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Designing Intuitive SCADA Systems

May 18, 2017 / by Eric Sahakian

Do you hate the software you have to use every day at work? It’s probably because of its poor design, and not functional problems. User experience is everything. Incorporating classic, user-centric design principles in SCADA systems creates software that is easy and even fun to use. Easy and fun are important because they tangibly affect operator's ability to control the process and respond quickly when things go awry. In this first post of our user interface design series, we investigate the long-term monetary and user benefits of excellent software design to enhance your high-performance automation systems.

User Experience Drives Success

SCADA Design

The bar for user experience (UX) was forever raised by "It just works" Apple products followed by the advent of Google's material design standards (among many others). These companies have spent fortunes on UX, but has this emphasis contributed to their success? We would argue that the answer is absolutely yes! Since the time of the caveman adding handles to stones, the experience of the people using tools determines how successful the tools will be, and thus, how successful the tribe (or company) will be.

Design principles greatly influence how humans interact with their tools and some have been in place for thousands of years. One such principle, logical grouping, allows efficient access to related information to increase accuracy and decision speed. On a screen with large amounts of data, users naturally search for categories to filter out the noise. After visually scanning to find their group, they re-scan to find the required information within, similar to the way a table of contents works.

SCADA Systems logical grouping example

Many other concepts have been proven repeatedly in our day-to-day design processes, such as:

  • Hierarchy of Content—Draws the eyes to the important information instead of the noise
  • Intuitive Use of Color—Provides contextual clues for instant recognition of process states
  • Patterns in Components—Speeds up understanding of information and reduces training

 There are hundreds more design “tricks” that can be implemented to enhance user experience.  A great integrator will know them all so you don't have to!

Impact of Poor SCADA Design

During the 10+ year life of a SCADA platform, the small amount of frustration generated by pressing an item you thought was a button but is just a label, or the seemingly minor 15 seconds of searching for a valve on a screen, can really add up. With multiple users and thousands of interactions with a system, you can easily be looking at years of lost productivity. Just like if a door has two pull handles, but no signs: it works fine half the time, but half of the time it doesn’t. A 50 percent success rate isn't acceptable in our industry.

Don't Just Take Our Word For it

Frustration of your staff aside, there are real monetary benefits to implementing good design. In a 2015 assessment funded by Microsoft and carried out by DMI found that, “Over the last 10 years, design-led companies have maintained significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 211 percent.” The benefits of starting with good design and integrating it into your facility have significant returns for any size company.

Don't Accept Less

The days of accepting poorly designed SCADA screens that inhibit rather than enhance your operator's ability to control your plant are over. When your company works with an integrator, such as Vertech, to develop well-designed, intuitive tools to monitor, analyze, and control your plant floor and beyond, you’ll be better equipped to outlast and outperform competitors. Over time, the engagement and performance of well-designed systems provides returns in both employee satisfaction and decision-making speed and accuracy. For our clients, we call that, “The Vertech SCADA advantage.” 

Read the full whitepaper “7 Essential SCADA Design Components to Maximize Plant Productivity” to learn more about how enhancing design can benefit operators and increase profits.

Topics: SCADA


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