Evaluating the Usability of Your SCADA Implementation

Understanding how to make your SCADA data useful and usable is key to getting the most out of your SCADA solution.

Samantha McPheter
February 9, 2023

In my last article, I discussed some general questions oil and gas companies should be asking about SCADA products. Many companies use an implementation of a SCADA system to monitor and control equipment in the oil field, but a vast majority of the solutions available don’t make your data as useful or usable as it should be.

What are 3 Common Symptoms of a SCADA Usability Problem?

There could be a long list of these, but it is easiest to evaluate how usable your SCADA system is by identifying if your company has any of these three major symptoms. Having just one of these is enough to diagnose an important issue.

Symptom 1: Low utilization rate. You are collecting more data from more devices each year and the utilization rate of your SCADA data remains the same -- few people using it infrequently throughout a day.

Symptom 2: No questions or requests from the field. Users are not asking new questions or making requests for the output to be displayed in ways that help answer these questions.

Symptom 3: It doesn’t work well or at all on mobile devices. Few to none of the operators in the field are using their phones to check data, capture data, process data, or use the data to prioritize their work and make decisions. People are on their phones, but are they using it for SCADA?

How Do I Evaluate the Usability of a SCADA Implementation?

We want to equip you with some fundamental questions to help understand and evaluate SCADA solution offerings. A basic implementation of a SCADA system almost never prioritizes usability. This is in part because companies don’t think about usability until it’s too late. They make a decision and investment and find out later their people won’t use it. There are some easy-to-spot differences in SCADA applications if you ask these questions.    

Question 1: Can users easily configure their own views on screens?

  • If the information for a role is hard to get into a viewable, useful format, people won’t make it a habit. Operators and engineers should be using SCADA, but also accountants, managers, executives, and marketers. Small barriers equate to big drops in utilization and reduce usability for more people in a company. The best companies are focusing on the intersection of human machine interface (HMI) software and SCADA by building modern SCADA software that people find intuitive.  

Question 2: Can SCADA data be easily retrieved on any device?

  • We all have phones on us all the time. If the communications network does not support real-time data on any device anywhere in a field, no matter how remote, people will not become dependent on this data to make decisions.
eLynx scada applications available on all devices
The eLynx product allows  data to be accessible from any device anywhere

Question 3: Is all the data available in one system?

  • Separate systems are utilization killers. These require operators, for example, to have to log in to and use three separate systems to access polled data, field data capture, and third-party data. Users should have access to the whole picture as soon as possible to make fully informed and quick decisions. Companies that have multiple SCADA networks and databases that aren’t integrated definitely will not be using their SCADA system to its full potential.  

Question 4: Can I create one alarm that relates to many devices so my alarming becomes smarter?

  • Alarm management is key to drawing attention to problems in the field. Poor alarming leads to missing key events (too few alarms) or ignoring them (too many alarms that lead to fatigue). A SCADA alarm system becomes much more usable if SCADA protocols for alarms are adjusted to get the right balance. Most companies don’t have defined SCADA alarm management standards that guide their alarming strategy.  

Question 5: Can I assign attributes to devices, such as route, field, and foremen, to allow them to dynamically filter into premade groups?

  • Many SCADA systems statically assign devices rather than being able to assign them based on a number of different attributes. This needlessly constricts who sees what and when and makes managing problems in the field much harder to communicate to the right people at the right time.  

Question 6: Can I quickly create notification lists to allow users to easily move recipients around on alarms and other alerts when people in the field change?

  • The people in the field at different times of the day are always in flux. Flexibility is key to making the system nimble so the right users at the right time receive the right information from the SCADA system. SMS text messages are often triggered for important actions.    

Question 7: Is there an interface that enables a system administrator to easily control who can see what devices, make these changes in the system, and add users?

  • It is surprising how difficult changing some SCADA systems is, while some don’t allow for any control. It should be simple to onboard new users and select what they can do and see. This also protects the system from getting changed by accident or by people who should not have access to certain devices in the field.

Question 8: How do customer support tickets get managed?

  • A system that is getting used will have support tickets because people come to depend on it. If it has issues, they will want those quickly fixed. They will also want to do more with it and have feature requests. How well a company can support its product will determine if people get what they need out of it now and in the future.

eLynx is Built to Be Usable By The Entire Company

For nearly 20 years, eLynx has been working side-by-side with big and small oil and gas companies across the United States to provide them with the turnkey SCADA product. Our offering continues to evolve based on new problems, opportunities, and requests. This is why we have been able to build both the most useful SCADA system in the industry and the most usable.

We closely examine the key metrics of our product and measure the adoption rate and utilization of our customers. Active daily users in a company, time spent in our SCADA product, and the number of visits per day is chief among these. If these aren’t growing over time, we take swift action to learn what is holding people back and implement measures to increase adoption and use.

This type of relentless focus on users and usability of our SCADA product means that more people in a company are using data to make good business decisions. The power of historical data and SCADA analytics comes from not just the insights, but from how simple they are to understand and make decisions about. An oil and gas company only transforms how it works if most of the people are using data each and every day to make better business decisions.

Our team is always eager to learn more about your company and situation and show you how our SCADA product offers value. It will be beneficial for you to see how one of the most useful and usable oil and gas SCADA solutions works and what it could do for your entire company.

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