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Industrial Control System Modernization: Unlock the Value of Automation in Utilities

Prepare for the future to stay relevant in utility digital revolution.

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This trends deep-dive report investigates strategic foresights and highlights the impact of ICS modernization programs on people, process, and technology for IT/OT leaders in utilities. Our goal is to guide you through the transformation journey by providing you practical insights and helping you overcome these challenges:

  • Drivers of ICS modernization are not fully understood by IT and OT leaders.
  • IT and OT leaders lack tactical insights to collaboratively plan and implement successful ICS modernization projects.
  • It is more difficult to change people than to change process and technology when it comes to ICS modernization.

Our Advice

Critical Insight

Utilities of the future require further advancement of automation. Modernizing your ICS is a crucial step forward in building the foundation for digital transformation. It is IT/OT leaders’ responsibility to plan and execute their organization's ICS modernization plan. Info-Tech’s insights can better prepare you to unleash the potential of advanced automation.

Impact and Result

  • Perform a cost-benefit analysis to support ICS modernization technologies and applications.
  • Optimize your plan from lessons learned prior to embarking on an ICS modernization roadmap and tactical implementation.
  • Leverage the readiness checklist for IT/OT/business leaders to guide organizations about required changes in people, process, and technology.

Industrial Control System Modernization: Unlock the Value of Automation in Utilities Research & Tools

1. Industrial Control System Modernization Storyboard – A strategic foresight trends deep-dive report that provides practical insights and readiness checklist to help IT/OT leaders in electricity utilities to de-risk grid modernization projects.

This research provides insights on the lessons learned and potential risks associated with grid modernization projects for electricity utilities. Built on expertise from industry practitioners and technology vendors, the readiness checklist on people, process, and technology identified in this report will help IT/OT leaders better prepare for grid modernization projects.

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Industrial Control System Modernization: Unlock the Value of Automation in Utilities

Industrial Control System Modernization: Unlock the Value of Automation in Utilities

Prepare for the future to stay relevant in utility digital transformation.

Analyst perspective

For over four decades at the center of the operations within utilities, industrial control system (ICS) has been hiding behind the curtain. Without drawing much attention, it has been slowly but surely moving the automation of utility operations forward.

With the advent of Industry 4.0, IIoT, digital twin, and other industrial digital trends, ICS has now gained center stage for every industry modernization roadmap. As a result, IT, OT and business leaders must now face the insufficiencies and obsolete practices that previously had gone unnoticed and used to be less problematic. The good news is that technology advancements and the need for business digitalization present the greatest opportunities for ICS to transform and to stay relevant.

Info-Tech's industry research on ICS modernization explores cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of ICS modernization programs. Combining the lessons learned from previous projects and perspectives from industry practitioners and technology vendors, this report assists IT/OT leaders to optimize and de-risk any future ICS modernization projects. This report provides you with a practical readiness checklist to guide your team and the business throughout the journey.

This is a picture of Jing Wu

Principal Research Director,
Utilities Research
Info-Tech Research Group

Executive summary

Your Challenge

  • Drivers of ICS modernization are not fully understood by IT and OT leaders.
  • IT and OT leaders lack tactical insights to collaboratively plan and implement successful ICS modernization projects.
  • People are more difficult to change than changing process and technology when it comes to ICS modernization.

Common Obstacles

  • ICS modernization projects are often costly and difficult to rationalize.
  • Executives often underestimate the IT involvement needed to support the ICS modernization program.
  • Change management implementation is often overlooked, causing unnecessary doubts among IT/OT/business teams.

Info-Tech's Approach

  • Perform a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) to support ICS modernization technologies and applications.
  • Optimize your plan from lessons learned prior to embarking on an ICS modernization road map and tactical implementation.
  • Leverage the readiness checklist for IT/OT/business leaders to guide organizations in required changes in people, process, and technology.

Info-Tech Insight

Utilities of the future require further advancement of automation. Modernizing your ICS is a crucial step forward in building the foundation for digital transformation. It is IT/OT leaders' responsibility to plan and execute your ICS modernization plan. Info-Tech's insights can better prepare you to unleash the potential of advanced automation.

Demystify the nomenclature of ICS

This is an image of three concentric circles. In the centermost circle is the word SCADA; overlapping between the innermost and the middle circle are two circles, with the terms PLC and CDS. In the middle circle is the term ICS. in the outermost circle is the term OT.

The nomenclature and technical specificities can make operational technology (OT) difficult to understand. Within utilities, OT encompasses computing systems that are used to manage operations controlling equipment, instrumentation, assets, processes, and events.
Industrial control systems (ICS) are typically used in utility mission critical control sectors,
which includes supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, distributed control systems (DCS), and other control system configurations such as programmable logic controllers (PLC).
The lines between SCADA, DCS, and PLC at times are blurred, depending on the actual implementation of ICS for each utility sector. Factors such as control timing requirements, geographic distribution, control complexity, and others can influence the design of the ICS.

  • SCADA is often exclusively used in utilities covering long distance operations such as electricity transmission and distribution, natural gas distribution, and water distribution.
  • DCS, highly integrated with the physical equipment, is often used in large power generation sites due to its reliable and high-speed local area network to handle large quantity input/output (I/O) processing.

