Dec. 1, 2020 - Control room operators need to look at a wide variety of sources to make decisions. If they are lucky, their workspace is organized in a way that sources are presented as efficiently and ergonomically as possible. This might seem trivial at the surface, but it’s not. Behind the scenes, an efficient integration of different content sources brings a lot of challenges for control room IT departments, often leading to headaches for the IT staff. Let’s look at some of the most important ones.
#1 Seeing information from isolated networks
The common operational picture (COP) and operator workspace of today have become a mix of operational technology (OT) and IT sources. In many cases, control center operators are monitoring operational systems like SCADA, PLC or industrial applications, together with typical business IT systems, like Office applications, news channels, weather information or social media.
Due to the proliferation of smart devices and the Industrial Internet of Things, OT and IT networks are increasingly exchanging data. But as OT systems are connecting to IT networks, it has become more attractive for cyber criminals to target critical systems that provide power, communication, or production capacity.
Operators may be looking at OT and IT sources through the same keyhole, but keeping the two information systems separated and safe, while using them to their most effect, is the challenge for control room IT departments for years to come.
#2 Managing access levels and user roles
Related to the previous challenge, a control room operation needs to have clear roles and security levels defined. Not just any control room operator will be able to access every part of the system, or do just anything when they have access.
IT departments will need to organize granular permissions, which enable control room managers to control the type of access their operators have. Depending on their role, some users could be granted access to all information sources, while others could only need to access certain applications.
#3 Secure communication and collaboration with different locations and agencies
Combining knowledge and viewpoints from different stakeholders often leads to better insights. That’s why there is an increased need for control rooms to work together. Agencies from different institutional levels and working on different locations, need to exchange information, which often resides on different, isolated networks.
Operators need visibility of other agencies’ operations at all times, and need to be able to compile the COP with content residing on different networks, without compromising the security of their operations.
#4 Integrating information from legacy and new systems
To reach a higher level of situational awareness, control rooms are always adding more and newer source types to the COP. The addition of content coming from all kinds of devices – phones, CCTV cameras, smart sensors, has made it more difficult for legacy systems to keep up. The challenge here for IT departments is to go for a software architecture that allows systems to scale and which offers high flexibility for additional content types and workflow changes.
An even bigger challenge are modernization projects, which include the transition to a new data system. Sometimes, legacy platforms are no longer able to handle new standards and workflows. Apart from the technical challenges that are presented by modernization projects, there is also the human aspect. For operators, transitioning to a new data system may be hard, because work routines attached to the legacy platform have become ingrained over the years.
#5 Maintaining physical cyber security
Cyber security is usually associated with online threats. This is true in most cases, although there is also an important physical side to cyber security. Just think of USB drives containing malware that can be plugged into an unattended PC system.
IT departments can prevent physical security breaches among other things by housing workstations and other AV/IT equipment in a dedicated server room, away from the control room, so physical access can be strictly controlled.
OpSpace – the integrated operator workspace
Making sure any authorized control room operator can see and interact with content from any application, database or network comes with a set of IT challenges. With OpSpace, Barco has created an IT-friendly operator workspace that meets many of those challenges.
Barco OpSpace creates a single workspace for viewing, monitoring and interacting with multiple clients that reside on multiple networks with different security clearances or liability concerns. The strength of this solution is that it adds a visual layer on top of the system application that needs to be displayed. This means that control room operators do not interact with the application data itself, but with the visual representation layer (user interface) on top of it, making it easier for them to work with different data types.
By following this approach, operators can even see legacy systems and new applications side by side on the same screen. This is particularly handy when IT departments want to make a smooth transition from one platform to another and allow operators to get used to the new workflow routines.
In addition, physical access to the Barco OpSpace hardware is limited, because it can be stored in a separate server room, far away from the operator workstation.
About the author
Segment Marketing Manager of Control Rooms
Jordan focuses on control rooms at Barco utilizing her multi-industry knowledge and experience in sales, product marketing and strategic marketing to bring dynamic strategies to control rooms. She is based in Atlanta, GA.