SCADA vs IIoT; What in the world is the difference?

The actual coining of the term IIoT is thought to be introduced by GE in 2012 as part of a coordinated push to provide business-to-business digital tr

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SCADA vs IIoT; What in the world is the difference?

SCADA vs IIoT; What in the world is the difference?

TLDR; there is little to no material difference between the two, only an evolution in SCADA technology (not always good) and marketing rebrands.  Read on to become more disappointed!


The world of machines and physical processes in the information age is continuously being loaded with seemingly superfluous jargon.  The 'legacy' SCADA vs the 'hipster' IIoT.  One is boring, expensive, and runs on Windows while the other is sleek, in the cloud, and will solve of your industrial process woes with an ROI dwarfed only by the litany of never-ending small payments & overage fees required for usage-based platforms. Being a realist and a pessimist at times, I struggled with the terminology and smelled bad marketing. However, these terms seemed so different; how could they possibly refer to the same thing?

History of SCADA - Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition:

As early as the 1960's, industrial processes have been controlled by electric systems.  After the transition from hard-wired relay logic to PLC control in the 1970's,  'SCADA' would still need to wait on the invention of the Personal Computer before truly emerging as an industry-wide phenomenon.  In the late 1970's, the PC emerged, and with it, programming terminals with the ability to view, enter, and monitor 'Instruction Lists' or 'Statement Lists' in a PLC's memory entered into practice, creating the earliest and most rudimentary SCADA system. SCADA became widely-known as the collection of electronic methods & instruments used to manage industrial control systems.  After wide-spread adoption of Ethernet and the Internet, the eventual .  Whilst many IIoT  there were machines, PLCs The earliest system that could be differentiated as a 'SCADA' system and not just a 'Control' System, would have been a personal

Knowing that SCADA as a term appeared and grew from the management of PLCs, examining the evolution of automatic process control systems is crucial to our understanding of the difference in terms.  Both terms are concerned with real Industrial Equipment & Processes, although the IIoT 'seems' generally less interested in the control aspect. Most 'IIoT' implementations seem focused on collecting as much data as possible and chunking it into a time-series database with little to no attention or plan for analysis, pruning, or retention policies.  IIoT does seem to focus more on the 'seemingly' easily attainable goal of monitoring spot data and providing alarm callouts. These applications avoid control not necessarily because it is not feasible, but primarily due to the increased risk of internet-based intrusion and the generally 'lower-hanging fruit' for an integrator of providing read-only spot data vs controlling and optimizing complex processes. Some IIoT applications do attempt to migrate basic control applications outside of the scope and equipment framework of the sturdy PLC (and many suffer the reliability consequences that usually result from this decision).

On the security front, these same risks exist with internet-connected SCADA, and can be even greater depending on the industrial protocol used (open-internet Modbus TCP vs secure client-certificate encrypted MQTT, for example).  Assuming it even makes sense to divide industrial protocols into 'SCADA' vs 'IIoT' protocols. It's now all IP under the hood anyways.

History of IIoT - Industrial Internet of Things:

If you google the 'History' of the IIoT like I did, you may discover that Wikipedia allegedly traces it to the invention of the PLC:

The history of the IIoT begins with the invention of the programmable logic controller (PLC) by Dick Morley in 1968.

SCADA Systems would follow soon after with the introduction of the Personal Computer as a critical factor to classify any method industrial control management method as having a  'Supervisory' component at the time.

IIoT as pure marketing

IIoT Google Results over Time

The actual coining of the term IIoT is thought to be introduced by GE in 2012 as part of a coordinated push to provide business-to-business digital transformation services.  The term also likely originated to differentiate itself from what the 'Internet of Things' had come to mean to consumers (which I can succinctly sum up as: 'Internet-Connected Appliances').  Perhaps the primary piece of the SCADA acronym that IIoT seeks to eclipse in real terms is the 'Supervisory' portion. 'Supervisory' is too weak of a management adjective to describe the excessively fantastical lauded goals of the IIoT. IIoT promises AI, machine learning, and a mountain of predictive analytics that can only be made possible by the latest edge-processing and massive amounts of low-latency cloud storage and on-demand computing (Machine Learning and massive Data Warehouses on the Edge with a Data Lake in Realtime at a fraction of a penny's cost!!!). While I do believe that this tech along with Artificial Intelligence advances will have a role to play in the IIoT/SCADA of the future, the cost/benefits of developing a reiliable application and the difficulty of utilizing this tech is still outside the scope of most regular companies and integrators.

In short; insert your favorite techno-word-salad to apply to the IIoT and you can surely find a company to provide such services!

IIoT as convenient vocabulary for Technology Implementation

Despite the marketing origins of 'IIoT', in 2022 the colloquial use of the acronym is not entirely unuseful.  If I could use one statement to describe what it means at its core, I would lovingly label it as 'Enhanced Big-Data Cloud SCADA'. The actual technologies used and the supposedly unique applications for the IIoT very-much overlap with a great deal of existing SCADA. The 'new' technology 'feel' factor for what it describes is what Integrators are very much trying to offer companies these days. We have been drawn into a marketing phase where 'SCADA' is implied to use insufficient/legacy technology, suffer from data storage issues, and is not capable of delivering on all platforms and devices.

For those of us SCADA Developers stuck in a terminally online reality, we each have our own idea about what IIoT means:

Which words come to my mind when I dream of SCADA and the IIoT

Part of being a SCADA Integrator in 2022 is navigating technical jargon as well as the different interpretations and colloquial uses of various technological terms.

IIoT in our conclusion, is a marketing rebrand from larger companies designed to highlight the need/benefits for digital transformation.  The failure in the term, however, is to imply that 'SCADA' in and of itself should not be part of your overall Digital Transformation goals or that SCADA is a 'legacy' concept. SCADA never goes away; it merely scales and adapts with the latest technology. SCADA has been 'IIoT' long before the term even existed. Differences in the expected selection and implementation technology account for a majority of the actual disagreements when marketing either term. Most applications today branded as 'IIoT' applications in reality still provide and function the same as existing SCADA application. When 'IIoT' tech advances to the point of providing significantly different data analysis capabilities than a modern SCADA system, we can perhaps discuss modifying the SCADA acronym or utillizing the IIoT acronym as a better descriptor for rich data analysis applications that also involve real machines.

Why we still market as an 'IIoT' Integrator

At SCADABit, we market as primarily an SCADA Integrator, but also as an IIoT Integrator to give our customers the reassurance that we work with both new and 'legacy' technology at any point in the overall 'remote industrial controller & equipment management' technology stack. We use any technology necessary to get plant, process, or equipment data and control connections to whatever terminal, client, or device type is used for storage and analysis, be it cloud or on-premise, SQL Server or Serverless Database, Browser or Desktop clients.

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