Low Code / No Code SCADA Systems

This article reviews the use and applications of No Code SCADA sytems within the modern industrial automation enviroment.

1 What is No Code / Low Code SCADA?


1.1 Definition

The terms “No Code” and “Low Code” refer to a system of productivity tools that provide sane defaults for users. Platforms like Notion and Retool are perfect examples of No Code and Low Code respectively. The basic idea is to make applications that traditionally have an extensive amount of developer time into those that require very little to no developer time to implement.

A No Code SCADA system extends these concepts to the realm of SCADA. Doing the heavy lifting of connecting devices, managing permissions and sorting data while leaving the customization of particular parts of the platform in the hands of end users.

This is a very new category of tools and can be thought of as what happens after digital transformations (Industry 4.0). But that doesn’t mean a company needs to wait for a full digital
transformation to use them.

1.2 Excel, the most famous Low Code system

The oldest and most venerated Low Code system in the world is Excel. A user is capable of implementing a layout, publishing, calculation and reformatting system on their own. You have access to powerful tools like formula calculation, filtering and search. Developers, especially, speak about Excel in hushed and reverent tones!

Notice, this doesn’t mean you never do coding in Excel whatsoever. Instead, you program in a context that makes the system feel familiar and useful. This is where the power lies. Customization exactly where you want it – and all the nitty gritty parts are done behind the scenes.

1.3 Cloud makes this possible for more complex systems

The concept of doing something like an excel platform for large scale systems seemed impossible in the past. Cloud infrastructure, continuous deployment, advanced web frontends and smart devices
have begun to change this.

2 Advantages of No Code / Low Code systems


2.1 Instant application

The biggest advantage of these tools is not having to wait for IT to get back with your group in order
to implement a feature. Marketing departments, Accounting, Manufacturing all have people who are able to use No Code tools to implement productivity enhancing items as needed.

Need a page that correlates recent sales leads with marketing efforts and allows you to generate a pretty report to show managers, this is a doable thing with these tools.

2.2 Flexible

As departmental roles become more specialized, the metrics and tooling around them also become more specialized. This makes having a general SAAS tool that supports multiple business units quite difficult. Instead, tooling that allows these business units to create what they need (with sane templates providing the starting points) makes more sense.

3 Applications to SCADA Systems

Industry 4.0 , is all the rage right now. The silos are coming down!
Why did we have them in the first place? We are so silly, building all those silos!

As data becomes more connected and flatter, new complex use cases are emerging.

3.1 Search

The first difficult problem is finding what you need. Visualizations, Audits, Reports,
Network Configurations, Logs, Trends, Interconnected items all need to be searchable.

Anyone who has worked on creating search systems knows these are hard problems and present
the first place a No Code SCADA system can help, by creating systems that encode all of these
categories of data, advanced search capabilities are immediately available across multiple
data types.

3.2 Report Creation

Reports are a large part of the responsibility of any SCADA system to generate. Most
SCADA systems have good reporting facilities but usually rely on a set of reporting
templates to create what is needed. No Code / Low Code SCADA allows users to build their
own templating systems and report types. This meta approach is the key to the powerful difference
of a system like this.

3.3 Networking

The device count in a modern manufacturing system, oil field or other advanced automation systems
has exploded recently. This allows more precise control over industrial systems but also creates a nightmare
of managing these systems. No Code SCADA systems have tools to simplify device management.
Applications are embedded in the SCADA and can be deployed or removed without programming changes.

3.4 Distributed Systems

One of the most powerful features of a Low Code SCADA environment is allowing users to script across
multiple systems without having to know the intricacies of each connection. By creating the concept of
a remote parameter or shared device, a user can bring tags from one edge device or central device,
to another.

3.5 Just need One Screen

Say your Industrial team has a SCADA system set up very nicely. Then a 3rd party contractor asks to see
some small bit of data for just a short amount of time. How do you give them access to this data and nothing else?

No Code systems allow simple screens to be made on the fly and shared with 3rd parties (think google docs but for

3.6 Security

Security in No Code systems occurs by default and is based on the people building the tooling. Access and control is cascades through the system instead of being managed by a central process. Without careful consideration of the final state, data in industry 4.0  would still end up silo’d by permissions or, conversely, everyone ends up with access to everything!

No Code systems habit of reflecting permissions of the existing users looking at data onto the system allow for a manageable and usually automatic set of permissions to emerge.

4 Challenges in No Code systems


4.1 A Theory of SCADA

No Code systems still play in a set of boundaries. There are limits to what a screen can look like or
how a report can be formatted. By analogy think of trying to edit a photo in Excel. Though excel is incredibly customizable, it still has a theory of use: Manipulating mostly tabular data for the purpose of generating reports and creating calculations.

No Code SCADA systems are subject to similar constraints and it is at these boundaries IT will likely become involved. Custom accounting systems, Custom embedded software applications and custom analytics systems will be commonly beyond the scope of a No Code SCADA system.

However, No Code SCADA transfers the responsibility of scripting, integrating and re-configuring of SCADA components from in house development teams to the end users themselves. This enables devs to focus on more business specific goals that are often where these custom application pieces exist.

4.2 Cost

The cost model of No Code tools is based on a SAAS or PAAS model. This is very different from traditional
SCADA implementations. The use of on premesis servers is deeply ingrained for many companies, and the costs can be hard to compare. Usually No Code systems will have some sort of monthly component that scales with use (either as data increases or users increase) while traditional systems will be licensed per server or per instance.

The arguments that make SAAS make sense for things like github, sales force, and other SAAS tools generally apply as well to Hosted SCADA systems. But every company’s situation is different and that context should be considered closely.

5 Questions to consider

  • Do I have a set of people who are not developers but are tech saavy?
  • Do we have times and situations where building quick throw-away devices, and systems would be useful?
  • Do we want to avoid a large IT infrastructure around developing mostly solved problems?
  • Are we unable to afford focusing on system failure and security in our IT and SCADA efforts?

Answering yes to some of these questions might point you to looking for new solutions to the SCADA question.

6 Conclusion

I hope this introduction to what is a very new concept has been helpful there is lots more I could say about No Code SCADA but this is a good start. OnPing is an excellent Low Code SCADA solution though there are others out there. I am a big fan of tools that reward deep dives. Low Code systems have this property, and are therefore worth exploring.