Can SCADA/HMI Software Be Enterprise Software?

Sept. 28, 2022
On its own, the answer is clearly “no.” But when SCADA/HMI is the core of the platform, as it is with Ignition, Inductive Automation is demonstrating how the software can be used to connect IT and operations technology across the enterprise.

At Inductive Automation’s Ignition Community Conference (ICC) 2022, changes to the executive team announced this past summer were addressed up front. While Steve and Wendy Hechtmann will remain with the company as executive board chairs, Colby Clegg has been promoted to CEO, Carl Gould to chief technology officer, Kat Robinett to chief operating officer, Travis Cox to chief technology evangelist, and Kevin McClusky to chief technology architect. Don Pearson continues in his role as chief strategy officer.

All the executives are long-serving Inductive Automation employees—with several having been with the company since its start. Their long connections to the company and its technology can be seen in that all the new directions outlined for the company at this year’s ICC do not so much represent a new direction for the company under its new leadership, but rather a continuance of the direction the company has clearly been moving in for several years now. And that direction is toward broader enterprise use of the company’s Ignition software platform.

Which brings us back to the question: Can SCADA/HMI software be enterprise software?

Ignition began as SCADA/HMI software but has since grown into much more for three primary reasons: 1) its design philosophy around enabling users to build their operations technology (OT) interfaces as needed; 2) an open software approach that enables it to connect to and/or leverage OT and IT technology developments as they arise; and 3) its unlimited licensing model.

From SCADA/HMI to IoT to the enterprise

A few years ago, Inductive Automation positioned Ignition as an IoT platform because of its openness, customizability, and connectivity. In the face of all the changes occurring across the industries served by Ignition since the emergence of COVID, the company is now positioning Ignition as enterprise software. Though this may seem like a stretch for software that began as SCADA/HMI, when you look at it from the perspective that SCADA/HMI is a core system for communicating plant floor data from the most granular operating levels, it’s difficult to see how any enterprise software for industrial companies can use the term “enterprise” without SCADA/HMI at its core.

Travis Cox said, "Ignition is an enablement platform for the enterprise. It comes with a vast set of tools that enables customers to solve challenges and build larger solutions without limits. Ignition is an amazing IoT platform and an amazing SCADA platform, but we want customers to think outside the box and leverage it for far more. Ignition can be deployed virtually anywhere and can connect data, systems, people, and cloud technologies together. "

Use of the term "enterprise" in positioning Ignition helps customers see a bigger picture and understand that Ignition is really in a category of its own, he added.

“Ignition allows you to create solutions that fit to your business’s digital transformation,” said Gould. “But how can one product do that across industries? Is it SCADA, is it IoT? The answer is: Yes. Ignition was designed to be run anywhere, connect anywhere, extend functionality as needed, and have Inductive Automation get out of the way with unlimited licensing and no restrictions on what you can build.”

This is key to Ignition’s wide applicability across industries. “Scripting can be added to fine tune and customize Ignition as needed. SDKs (software development kits) can be used to write and add new modules,” said Gould. “That allows us to focus on the core platform and let users bring it the last mile. IT companies, for example, will come up with data storage and retrieval technologies that are better than anything we can do, so it’s better for us to build Ignition with that kind of interoperability in mind. Ignition’s key architectural feature of being able to run anywhere means that it can be used on different architectures, such as ARM, MQTT, or rackmount servers.”

See how the release of Ignition 8 helped pave the way for Ignition's expansion into the enterprise.

Further clarifying use of the Ignition platform for enterprise use, Arlen Nipper, co-founder and chief technology officer at Cirrus Link (and co-inventor of MQTT), explained that “a platform is a set of software surrounded by an ecosystem of resources that help you grow your business. The platform enables growth through connection and the value comes not just from its features, but from the ability to connect external teams, tools, data, and processes. Ignition does SCADA, HMI, and databases, but its really a solution architecture to connect all your information for digital transformation.”

Nipper added that most people “don’t see SCADA as IIoT (industrial Internet of Things), but how do you do IIoT without SCADA? You can’t. You need to be able to access data in legacy OT infrastructures and make them ready to plug into the cloud with modern messaging technology to get the OT data into a unified name space.” That’s how Ignition is used to connect legacy systems’ data for enterprise use.

Underscoring Inductive Automation’s positioning of Ignition for enterprise use, Robinett noted that 44% of Fortune 500 companies use Ignition, as do 57% of the Fortune 100 in “industries ranging from food and beverage to oil and gas to data centers.” 

Robinett also pointed that Inductive Automation continues to grow by double digits and is on track this year to continue the 27% growth rate the company achieved in 2021. She added that international use of the software grew by 34%—and in specific industrial sectors, Ignition use grew 62% in manufacturing, 76% in packaged food applications, 13% in electronics, and 239% in dairy.

Ignition Cloud Edition

Though Ignition has been available on the cloud for years now, at ICC 2022 Gould announced the availability of Ignition Cloud, a custom-tailored version of the software designed specifically for use in the cloud and which is available through AWS and Azure container technology.

 "You don’t download Ignition Cloud,” said Gould. “You get it through the cloud provider with no upfront license and you pay as you go for ease of scalability.”

Because Ignition is meant to be modified and built upon by the end user, it can't be effectively supported as a pure SaaS (software as a service) product.

"Ignition is meant to be a toolkit that an end-user or integrator uses to build their solution." said Cox. "We want customers to deploy that in their own environment. For the most part, Ignition is deployed on-premise. However, deploying Ignition to the cloud can provide a lot of benefits, especially for providing enterprise dashboards. Ignition Cloud Edition is designed to make it easier to use in the cloud, especially for elastic deployments. If we hosted Ignition in the cloud for the customer, we would just simply be making it easier to spin up Ignition. The customer would still have to build their solution using our designer. We are just not interested in that model. However, there are companies who are providing Platform as a Service (PaaS) for Ignition, such as 4IR, and we highly encourage it since most customers don't have cloud expertise. 4IR can ensure best practices for security and compliance with 21 CFR 11 or GAMP. We just want to focus on the Ignition platform. In the future if we get into SaaS, it would be services that augment Ignition installations, such as cloud alarm notification or historian services."

 Ignition Cloud has no direct data acquisition drivers, but cloud connector modules for connectivity with document databases, message queues, key value stores, etc. are available, Gould explained further. He clarified that Ignition Cloud is not Ignition via SaaS. “We think on-premises software is important for control apps, but hybrid environments (on-premises and cloud-based) are good for applications like data storage and compute and access to machine learning models.” Such applications are what Ignition Cloud is intended for.

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