be the most simple to use on the market. This same thinking created the iPhone and the modern smartphone concept that has achieved some of the most widespread and fastest adoption of a new technology.

Many SCADA systems are not known for their usability. As an industrial technology, a priority has rarely been placed on usability, even though the more people using it in an oil and gas company in various roles would result in more significant savings and increased production.
Most SCADA is still about as user friendly as the C:\> was back in the early days of personal computers. The focus has been on “what data can we get” and not on “how will we use it.” A lot of this data has not been made useful because it has not been made usable.

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Scott Haven
Scott Haven became Chief Business Development Officer shortly after joining eLynx’s product team in 2018. Scott focuses on designing and driving the entire customer experience at eLynx.

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