Home Embedded Blog A Million Dollar Question – Should I Build or Buy the SCADA Solution, for an Enterprise Industrial Automation Project?

A Million Dollar Question – Should I Build or Buy the SCADA Solution, for an Enterprise Industrial Automation Project?

Supervisory control and data acquisition, popularly known as SCADA System, is not a new kid on the block (in the Technology World).

A SCADA System has been accompanying Industrial Automation Solutions, since time immemorial! It has been playing the role of eyes/ears (data collection), brain (data processing) and tongue (data- insights communication) of an Automation System

In its latest “IoT Avatar”, the new generation SCADA System is a new beast altogether! SCADA 2.0 (powered by “Internet of Things” Technology Stack) is scalable, possesses more computation power, is cloud connected + mobile UI friendly and hence available anytime-anywhere.

Industrial SCADA solution

Industrial SCADA solution. Image Source: orgsync

Having realized the potential of SCADA Solutions powered by IoT, businesses are ready to decommission the legacy systems and invest in Smart SCADA Solutions.

However, there is one pertinent dilemma that most of the businesses face, when they kick-start this journey: Should we invest in an off-the-shelf or custom developed SCADA solution?

In order to help you find some answers, we have put together this blog. All the findings are based on our conversation with IoT consultants, who have a solid domain expertise in Industrial Automation.

In this blog, we talk about key technical and business factor to consider, while choosing between an off the shelf vs custom developed SCADA.

Unravelling the Build Vs Buy Puzzle: Analysis of the Key Decision-Making Factors

Shelf vs Custom
Image Source: hexacta

  1. Business Considerations:
    • Degree of Freedom/ Ownership:

      When you custom develop the SCADA solution, you can opt to own the IP rights of the complete solution . This provides you the freedom to keep upgrading or fine-tuning the solution, as per your future business needs.

      (In the subsequent section, we also discuss how this helps in Automated Management & Maintenance of your industrial assets)

      On the other hand, the IP rights of an off-the-shelf SCADA solution are in control of your Product Vendor.

      This means for any requirement related to change/upgrade requests, future scalability, quality management ; you are more or less dependent on your SCADA solution vendor.

    • Cost Savings:

      When you invest in Custom Designed SCADA Solutions the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) depends on the following factors:

      • Per unit cost (including the licensing cost )
      • Number of units, as per the business requirement of your Industrial Automation project.
      • Support and Maintenance Cost


      When you invest in Off-the-Shelf SCADA Solution, i.e, purchase a readily available solution, one can end up incurring higher costs. The following are some practical scenarios:

      • Your business demands inclusion of functionalities, in addition to those provided by the Off-The-Shelf SCADA Solution. You can , in that case, work with your in-house development team to custom develop these features. Other options are to either partner with a Solution Vendor ( by negotiating the additional development cost) or buy an upgraded version.
      • A new upgraded version of your existing Off-The-Shelf SCADA Solution is now available in the market. In this case, your business needs to invest time and efforts in checking if the upgrade will have any impact on the existing Automation System and if any changes are needed in the existing systems/processes.


      To summarize, more often than not, investment in a Custom Developed SCADA solution is a CAPEX (Capital Expenditure). As a business, you invest in a scalable solution that is entirely owned by your organization.

    • Option To validate your solution design with a PoC:

      In case of a  custom developed SCADA solution, one can take the Proof Of Concept (PoC) Path and conduct a field trial of the prototype.

      After validation of the capability of this SCADA PoC design, one can undertake the full-fledged enterprise production.

      The PoC approach renders additional benefits like early-stage identification of potential mistakes and design flaws. This way, one can take the necessary corrective actions and overcome these challenges in the final custom-designed SCADA System

      Also Read: blog on how PoC accelerates the chances of a successful IoT  implementation

    • Time to Market:

      As a rule of thumb, the time to market associated with custom developed SCADA solution is more than the commercially available solutions. This is mainly due to the hardware and software development cycles.

      On the contrary, an off-the-solution SCADA package supports a faster deployment and hence has a comparatively lesser time-to-market.