In the context of this research, "ICS" is used to cover both components used generically across all utility sectors and those unique to one to one sector.

Sources: NIST, 2015; YOKOGAWA, 2018; University of Skövde, 2020; Automation Forum, 2022; Securicon, 2019.

ICS has been supporting the core operations in utilities as the unsung hero

ICS, equally important as information technologies (IT), has been widely used across utilities to make operation automation possible. Through various communication systems, data and command are exchanged between the centralized control center and the equipment or instrument within plants or remote field sites. Here are many examples that ICS automation supports core operations in utilities.

This is an image of an example Industrial Control System Layout.

Industrial control system (ICS)

Evolution of SCADA modernization in utilities

Evolution of SCADA modernization in utilities

Second Generation: Distributed

Third Generation: Network

Fourth Generation: IIoT

  • Based on expensive mainframe technology
  • Limited network capabilities
  • Proprietary protocols supported only by vendors
  • Rudimentary connection between master computer and RTUs
  • Physically smaller footprint and less expensive
  • Local area network (LAN) technology allows real-time communication
  • Proprietary protocols supported only by vendors
  • Start adoption of HMI and databases
  • Simplest components from previously complex systems
  • Interconnection between wide area network (WAN) and LAN
  • Introduction of open system architecture
  • Geographically separated components communicating with each other
  • Web-based systems and interconnect with industrial internet of things (IIoT) devices
  • Start adoption of mobile devices and cloud
  • Cybersecurity becomes a major concern
  • Usage of data modelling and complex algorithms

Sources: Process Solutions, 2020; Mader Electric, 2021.

Top drivers for ICS modernization

Shrinking pool of talent

    • Aging experienced workforce.
    • Competitive market cannot keep pace with the demand.

Growing complexity of systems

    • Build overtime piecemeal and difficult to manage and costly to operate.
    • Lack of documentation and trusted knowledge base.
This is an image of the top drivers for ICS Modernization. The contents correspond to the text boxes found around this image. In the top left is: Pressure of Operational Excellence; in the top right is: Industry Revolution Propels Advancement; in the bottom Left is: Growing risk and compliance challenges; in the bottom right is: Threats to resilience and Reliability.

Industrial 4.0/IIoT challenges status quo

    • Further insertion of IT capabilities propels OT to transform.

Digital utility drives change

    • Demand of further automation to support business digital strategy or smart city initiatives, e.g. green button in Ontario.
    • Lack of situational awareness of site operations over larger geographic areas.

Stricter regulation and compliance

    • Growing demand for data logging and system monitoring for regulatory reporting.

Concerning security and safety

    • Lack of governance posts both physical and cybersecurity risks.

Aging infrastructure threatens reliability

    • Disruptions of critical services due to failure of aging equipment and instrumentation.

Obsolete technology

    • Outdated systems and no routine updates are prompt for cyber attacks.
    • Lack of available supply and support of outdated technologies.

Sources: WWD, 2020; HDR, 2021.

Build an ICS modernization strategy to enable your business to transform

Build your business case

  • Identify the drivers to align with your organizational vision.
  • Build your case leveraging a cost-benefit analysis.

Execute your plan tactically

  • Refine your project plan from lessons learned.
  • Prepare your project by validating a readiness checklist of people, process, and technology.

Enhance key technology areas

  • Evaluate and enable ICS modernization technology top focus areas.
  • Couple technology investment with business capability enhancement.

Technology offerings in the modernization era

Technology offers the art of possible when it comes to ICS modernization. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the broad range of options. Identify tactical enablements to focus on now and plan strategic capabilities for the future.

This image contains a list of 14 examples of technology offerings in the modernization era.

Situational Awareness

Digital Frontliner

Intelligent Enablement

Efficient Engineering

Source: Inductive Automation, 2022.

SCADA investment is gaining momentum worldwide

The global SCADA market reached US$35 billion in 2021

Utilities segment CAGR (2022-2030) 10% accelerating
Sources: Statista; Global Market Insights, 2021.

Key insights

  • Top 3 SCADA markets in the US in 2026 by industry: Oil & Gas, Utilities, and Manufacturing.
  • Smart grid infrastructure pushing the scope of SCADA deployment.
  • Market leaders such as ABB Ltd., Schneider Electric SE, and Siemens AG are developing new SCADA production with enhanced capabilities.

Source: Global Market Insights, 2021.

Worldwide market size of SCADA in 2020 by segment

This is an image of a donut chart plotting the following data: Hardware (controllers, sensors, actuators); Software as a Service, hardware-independent; Software - perpetual licences, hardware-dependent.

Source: J'son & Partners, 2021.

Balance risk with rewards of modernization


  • Improve service reliability through continuous and real-time operation.
  • Enhance efficiency through operations visibility and transparency.
  • Optimize planning through data analytics beyond time series data and operational alarms.
  • Support digital utility strategy as the core enablement for any advanced technology deployment.
  • Cost savings and energy efficiency to automate operations of complex and large equipment and instrumentations.
  • Knowledge transfer to the future generations through digital automation.
  • Improve safety of the staff by equipping with system operational data.
  • Increase staff engagement through technology advancement.


