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Best Practices for DCS Migration

Copy of ACD Image (8)While modernization and advances in technology can make life easier for operators and company personnel, it can often be a double-edged sword. Aging and outdated technologies in plants are frequently in need of upgrades and repairs, which can contribute to significant delays in workflow. No example is more relevant today than the problem companies face with their distributed control system (DCS). DCS is a computerized control system for a process or plant with many control loops, in which autonomous controllers are distributed throughout the system. Because DCS is an integral and essential component in day-to-day operations but is also becoming quickly outdated, it is more and more necessary for companies to consider DCS migration, which involves upgrading the system and processes to newer technologies. Below we’ll provide some common practices for DCS migration, weighing out the pros and cons of each.

Schedule a Risk Assessment

Because most industrial applications lack routine updates and security patches, they are often the source of targeted attacks by hackers. By performing a risk assessment, companies can uncover weak points in their current systems, work to update and fix potential issues, and thereby mitigate the risk of a security breach. While the frequency of risk assessments can vary from business to business, it is important to start with a conservative, high-frequency schedule in order to maintain proper safety. Furthermore, by assigning a third-party contractor to conduct a risk assessment, companies can ensure their systems are protected.

Upgrade Technology

If a company has outdated software in its plant operations, a plan should be implemented to upgrade technology. Some HMI/SCADA users have neglected to update their systems for ten years or more. Because of this, users should take time to rethink their HMI/SCADA strategy. Don’t just upgrade, but rather review systems with experts and use the opportunity to assess new, potential avenues for consolidation and system security. Here are a few pointers to consider when upgrading an HMI/SCADA:

  1. Can critical applications be migrated to server-based machines?
  2. Can multiple applications be consolidated into one in order to reduce risk?
  3. Have newer applications hit the market since your last upgrade that could extend the functionality of your HMI/SCADA? Efficiency can increase by adding simple analytics, task management, alarm response management, and more.

Additionally, high priority must be given to cybersecurity during the upgrade process. By maintaining the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of a system, cybersecurity works to quell potential attacks and minimize vulnerabilities.

Utilize Resources

Software vendors and government agencies are excellent sources of knowledge regarding the safety of an HMI/SCADA. By listening to these resources, which often provide a framework or standard practices for users, companies can further utilize the tools at their disposal for success. The ISA, MESA, and other plant systems organizations offer additional information and learning opportunities throughout the year. Furthermore, agencies like the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Energy, and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) have valuable information regarding HMI/SCADA risk reduction and security. A myriad of additional resources are out there and can help to keep your company safe.

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