Cody Bann, WIN-911 Software PostedTuesday, August 30, 2022 Q How did you choose your career? A I chose a career in software development and over the years have become passionate with the application. What further solidifies my belief in this industry and the company for whom I work is that the municipalities in which my family, including my parents and in-laws, get drinking water from have integrated WIN-911 software with their SCADA systems. In fact, the ten largest cities in the country, along with major world hubs like London and Dubai, all use WIN-911. It’s extremely satisfying knowing that I have an impact on something like this. Then there are also many unique examples of the software in use such as NASA installing WIN-911 where they test the rockets for the new Artemis program, Dubai keeps aquatic species alive in the middle of the desert and monitors this through our software, New Zealand monitors seismic activity so the scientists know when to evacuate ahead of disasters, and our software helps a UK company in its environmental remediation across Europe. Knowing that the software, which I help develop, is in use in myriad projects from municipalities to these unique examples, illustrates to me the important work my team and I do, and that I never imagined possible when developing the product. Q Share the history of how Win-911 began and how the company has evolved. A The company was started in 1984 as a hardware manufacturer. We built protocol converters that provided interfacing for various PLCs. That was a very different business in a lot of ways, but it exposed us to many of the same vendors, integrators, and customers that we still work with today. Our transition to software began in 1993 with the launch of TeleDAC, a simple windows application that allowed monitoring of process variables through DDE or Wonderware SCADA and provided basic alarm notification via voice, email, or pagers. Compared to the auto-dialers of its day, it was cutting-edge technology. TeleDAC was rebranded WIN-911 around the millennium, and by the time I joined in 2007, it had evolved to communicate with many other SCADA systems. It was also able to provide Text-To-Speech Voice Synthesis and supported more telephony cards, email servers, pagers, and newer operating systems. The company was still servicing hardware, but no longer manufacturing it. The team was eager to add SMS, and I had the good fortune to be hired to lead that project and wrote a simple blackberry app that would present those SMS messages better. That was the start of smartphone notification with WIN-911. My supervisor, who was a Blackberry user, liked it and pushed it into formal production. It was all Blackberry and Windows Mobile as the Nokia space was just too fractured for Java app development related to SMS. Our mobile architecture is fundamentally different now, particularly since nobody is using Blackberry. The mobile app is now our flagship notifier and has evolved beyond notification to handle other operator use cases. The TeleDAC product evolved too… Our mobile architecture is fundamentally different now. The mobile app is our flagship notifier and has evolved beyond notification to handle other use cases. While it has many features, some notable ones are the ability to have teams chat in the context of alarm conditions, operators adjust their on-call role or callout order and permits managers to view alarm history. A lot of those iterative improvements were reflective of how industry evolved alongside us. Operators and managers changed devices as iPhone and Android rose to dominance. Smartphones and later tablets became more ubiquitous on plant floors. A newer, less experienced generation of technicians and operators needed to communicate with the older generation to help solve problems. Most recently, companies have been embracing remote workers and empowering remote collaboration. There are traces of all of that on the Mobile feature set and its evolution through releases. The TeleDAC product evolved, too. We moved from a monolithic process to a network distributed, modular application that fits the Purdue model – one that allows internet facing notification modules to be distributed physically from SCADA-facing source modules for enhanced cybersecurity. We added more advanced escalation and features like re-alarming, introduced dynamic notification policies that change as the organization changes by defining notification logic in terms of roles rather than specific contact points, embraced subscription filtering to allow notification on new alarms as they are created in the SCADA without the need to reconfigure our software. We localized the product and translated it for 10 different languages because of our expanded international business. We’ve kept up with numerous Operating System and SCADA version releases over the years. Most recently, we added support for new OPC protocols allowing us to receive both data and alarm events from more sources as the industry continues to adopt OPC UA over the earlier OPC Classic protocols. Q Tell us about your success in the marketplace. A With almost 30 years of experience focused on alarm notification software for control systems, WIN-911 is currently installed in over 19k locations worldwide. One of our key reasons for success has been our strategic partnerships with GE, Rockwell, and AVEVA. Those partnerships have provided software interfaces that allow us to offer users direct connectivity with major SCADA/HMI providers for easy installation, deployment, and simplified ongoing maintenance to protect their most critical assets. System Integrators across the globe partner with WIN-911 to provide a turnkey solution while maintaining a secure and reliable ecosystem in a variety of industry verticals. WIN-911 is an industry leader with the most options for notification methods including the state-of-the-art WIN-911 mobile app. WIN-911’s continued commitment to excellence and compatibility with the most recent offerings from our partners