  • Complex systems with many components to implement and manage.
  • Requires skilled workers such as operators, engineers, and field workers.
  • Higher risks of cyberattacks due to increased number of attack surfaces and devices that require additional effort, time, and funding to secure the system.
  • Requires diligent change management including enforcing stricter processes and procedures.

Determine the risks of not modernizing and plan your long-term goals

Modernize your ICS with proactive planning instead of being surprised by reactive actions. The use cases of the ICS modernizations could vary for each organization. IT/OT leaders must start asking the following key questions to determine your risks of not heading down the modernization path.

  • Is it safe to operate and what are the service reliability metrics ?
  • Is the cost of maintaining the existing system sustainable?
  • What are the key features missing from the existing system?
  • Can you operate in compliance with current and future regulations?
  • Do you get quality support from the vendor?
  • Do you have a sufficient pool of resources internally and externally to support the existing system?

Source: Control Engineering, 2022.

The business case benefits must align with your long-term vision, and are driven by your organizational objectives. Tackle the plan holistically instead of piecemeal to modernizing and optimizing. An overall long-term strategy is often expected, and it is crucial to highlight how ICS modernization will help meet the overall objectives.

This is an of a circular figure listing examples of long term goals.

Develop a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis

An ICS modernization project is often part of a large utility digitalization program that consists of many components. The multiyear program involves implementing new systems or upgrading complex existing systems. Their interdependencies and interactive effects make it difficult to justify updating any one of them separately. In addition, not all benefits can be easily quantified, such as contributing to the net-zero pathways for utilities. The following example of a benefit and cost metrics can help build out your CBA and navigate for supporting the justification of your business case. Depending on the financial treatment, capital and operational expenses could shift if the cloud system is chosen. Both monetized and unmonetized benefits should be presented, including utility, customer, and society benefits.

Benefits Metrics
Operational Efficiency and Cost Savings
  • Reduce truck rolls and staff time on manual operations of equipment or instrumentation.
  • Cost reduction in energy usage such as substation power voltage level or water treatment chemical level.
Improve Reliability and Resilience
  • Reduce field crew time by using remote field equipment to narrow down the fault areas and identify outage locations.
  • Reduce outage time impacting customers and avoiding financial penalty in service quality metrics.
  • Improve operating reliability through continuous and real-time trend analysis of equipment performance.
Energy and Capacity Savings

Optimize energy usage of operation to reduce overall operating cost and contribution to organizational net-zero targets.

Customers and Society Benefits
  • Improve customer safety for essential services such as drinkable water consumption.
  • Improve reliability of services and address service equity issues based on data.

Source: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2021.

Cost Metrics
Equipment and Infrastructure
  • Upgrade of existing site/field equipment or instrumentation or deployment of new.
  • Implementation of communication network equipment and labor to install and configure.
  • Upgrade or construction of server room including cooling/heating, power backup, server and rack hardware.
Software and Commission
  • The SCADA/HMI software and maintenance fee as well as lifecycle upgrade implementation project cost.
  • Labor cost of field commissioning and troubleshooting.
  • Integration with other systems such as an outage management system (OMS).
Support and Resources
  • Cost to hire business FTEs for ongoing managing and operating of the communication network and devices.
  • Cost to hire IT/OT FTEs to support and troubleshoot systems and the integration with other systems.

Info-Tech Resource: Reduce Time to Consensus With an Accelerated Business Case

Automation maturity to business capability alignment

Technology investment has to enhance business capabilities. ICS modernization investment is no exception. It is imperative for IT/OT leaders to draw the links between complex technical nomenclatures to the easy-to-understand business terms. Illustration of business capability gaps can help facilitate the conversation between technical practitioners and business stakeholders

Leverage a maturity model and your business capability map to highlight the gaps in order to achieve a desired business outcome. Most importantly, a maturity-level assessment including business, application, data, and technology can help prioritize your initiatives.

  1. Locate/Remote Manual Control
    • Digital controller, centralized HMI via network
  2. Automated Control
    • Closed-loop control fully automated
  3. Boost Operations
    • Mobility,
    • remote access,
    • business reporting,
    • system performance monitoring and notification
  4. Optimized
    • Business system integration including SCADA, CMMS, modelling tool, GIS, etc.
    • Optimization simulation,
    • AI-powered data analytics

Automation increases by developing outer layers from the core layer.

Adapted from Westin Automation Maturity Model, WEFTEC, 2018.

This is an image of a sample Info-Tech Business Capability Heat Map.

Info-Tech Utility Business Capability Heat Map for illustration purpose only.