      Custom Developed SCADAOff-The-Shelf SCADA Solution
      More flexibility to customize and make changesYou have to use the options provided by the Commercial solution vendor
      You own the IP rights of the entire custom developed solutionIP rights are with the Solution vendor
      Investment in a Custom Developed SCADA solution is a CAPEX for your business.It can turn out to be more costly, considering that this is a long term investment
      You need the support of teams with in-depth expertise in hardware and software system development, testing and maintenanceSupport and Maintenance Services contracts can be signed with the SCADA Solution vendor or any 3rd party
      Time to market is high due to the Hardware and software development cyclesLesser time-to-market

  3. Technical & Functional Considerations:
    • Creating customized Data Insights That are Actionable: If your industrial automation projects is expected to perform the following tasks:
      • Data Ingestion and processing
      • Interpreting certain conditions as normal ones or as problems
      • Setting alerts based on set parameters


      In that case, a  custom developed SCADA solution is preferable. Why? Here are the top reasons:

      • A SCADA solution tailor-made for your systems allows you to configure necessary data analytics to slice and dice the data, as per your unique business needs.

        Data Slicing and Dicing refers to process of segmenting, grouping viewing and comprehending data within a database. Under these process, large volume of data is repeatedly segmented into smaller portions until the correct level of detail is achieved for proper analysis.

      • A customized SCADA solution offers better scope for integration with advanced Business Intelligence (BI) tools such as QlikView, Tableau etc.

        This enables your organization to have a unique view and analysis of the aggregated SCADA data , and convert them into actionable insights.

        Thus a custom build SCADA solution package enables you to make the most of your enterprise data, beyond the traditional offerings of an off-the-shelf SCADA solution.

    • Automation of  Maintenance and Field Service Workflows:

      When you own a custom developed solution: You have the freedom to automate the maintenance workflow of your industrial equipment, whenever you intend to, with minimal downtime. How?

      • You can define process programs to act as alternatives/aliases when a particular equipment, say the PLC/RTU, is being maintained . This way you can ensure that the maintenance activity doesn’t affect the overall system processes.
      • You can implement custom process programs, unique to your industrial assets, to monitor and service them on time.

        For example, using custom programs an industrial equipment requiring maintenance can be powered to send automated service requests to the specific service vendor, using HTTP-based REST APIs.

      • Additionally, you can leverage custom predictive analytics within the SCADA application to predict impending problems and perform predictive maintenance of your industrial plant.

      With an off-the-shelf solution, you are totally dependent on your vendor, who will offer maintenance and service support based on a pre-defined workflows and terms & conditions.

    • Interoperability & Scalability:  Industrial control systems are a heterogeneous mix of devices, communication protocols, and computing devices.

      ‘Build or Buy’- regardless of which SCADA solution strategy you intent to choose, it is necessary to ensure that the final SCADA solution is compatible with:

      • Operating System ( Windows, Linux)
      • Communication Protocols ( Ethernet, Profibus, or proprietary plant communications protocol)
      • Types of Remote Terminal Unit ( RTUs)
      • External devices/Applications from which SCADA can receive or send information/ commands


      An off-the-shelf solution may offer limited options in terms of compatibility with your industrial systems. On the contrary, the technology architecture of a custom developed solution can be designed to support the necessary compatibility with various systems and protocols.

      This way they can also be scaled up to accommodate addition of industrial equipment to be monitored by standardizing the higher level controlling process.

    • Leverage the value-adds of a  Custom Designed HMI: A custom developed HMI gives you more freedom in interacting with and managing your Industrial Assets.

      This is facilitated by features such as multilingual support, Touch and Gesture controls and more.

      With an off-the-shelf SCADA package you may need to integrate external tools, for improved visualization and interaction, that too at an additional cost.

Concluding Thoughts:

Thus , performing a cost-benefit analysis of the above mentioned  parameters/ factors might help you easily decide between an off-the-shelf and  custom developed SCADA solutions. The best SCADA solution is the one that easily represents your present and future needs!

Before making the final choice it is always advisable to create a checklist of functional and business requirements of your industrial SCADA solution. This could include need for remote access, interoperability, deep analysis of the industrial data, or highly customized HMI.

If the Build vs Buy SCADA dilemma still leaves you puzzled, you may take expert guidance from an experienced  IoT consultant .

This entry was posted in Embedded Blog, Blog by Embitel. Bookmark the permalink

Mar 05 2019
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