What is SCADA?

What exactly is SCADA? What does it stand for and what does it do? We unpack important aspects of the modern SCADA system.
Written by
Branif Base
Published on
March 27, 2024

What is SCADA, exactly?

SCADA - or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition - is a group of technology that consists of both hardware and software that allow industrial organizations to manage, control and monitor their industrial processes. SCADA is all around us, usually unbeknownst to the general public. While flying under the radar in society, it plays a very significant role in our world today.

For example, when we turn on our showers, the water is delivered by a water district. SCADA controls most aspects of the water delivery process - from pumping it out of the ground to storing it in a reservoir so that the water is ready for you, regardless of if it is a drought year or wet year. SCADA seamlessly controls these rather complex processes.

The main components of SCADA are:

  1. Supervisory Control: This component provides the interface for operators to monitor and control the process. It typically consists of graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that display real-time data, alarms, and controls.
  2. Data Acquisition: This component collects data from sensors, meters, and other devices in the field. It may involve various communication protocols to gather data from different types of equipment.
  3. Control System: This component executes control actions based on input from the operator or predefined algorithms. It may involve opening or closing valves, adjusting setpoints, or other actions to maintain the process within desired parameters.
  4. Communication Infrastructure: SCADA systems rely on communication networks to transmit data between field devices, remote sites, and the central control system. This can include wired or wireless networks, such as Ethernet, radio, or cellular communication.
  5. Human-Machine Interface (HMI): This is the interface through which operators interact with the SCADA system. HMIs provide visualizations of the process, including real-time data, trends, and alarms, and allow operators to control the process as needed.

Modern SCADA is now cloud based, meaning a centralized server is no longer necessary. This provides system owners with significant benefits in terms of cost, reliability, scalability and security. With SCADA, operators can easily see what is happening in their operations. Even remote sites, tens or even hundreds of miles away can be monitored from an authorized users computer at the central operations center or satellite site.

A PID is a type of mathematical algorithm in a PLC that enables automatic regulation of an operation to achieve a set result—a result that can change with real-time conditions. This can be controlled and monitored within the SCADA system.

Inputs and Outputs

We cannot talk about SCADA without mentioning the foundational key component of I/Os.

I/O stands for Input and Output. There are Digital and Analog I/Os. Digital I/Os are represented by binary signals - 0s and 1s, while Analog I/Os are continuous signals represented by a scale of electrical current. I/O are normally local to the PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) and represented in I/O cards or modules. Different OEMs have slightly varying architectures on how they receive their I/O from sensors, assets and more.

In our diagram above, you can see various I/O, such as the Water Pump (Digital Output), or the Level Sensor (Analog Input), for example. These I/O are controlled locally by the PLC and with the data it is collecting, the PLC can run complex and fast calculations, such as a PID loop, to produce a consistent result.


Many manufacturers have adopted various communication protocols to ensure that communication devices and software systems can effectively communicate with each other. We achieve commonality and integration through these industry-standard protocols. Some protocols include Modbus, OPC, Ethernet, DNP3, and IEC 60870-5, among others. Additionally, there are proprietary protocols designed for specific platforms. Each protocol offers unique performance benefits, while some may have limitations.

Communication capabilities

SCADA systems frequently manage numerous remote sites requiring control from either the cloud or a central command center. These sites are often located in remote, rugged areas with limited internet or cellular connectivity. Therefore, selecting a SCADA platform with robust wireless communication capabilities becomes crucial in such environments. For example, many SCADA users opt for the Motorola SCADA platform because of its diverse communication capabilities, which include UHF, VHF, and digital radio options.

Functionality and performance

SCADA systems must possess specific performance characteristics tailored to their respective use cases. Real-time performance and the ability to withstand certain temperatures are often essential requirements. Many SCADA applications necessitate PID controllers that calculate and adjust system assets in real-time. These are just a few considerations among many when evaluating the functionality of your SCADA platform.


One of the most important aspects in your SCADA network is security. There are several layers to your SCADA system before it reaches the real world - this includes the cloud server, the local network, the communications backhaul, the PLC, and then the asset it is connected to. As you can imagine, the processes SCADA systems control today include public utilities, wastewater districts, farming operations, and national security facilities. Security must be at the top of your priority list when designing and implementing your SCADA system. SCADA systems have been targeted by sophisticated hacking organizations that cause substantial financial and operational losses. Branif utilizes one of the most secure software, hardware and communication SCADA platforms on the market today, Motorola MC IoT; which includes the ACE3600 and MC Edge platform. In fact the Motorola MC Edge has built in AES 256 bit encryption end to end, as just one of many security features built into the solution. We will write another blog post just on this topic alone, as there is much to cover with security.

Are you interested in learning more about our SCADA and IoT solutions? Go to our SCADA and IoT Solutions page to learn more.

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