Pitfalls to avoid when planning your project

  • No resources lineups
    Resources planning is critical. It is not just about project resources but also operational support resources and post-implementation vendor technical support.
  • No team collaboration
    Regardless of the IT/OT organizational structure, not getting the right team from both IT and OT involved can lead to costly regrets. For example, without the security team and network subject matter experts' review, you might encounter security and network configuration blockers during implementation.
  • Security as an afterthought
    Without selecting a security-by-design solution, your investment will be compromised and risk not being compliant with growing stricter regulations.
  • Overlook change management effort
    Major modernization projects require dedicated effort to execute a change management plan including communication, process documentation, and training.
  • Not having a master plan
    A common mistake preventing project success is not allocating sufficient time for planning and design. Without a well researched master plan of a phased approach, you might be setting yourself up for failure.
  • Assume a perfect-fit solution
    Most vendor products will provide you with standard functionalities that have some flexibility of configuration. Customizations are required to fit your specific needs at times. Decide on the trade-offs and do not assume a perfect-fit solution.

Case Study

The Harriman Utility Board (HUB), providing electric, gas, water, and sewer services for the city of Harriman, Tennessee, and nearby areas.

INDUSTRY: Water Utilities – Small and Rural
SOURCE: "Cloud SCADA Solves Big Problems for Smaller Utilities," Water and Wastes Digest, 2018


A small rural utility faced some unique challenges in serving 4,800 water customers and over 200 miles of water pipe:

  • Large and spread-out geographic areas.
  • Merger and acquisition inherited patchwork of technologies.
  • Limited and costly communication network to keep the line-of-sight.
  • Aging equipment failure without available repair parts.
  • Data not available to field workers.


HUB started with a demonstration project to monitor and control a remote booster pump station by using a small cloud SCADA system. After careful review of the demo and other options, HUB decided to rollout the cloud SCADA solution across the entire system.

After three months, the deployment was completed with a system consisting of GSM, CDMA cellular network, Ethernet, and others. No base station or other infrastructure was required from any remote station connecting to the cloud SCADA system.


The cloud SCADA solution enabled HUB to monitor and control 28 remote sites more efficiently and reliably.

With alerts and notifications to detect leaks faster and more accurately, HUB reduced water loss by 10%. Data was available to the right personnel from anywhere at anytime reducing overtime costs and unnecessary traveling overheads.

Cloud SCADA helped a smaller utility to afford a modern SCADA solution without internal expertise and a large budget.

Case Study

Municipal Electric Utility, providing electricity services for the city of Seguin, Texas.

INDUSTRY: Electric Utilities – Small and Urban
SOURCE: "Complete Automation Overhaul Benefits Smaller Utilities," AltEnergyMag, 2022


A small electric utility serving about 8,200 residential customers and a few large industrial facilities was going through a major and complex modernization and integration program:

  • Citywide Wi-Fi rollout
  • Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) deployment
  • GIS mapping execution
  • Energy efficiency software implementation
  • A new SCADA system rollout and integration with an OMS


The utility partnered with an experienced system implementer for the entire program. A web-based SCADA solution was implemented to enable:

  • Connection with any equipment supporting their native protocols.
  • Preconfigured templates using open-source web technologies.
  • Decentralized installation of the software to reduce cost.
  • Integration with OMS to provide real-time alerts geographically.
  • Upgrade of relays to collect more data.


The web-based SCADA solution enabled the city of Seguin to diagnose issues remotely, respond to service disruptions faster, and reduce the outage time for customers. In addition, more events such as voltage levels were captured to help troubleshoot customer Complaints and adjust the voltage regulators remotely.

The modern web-based SCADA solution has set up the infrastructure to allow future integration of automation equipment such as automated switching.

Case Study

Power Generation Plant, DTE Calvert City (DTECC), Kentucky.

INDUSTRY: Electric Utilities – Generation
SOURCE: "Case study: DCS Migration Challenges and Obstacles for Process Manufacturer," Control Engineering, 2019


DTECC had been using a 15-year-old DCS to support its around-the-clock utility service operations, including a gas turbine power generation facility. Due to lack of support of the HMI and hardware, a decision was made to upgrade to a modern solution. Even with careful planning, the upgrade encountered several challenges:

  • Upgrade effort and disruption to a 24/7 operation.
  • Technology compatibility issues between legacy and new solutions.


DTECC partnered with a system integrator (SI) and the product vendor for the upgrade project. A trusted partnership was established from the planning phase in which key issues were discussed, options were analyzed, and contingency planning was put in place.

To minimize the risk and reduce outage time, the implementation plan included:

  • Electronic marshaling with digital mapping instead of manual field wiring.
  • Bulk engineering and standard code replacing initially manually created logic.


A modern and well-supported system was implemented to support the operation with any future expansion of the organization. Upgrades of legacy systems often encountered unexpected issues despite the thoughtful planning.

During the deployment, experienced professionals with situational problem-solving skills were vital to complete the upgrade on time. Post-implementation and continued support and improvements from the SI were important to the long-term stability of the system.

Case Study

EPCOR Utilities Inc., providing electricity, natural gas, and water services in Canada and the United States.

INDUSTRY: Integrated Utilities
SOURCE: Interview with Gabriela Moise (IT), Mark Brosseau (OT), and Ming Franks (Business), EPCOR Utilities Inc., Oct 2022


As part of the EPCOR's stormwater integrated resource plan (SIRP) long-term strategy, one of the projects was to implement a SIRP operational dashboard to increase situational awareness to proactively reduce flooding.
The project team faced a number of challenges:

  • Data was siloed in multiple systems including SCADA and many business applications.
  • Data was not easily accessible to help make business decisions in a timely manner.


