No Code / Low Code SCADA Systems

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 in Excel it isn’t that you would do no coding what so ever. Instead you program
in a context that makes the system feel familiar and useful. This is where the power really lies.
Customization at exactly the points you want and the nitty gritty parts done for you.

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
data).

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
the end flat data of industry 4.0 still ends up silo’d by permissions or conversely everyone has 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, which is 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 be involved.
Custom accounting systems, Custom embedded software applications and custom analytics systems will be commonly out of
the bounds 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 premisis servers is very 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 companies situation is different and this 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.