The Path to Control System Modernization

Welcome to the future. Are you facing its profitability and productivity challenges with a control system of the past? Statistically speaking, your answer is probably yes.

By Leelon Scott

Welcome to the future. Are you facing its profitability and productivity challenges with a control system of the past? Statistically speaking, your answer is probably yes. There are about $20 billion worth of obsolete automation and control systems in operation in this country.

These are systems that are difficult and expensive to maintain - and can’t be upgraded. In addition, they are unable to use modern defense techniques against cybersecurity threats. But what does a path to modernization look like?

Modernization Scenarios

There is more than one possible path, depending on your needs and budget.

  • Exact Replacement: This has the lowest cost but also the lowest return on investment (ROI) and may not provide desired features such as security and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) interface.
  • Functionally Equivalent (with some enhancements): This takes advantage of some newer technologies to expand functionality and features. It offers a middle point for both risk and ROI.
  • Full Modernization: This path takes every possible advantage of new technology. It has the highest initial cost, though possibly a better long-term cost when unplanned outages and other production impacts of obsolete control systems are considered. It also offers the highest potential ROI.

Project Phases

When analyzing your situation, understand that there are four phases to a modernization project.

  1. Define project objectives (i.e., know what the project needs to accomplish).
  2. Investigate the current situation, developing a scope of work (SOW), sometimes using a front-end engineering and design (FEED) study.
  3. Conduct a business analysis and put project funding in place.
  4. Execute the project implementing the funded SOW.

Project Execution

This is where the justification and planning reach fruition. But having a detailed SOW is not enough; there are still key elements to achieving successful implementation.

  • Assemble the right team. It needs to engage all levels of stakeholders. It’s also critical that the team understands and buys into the SOW for the project
  • Set the schedule. It needs to be accurate and realistic. It must address all critical path elements, and it needs to clearly show responsibility for each milestone.
  • Develop the management plan. There should be an action item list with description, start and due dates, team member responsibility, and a record of completion. A good FEED study can form the foundation of the management plan.
  • Ensure formal communications. Considered critical to a successful project, regular communication needs to take place at all levels and with all stakeholders. Regular team meetings will review schedule progress and provide a two-week look ahead for upcoming activities.

Other Key Considerations

In addition to the above points, other considerations need to be addressed.

  • Ensure that necessary resources are available at the appropriate points in the schedule.
  • Ensure that the right operations, engineering, and management personnel receive system-specific training on the new systems, especially those that may involve a new or unfamiliar technology.
  • Conduct hardware and software factory acceptance testing (FAT). This is critical to the start-up and commissioning process, and may also present opportunities for the required training.
  • Verify the communication functionality of all smart field devices (a potential risk element).
  • Verify the network’s performance with all devices connected.

Success Measures

Project results should be compared against the FEED study and SOW. The project needs to be completed on schedule and on budget, meaning no scope creep has occurred. When these targets are met, all team members experience a win with a successful modernization project.

About the Author: Leelon Scott II, is director of OEM Business Development for Revere Control Systems. He is also a board member of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA). For more information about WWEMA, visit

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