The project team delivered a geospatial analytical operational dashboard that leveraged PI to integrate data from SCADA, Esri GIS, and other systems. The implementation of PI required tight collaboration between OT/SCADA, business, and IT teams.

  • The OT/SCADA team brought expert knowledge of the sensor data.
  • The business team contributed with the business meaning and value of the data.
  • The IT team implemented the integration of all data sources around PI.


The SIRP operational dashboard successfully met its business objective and demonstrated the value of advanced data analytics. Business users could access the dashboard through any web browsers to monitor real-time data, review historical data, and export data for further analysis and reporting.

Throughout the project, EPCOR OT/SCADA and IT teams overcame several obstacles and learned to work collaboratively. Ongoing support of the dashboard also further integrated two teams.

Develop talent and foster collaboration to support modernization

This is an image of the Competency Model Generated by the Automation Federation and Department of Labor.

Automation Federation and Department of Labor collaboratively developed a competency model specific to the automation profession.

Competency Model Clearinghouse, license, 2019; courtesy United States Department of Labor.

Collaboration between cross-functional experts is mandatory to the success of your ICS modernization project, regardless of your organizational structure.

There are more common competencies between IT and OT professions than differences, despite different priorities and educational backgrounds. For instance, in the area of infrastructure (5.4) and cybersecurity (5.6), many organizations have similar resources working on two parallel systems that have a lot in common. Collaboration between two teams can certainly benefit the organization, especially with the challenge of a labor shortage.

Developing a competency-based talent program for utilities is key to growing the talent pool. With the aging workforce, utilities need to establish succession plans across different levels of professionals. Systems become more complex than ever to support and maintain. Competency-based development can make sure future talent have versatile skill sets to support future automation capabilities.

Info-Tech Resources:

A change management plan is key to cultivating an open mind

Collaboration between IT/OT could be the biggest challenge in your ICS modernization plan. Despite the trend of IT/OT convergence across many industries, most utilities are not ready yet for organizational structural change. Often seen as having conflicting objectives, in reality IT and OT teams share common interests to protect and enable the core business.

Having a change management plan with dedicated resource support is vital to develop an open mind across various levels of management, professionals, and field staff. Senior leadership support to foster collaborative culture and share joint responsibility can accelerate the change. A governance committee group can help enforce the joint responsibility even if two teams are not combined organizationally.

50%: Percentage of 39 North American utilities that have concrete plans for IT/OT convergence, according to a poll conducted by McDonnell Group, on behalf of Ventyx (TCS, 2016).
46%: Percentage of surveyed utilities that have dedicated change management staff, compared to 76% of overall respondents (Prosci, 2016).

"People are the most difficult challenge to overcome where process and technology can be sorted out. Having the right mindset and attitude is to embrace new technology and adapt to new processes."
– Malcolm Bailie, Nozomi Networks

"Process and technology are relatively easy compared to people. Changing the way people work is hard."
– Gabriela Moise, EPCOR Utilities

Readiness checklist to start building your talent pool

Like the implementation of any modernization technologies and application, the cost, time, and effort required to develop the right talent are substantial.

Utilities are often surprised by the level of gaps during projects and find themselves scrambling to shuffle to make do with already lean teams. The following checklist is to help you be better prepared for the journey.

Build a competency-based talent development plan

  • Collaborate between IT and OT managers, HR, and union if applicable to conduct a needs/competency review against the future technology team.
  • Develop succession plans at all levels, including professionals and field staff, to prepare for the employee turnover due to aging workforce and competitive market.

Develop a change management plan

  • Secure sponsorship from the senior leadership team to engage employees at all levels for this plan.
  • Set up a governance structure to foster a joint accountability and promote across-functional collaboration.

Diversify talent development plan

  • Leverage expertise from vendor and system integrator as a professional development opportunity for staff.
  • Offer versatile training methods for different types of learners to ensure operational consistency and safety.
  • Diversify sources of talent recruitment and development. For example, provide cross-training opportunities for both IT and OT teams. Support recruitment diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Increase adoptions of cross-discipline processes

The growing similarities between the underlying technologies increases the adoption of IT operational processes to OT operations. Rankings of priorities among availability, integrity, confidentiality, and safety are still different between IT and OT systems in utilities. However, OT teams and IT teams can both benefit from enforcing some of the well-established cross-discipline processes.


To increase supportability and reliability, standardization of ICS ecosystem is important. Standard software, configuration, security, and even devices can help with reduced errors, faster deployment, and ease of maintenance. It also helps with compliance and interoperability and in reducing shadow IT/OT.

Lifecycle Management

Regular updates to install the latest available features improve reliability and stability. It can also avoid hidden cost to maintain obsolete and unsecured systems.

Plan for more frequent upgrades of various components within the modernized ecosystem.

Process Governance

Operation consistency is often overlooked at the risk of reliability. Identifying operation process owners with periodic reviews can improve operational efficiency. Operational data analytics can also reinforce processes consistency.