ensures our users have access to the latest technology for sustained protection of their operations and investments. Q What advice would you give to a prospective customer researching you vs. your competitors? A WIN-911 provides a simple and flexible pricing model offering both perpetual and subscription solutions to fit into various deployment sizes and budgetary requirements. There are no hidden fees, and our pricing is always published on our website for easy access to prospective buyers. WIN-911’s flexible support offering has multiple tiers including 24/7 support, which enables your team to customize a product support package, including technical support, training, and consulting to fit all size projects. In addition to our commitment to supporting partners, WIN-911 fully embraces Open Standards Connectivity Protocols, such as OPC to integrate seamlessly into any automation system. We always recommend end-users do their research to find the solution that best fits their organization. Q What challenges are your customers facing now? A Because we have a broad user base in numerous markets, there are many challenges ranging from environmental to economic to demographic to technical. For example, in the water sector some customers are coping with severe drought conditions while others face the opposite problem of flooding; climate change is increasing the frequency of such challenges globally. Those fortunate enough to face neither flooding nor drought are probably seeing population growth that is creating pressure to do more with less and stop leaks in urban environments. Manufacturing has had a moment of reckoning with just-in-time supply chains that they are still working through, and with the threat of a possible recession, efficiencies are of heightened concern. For highly specialized operations, the demographic challenge of on boarding the next generation to adequately replace aging experts is a real challenge in most developed economies, which has been accelerated by the recent pandemic. Probably the one concern that affects the majority of customers across all verticals is cybersecurity. Just about everyone is doing more with the cloud than they were five years ago, and with OT air gaps going away, concern is growing over potential vulnerabilities. Recent high-profile attacks on infrastructure and current geopolitical tensions are highlighting those concerns. Q What kinds of trends are you seeing in industrial automation right now? A Lights out manufacturing is becoming a goal for more long-term planning, but in practice it’s still years away. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are largely still more hype than practical solutions, but they are certainly climbing that curve – computer vision solutions have reached a point of maturity where they are driving productivity across many problem domains. Beyond that, AI predictive maintenance is seeing some success with uniform, high-volume, high-value assets like turbines. So, those are some upcoming challenges for customers. What’s here is IT/OT convergence – the muddling of the previously distinct worlds of information technology, in which systems have been networked and sharing information for years with the more physical world of operational technology, where digital information has been more siloed. The Industrial Internet of Things is connecting sensors not with the deep L1 or L2 networks of supervisory control but with the Internet. Companies have seen gains from shifting IT resources to the cloud and now are wanting to realize the same gains with OT computing resources. It’s that incentive that’s driving OT software to the cloud and to connect with the cloud and to communicate over open standards. The air gaps are largely going away, which creates the potential to process that previously siloed data for greater productivity but also increased risk to real, physical assets. Cybersecurity is a much bigger topic and concern because of this shift. Q Can you explain why so many SCADA systems are over exposed to the internet? A In an attempt to offer process and asset information to operators, organizations have provided much more, ignoring the principle of least privilege and opening their entire control systems and their hosts to remote desktop access by unnecessary parties. Such broad remote access techniques present an increased security risk for organizations. Q How does remote alarm notification software add another layer of protection? A Advanced remote alarm notification software allows remote operators access to only the information they need from SCADA but not access to the SCADA itself or its operating system host. Such notification software is compatible with more secure, layered networks in which a series of firewalls provide added protection from attacks. This is done by deploying notification solutions alongside the SCADA system at the network's control level and using notification modalities that are not internet facing or distributing internet-facing notification processes to higher levels. For example, internal email servers, SMS modems, and voice via PBX devices allow communication with the outside world without internet exposure. Likewise, distributing the processes that interface with SCADA from those that interface with external email servers, VoIP solutions, and cloud apps allows internet-based notifications without compromising security. Q What makes you optimistic about the future of the automation industry? A Despite all the challenges and changes, everyone is striving for the same thing: improvement. The myriad applications that I discussed at the start of this conversation are all important in their own way, and there are people who want those processes to not just succeed but to continuously improve. Everyone in the automation industry is dedicated to that cause and will drive this progress. By raising awareness about some of these challenges, I’m confident they will take note, they will take action, and by and large will achieve that objective.