Info-Tech Insight

Once processes are well-established and consistently executed, certain operations could be automated, limiting the need for documented processes and reliance on experienced staff.

Elevate process optimization from the micro level to the macro level

Many organizations take the opportunity to review existing OT processes and identify areas for optimization on the micro-level, as part of the ICS modernization project.

Here are some examples of standardization:

  • System-wide universal tagging standard and naming convention.
  • Control panel parts, layouts, and field-wiring designs.
  • Server and network equipment specifications.
  • PLC hardware configuration and coding standards.
  • HMI application standards with code templates.
  • Alarm messages, screens, and procedures.

Sources: ISA, 2011; Control Engineering, 2021.

Modernization demands a process review on a broader macro level across the overall OT practices. Compared to IT, historically, OT lacks a standardized management and governance framework. Instead of reinventing the wheel, one approach is to leverage a comprehensive existing research of the core IT processes and adapt them into the OT practices.

This is an image of the IT management and governance framework, laid out to resemble the periodic table of elements.

Readiness checklist to start redesigning your core processes

Due to the interdependencies of systems and teams introduced by complex ICS technologies, siloed processes become detrimental to the effectiveness and efficiency of the grid operations. Process engineering must be iterative during and after the project implementation to reach its maturity level.

Assess process and accountability gap

  • Conduct a maturity assessment of key processes and highlight gaps that are focusing on operation reliability and risk resilience.
  • Document process RACI across key areas with the acknowledgement from IT, OT, and business stakeholders when it comes to data ownership and cybersecurity.

Improve key areas

  • Investing in time and effort for a holistic master plan and design analysis will pay off and avoid costly mistakes or regrets.
  • Develop ICS standards documents to guide how ICS/SCAD should be implemented, operated, and supported.
  • Execute process integration by developing a shared vision among IT and OT security leaders to foster a culture of mutual understanding.

Adopt a macro-level approach

  • Collaborate with cross-functional teams to remove operational silos and assess process improvement comprehensively.
  • Adopt a journey mapping methodology to identify opportunities and measured metrics to gain efficiency.
  • Define ongoing review cadence to ensure the maintenance of policies, procedures, and processes.

Modernization increases technology complexity and creates challenges

The basic operation of an ICS is well established, but the actual implementation can be very complex. Over the years, technology advancement helped reshape how automation is done within the utility industry. Along with new capabilities, the overall complexity of the system has grown with many added layers of equipment, protocols, and standards.

With more components to maintain in the ecosystem, the lifecycle cost of support also grows. On top of that, utility business portfolios change over time via mergers and acquisitions and so does the diversity of automation technologies. Security and interoperability are among the top challenges to overcome.

This is an image of An example of a high-level architecture of an electric utility's control system and its interaction with IT and business systems.

An example of a high-level architecture of an electric utility's control system and its interaction with IT and business systems.

Security Guidelines for the Electricity Sector, Courtesy NERC.

Choose technology and implementation partner wisely

Selecting the right technology and implementation partner can save a lot of headaches for many years to come. ICS projects are often costly, time consuming, and high risk. Once selected, technology vendors become long-term partners with the utility. It is worth the effort to carefully select your partner. The following tips shared from the industry practitioners and experts can hopefully spare you some costly mistakes.

Half the battle is having the right people.

  • Ensure experienced experts are on the team even if resources are more expensive.
  • Confirm availability of local vendor support and resources pool.

Tap into early learnings.

  • Attend industry conferences to learn detailed insights.
  • Connect with peers, check references, and visit sites to learn from others.
  • Conduct a pilot project with lessons learned feeding into a large program.

Manage the core and plan for future.

  • Ensure the vendor product is capable of open standards, interoperability, backwards compatibility, and composability.
  • Establish principles of standard feature sets, innovative needs, and customizations.
  • Ask about the vendor's roadmap for future support and future product releases.
  • Ensure the license model meets your capacity now but can also accommodate future growth.

"The main issue for any large deployment is the field work aspect. For instance, legacy devices often do not have backwards compatibility."
– Mirek Januszek, Sydney Water

Vendor landscapes of software features

Key players within the industry offer a competitive edge over each other and common themes can be found among them as signs of where SCADA technology advancement is headed. Mergers and acquisitions happen among competitors and the interoperability and supportability could be a challenge as a result.

Feature Highlights

Not an exhaustive list

This is an image of the logo for AVEVA

Now part of Schneider Electric

This is an image of the logo for Schneider Electric. This is an image of the logo for GE Digital This is an image of the logo for SIEMENS This is an image of the logo for Honeywell.

Software HMI

Browser-based graphics builder and web control deployable -

Ability to embed industrial graphics directly in runtime client

Build-in programmable APIs to enable extensions of configurations - integrated mapping for geospatial analysis

Rapid application development tools support OPC UA auto-discovery - HTML5 compliant and support responsive design

Rapid application development tools support OPC UA auto-discovery - HTML5 compliant and support responsive design

Rapid application development tools support OPC UA auto-discovery - HTML5 compliant and support responsive design

Cloud Offering

AVEVA development studio cloud application allows hybrid integration - AVEVA Data Hub cloud-native platform

EcoStruxure ADMS (including SCADA) on Azure

Hybrid Azure/AWS cloud support

Cloud-based totally integrated automation (TIA) portal compliments on-premises SCADA

SaaS Model - ability to integrate with on-premises SCADA and third-party solutions.

IIoT Integration

System platform allows IIoT integrations via AVEVA Edge

Device connectivity framework leveraging Azure IoT technology

MQTT5 client integration data from smart IoT sensors/devices into SCADA

WinCC Unified Apps for Industrial Edge


Support any HTML5-compliant web browser on any device - library of apps available

HTML5 browser-independent web and mobile clients

Web-based configuration hub and web-based database management

HTML5 supported WinCC Unified System;

WinCC Open Architecture UI app

HTML web-based client and configuration interfaces

Innovative Add-ons

Vision AI assistant for visual anomaly detection - Ability to embed any HTML5-based interactive webpage

External analytics software integration - alarm annunciation for SMS, email, and voice via external systems

Enable analytics through SCADA data and Python libraries; Proficy CSense AI/ML data analytics

SCADA and industry PCs package solution

Integrated gas operations suite for pipelines and features

Core Product

Enterprise SCADA (Pipeline Management)

EcoStruxure Geo SCADA (ClearSCADA); EcoStruxure ADMS (Grid Operations, Generation Management Module)



Experion Elevate

Experion HS (targeted for small to medium automation projects)

Note: Information based on secondary research to demonstrate feature trends. Contact vendor for full list of available features per SCADA product.

Readiness checklist to deploy modular technologies

ICS modernization projects are often part of a bigger program such as a smart grid roadmap for electric utilities. As a result, there are interdependencies of technologies across many layers of security fences both inside and outside the perimeters of organizations. IT and OT leaders should keep the big picture in mind when designing and implementing ICS solutions to enable modular advancements for the risk-averse utility sector.

Assess integration, data, and cybersecurity gap

  • Conduct a maturity assessment of integration and data management capabilities.
  • Conduct security maturity assessment for both IT and OT domains.

Address urgent needs

  • Prioritize data readiness and quality improvement to avoid it becoming roadblocks for project implementation.
  • Build a risk-based cybersecurity
  • program leveraging built-in capabilities within ICS solutions.
  • Develop a plan for compatibility challenges of legacy components ahead of time to avoid surprises during the project.

Plan for lifecycle management

  • Develop an ICS modernization program budget that considers the increased cadence of technology upgrades.
  • Establish continuous partnership with vendor and SI for ongoing support and proactive planning for future upgrades.
  • Coordinate technology roadmap between IT, OT, and the business to ensure interdependencies and consistency are deliberated.

Technology cornerstones empower utilities for the future

The modernization program never ends with one upgrade or one new implementation. It is a continuous journey that requires collaboration with multidisciplinary experts as well as keeping an open mind to manage the present and prepare for the future. None of the following technology trends are groundbreaking, and many organizations already have plans or are in the process of implementing them depending on the industry and the maturity level of their organization. This report intends to shed some lights on the unique perspectives in the utility industry for these technologies.

Cybersecurity Cloud Adoption Data Analytics

Create a holistic security culture

To safeguard the core business, ICS modernization projects can no longer be done by OT team alone in isolation.
The interconnection between IT and OT networks, introduction of IIoT integration, and pandemic demand a joint effort between both IT and OT teams to collaborate closely.

The pandemic's impact on IT/OT convergence among manufacturing, energy and utilities, healthcare, and transportation organizations:

71% 18% 11%
Accelerated convergence No change Delayed convergence

Source: "2021 State of Operational Technology and Cybersecurity Report," Fortinet, 2021

To overcome the challenges to secure ICS, IT and OT teams must work together to create a holistic security culture. Integration between legacy OT environments with modern security technologies can benefit from the expertise of both domains.

Biggest OT challenges organizations in energy, IT, and other sectors face in securing OT technologies and processes:

59.4% -

Technical integration of legacy and aging OT technology with modern IT systems.

56% -

Insufficient labor resources to implement existing security plans.

52.2% -

IT staff does not understand OT operational requirements.

39.6% -

Traditional IT security technologies are too complex to implement and maintain in an OT environment.

Source: Nozomi Networks, 2021

Info-Tech Resources:

Increase cloud adoption to improve operational outcomes

Organizations are increasingly adopting cloud technology to leverage its benefits. Organizations that are migrating ICS systems to an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) system are mainly looking for the following operational outcomes (Journal of Cloud Computing, 2017):

Cheaper Deployments

System Redundancy Support

Increased Uptime

Compliance with utility regulations and standards is key to mitigate risks of cloud solutions. Utilities are the top industries most at risk of ICS threat, and external remote services are the number one risk involved in the initial attack vectors in OT/ICS incidents (Nozomi Networks, 2021). Mapping industry-specific standards and frameworks to cloud vendor security maturity level is the crucial initial step for cloud adoption within the utility sector. The following standards and regulations are popular for utilities to manage compliance obligations: NIST Cyber Security Framework (CSF), IEC/ISA 62443 Security for industrial automation and control systems, North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection (NERC CIP), IEC 61850 communication networks and systems for power utility automation, Australian Energy Sector Cyber Security Framework (AESCSF), Australia Security of Critical Infrastructure Act (SOCI Act), and EU-wide cybersecurity legislation (NIS Directive).

Info-Tech Resources:

Business insights beyond ICS operations

Broaden the use of ICS data into your data management layer to make better business decisions. For example, underground water pipes or electric cable replacement can be very costly. SCADA data such as hours of operations or number of operations paired with CMMS data can drive better insights into the failure rate of assets to assist in preventative and predictive maintenance programs.

Bad data leads to bad decisions. Advanced data analytics have made promising benefits across both IT and OT domains. Similarly, data quality remains a major challenge to overcome in the OT domain. ICS automation relies on quality data.

  • Operation and compliance reporting such as daily energy usage and water quality report.
  • Alerts and drill downs such as gas pressure, senor alarms, and potential root causes analysis.
  • Statistical and trending analysis such as overhead line failure rate based on historical data and forecast of likely failure of line segments if current trends continue.
  • Predictive and prescriptive analysis such as hydraulic modelling of water pressure levels and apply what-if alternative analysis to compare scenarios to recommend optimal actions.
  • Integration and optimization analysis such as enterprise-wide utility operation risk dashboard to make data-driven decisions to safeguard its critical operations. Organizations can tap into ICS data for building a sustainable future.

Info-Tech Resources:

Outlook for IT/OT leaders

Modernization Alliance

Digital (IT/OT) Team Convergence

Industry Research

Technology Partners

Regulation Alignment and Influence

Peer Connect

It is a daunting task for IT/OT leaders to follow a clear vision and develop an effective ICS modernization strategy, facing both internal and external pressure with competing priorities.

Collaboration is key. You are not alone in tackling this complex challenge. Utilities across the globe are working toward the future of adaptable utilities.

Changes are inevitable. IT/OT leaders need to be prepared.

Transformation needs a purpose and a plan. Leveraging best practices and research insights can help optimize the opportunities and minimize any risks along the way.

It is important for IT/OT leaders to form a circle of alliances throughout the journey beyond tactical technical readiness made available in this research.

Use this ICS modernization report as an input to different blueprints

ICS modernization:

Unlock the value of automation in utilities

This can be used as a stand-alone report or an input to digital strategy, IT strategy, reference architecture, and more.

Utilities Business Architecture

Capability Map

Key Capabilities

Prioritize Capability Gaps

Define Your Digital Business Strategy

Innovate the Business

Transform Processes

Build Customer-Centricity

Build a Business-Aligned IT Strategy

Current State

Strategic Initiative Plan

Foundational Elements

Future of Utilities Trends Report


Key IT Element

Future Trends

Contributing experts

Darcy Guenette
Section Head – Renewal Generation OT Cyber Security, Ontario Power Generation
Fourteen years' experience dedicated to NERC CIP compliance and OT cybersecurity in Power Generation. Eleven years for a major computer corporation in technical services (IBM). Three years technical services in control systems in the paper making industry.

Malcolm Bailie
Senior Manager, Solution Delivery and Projects (APAC) for Nozomi Networks
Based in Sydney, Australia.
Over 25+ years practical experience in OT/SCADA:

  • Designing and deploying cybersecurity solutions for OT/IoT.
  • Consulting and assessing control systems.
  • Managing large-scale critical infrastructure.
  • Designing, deploying, and maintaining control systems.

Control Systems Manager, Sydney Water
Mirek is responsible for operations, innovation, development, and implementation of strategies, standards, configuration for plant SCADA and telemetry (distributed SCADA) systems and for providing ongoing support and expert technical advice on design, implementation, operation, and maintenance of Sydney Water's SCADA systems.
Mirek's areas of expertise are SCADA and telemetry business intelligence solutions; SCADA security in line with best practice for National Critical Infrastructure; Strategy and Asset Planning; and SCADA standards, procedures, and quality management.
Prior to Sydney Water, Mirek has 14 years local and international consulting experience managing and delivering large SCADA system implementations.
Mirek holds an MBA in Leadership and the Master of Electronic Engineering.

Contributing experts

Gabriela Moise

Mark Brosseau
Senior Manager, PLANT Control and Automation, EPCOR UTILITIES INC.

Ming Franks
Senior Manager, data strategies, EPCOR UTILITIES INC.

IDA Siahaan
Research Director, Info-Tech Research Group


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  • Darcy Guenette, Section Head, Renewal Generation OT Cyber Security, Ontario Power Generation
  • Malcolm Bailie, Senior Manager, Solution Delivery and Projects (APAC) for Nozomi Networks
  • Mirek Januszek, Control Systems Manager, Sydney Water
  • Gabriela Moise, Senior Manager, Planning and Architecture, EPCOR Utilities Inc.
  • Mark Brosseau, Senior Manager, Plant Control and Automation, EPCOR Utilities Inc.
  • Ming Franks, Senior Manager, Data Strategies, EPCOR Utilities Inc.
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