The Method Behind the Madness of a Modern DCS Migration

Just knowing that you’ll soon need to do an upgrade or total migration of your distributed control system (DCS) often creates consternation and stress. Facing the prospect of managing such a major migration project – maybe the first and only one of your career – can be unsettling to say the least. Questions such as how to get started, what is the safest and best path forward, and where to seek trustworthy advice can certainly keep you up at night. Most manufacturers rely on experienced specialists who can work closely with their on-site team and who can apply a proven methodology to eliminate “migration madness.” The result will be a new, reliable DCS that maximizes performance, enhances sustainability, and gives you a clear competitive edge – now and in the future.

The following four areas are key to taking the first steps on the road to a more modern facility.


A DCS upgrade or migration should deliver value throughout its entire lifecycle. Take a long-term, holistic view of the project and consider how it will impact your operation for years to come. Begin with a strong front-end loading (FEL) process, one that includes planning and budgeting with full lifecycle cost estimates so that you can visualize the total cost of ownership (TCO). Methodologies such as MAVERICK’s DCSNext® gives companies the opportunity to take advantage of a proven FEL process.

Collaborate with your engineers, operators, IT personnel, maintenance technicians and all stakeholders during the FEL process to capture and consider the right process knowledge as you make your plan. Form strong alliances and good lines of communication with key internal stakeholders. It is critical to keep everyone actively participating and engaged in the project to ensure a strong sense of ownership going forward. Early buy-in from operators and maintenance technicians is critical because they will work with the new system every day.

With everyone working together, you can build your project plan based on the FEL process, which is a best practice approach that uses up-front engineering to make key decisions and plans early in the process. The resulting cutover plan – moving from the old to new system – will minimize risk and maximize operational uptime.

Risk Mitigation

Mitigating risk is a major worry when you modernize operations. Professionals who perform migrations day in and day out are familiar with the risk profiles. They will use a systematic analysis early in the planning process to help you identify potential risk areas upfront and eliminate them.

We are all familiar with the project risks associated with scope, schedule and budget. Additional migration risks include safety, downtime potential, cutover planning, resource allocation, network traffic levels, data integrity, cybersecurity and other critical factors, which should be considered upfront while there is still the greatest flexibility to deal with them.


To achieve a successful migration of your DCS system, you’ll need resources – people to do the work and the funding to pay for it.

For today’s manufacturers, a lack of available resources is a very real concern. If facility personnel don’t have the expertise or bandwidth to perform a migration or upgrade, you’ll need to choose a platform-independent automation solutions partner who understands your people, processes and technology. The right automation solutions company can provide a strong, qualified team, composed of migration project veterans, who are able to sit down with you and bring their expertise and fresh ideas to the table. They can help define and plan for the achievement of your project and business goals and work with your team at every stage. True collaboration ensures efficient communication and minimizes rework to keep you on time and on budget.

The other side of the resource coin is the money. How do you get funding approved? Justifying a large project and procuring the investment necessary can be a daunting prospect. You’ll need to develop a phased approach that spreads the capital investment over the right period of time. Ask your automation solutions provider for budgetary estimates and TCO figures for different migration paths to get the investment approved and to make sure your ROI is maximized. Your trusted project partner will help you define the sequence of phases that best aligns with your facility’s needs and requirements. Strong upfront planning and realistic budgeting is a best practice that leads to a successful migration project.

Holistic Fit-for-Purpose Solution

Modernization represents a rare opportunity to make strategic choices that will affect profitability, sustainability, reliability and resilience for years to come. These decisions should never be made in a vacuum but should consider the needs of stakeholders from all levels of the enterprise. Your automation solutions partner will help you arrive at a holistic, fit-for-purpose solution that will deliver benefits not yet imagined. Based on their experience and systems knowledge, they can offer insights and suggestions that will have a major impact on the TCO and return on investment (ROI) for your project. The foundational building block of your new modern system is the automation platform.

The control system platform vendor for your new DCS may already be decided before you begin your FEL process. If a vendor has not been chosen, it’s important to engage a partner who has an unbiased methodology – one that considers the right factors and properly weighs options to reveal the best solution for your specific business and operational needs. Vendor bias has no place here, as the FEL process represents a large part of your investment and is critical to future operations. Involving key stakeholders and utilizing platform specialists who know the varying factors that affect automation platform viability for your application is key to project success and to your long-term satisfaction with the solution.

Part of a fit-for-purpose solution is integrating your new modern system with legacy equipment. Most manufacturers want to preserve and leverage the positives of their existing systems, including intellectual property and process knowledge. Seamlessly incorporating systems and functionality into the new platform can reduce development costs while adding all the operational and safety features of the new system. An effective automation partner will help integrate your improved DCS with other third-party systems early on, so they are not overlooked, causing unforeseen costs later. For example, the same improvements in human-machine interface (HMI) graphics and alarms incorporated into the new DCS can be extended to the information coming through these interconnections, improving operational effectiveness.

Eliminate the Madness with a Modern Approach

Given the economic and market stresses affecting manufacturing today, modernization is now essential for business success. Technology is accelerating at a rapid pace, making your modernization decisions even more confusing and difficult. Should you wait until the next round of updates come out, or move forward now? Which new technologies can really deliver value to your organization? Can your facility continue to rise to meet demand without significant downtime? Should you use a phased approach or a hot cutover?

The automation solutions provider you choose to help you modernize, innovate and gain a competitive advantage should have your best interests in mind, be platform agnostic and partner with you for the long-haul. A proven structured methodology is essential to help you through the process, ensuring that you arrive at a quality, future-proof sustainable solution based on the proper parameters. As an example, MAVERICK’s DCSNext® methodology enables our company to help manufacturers implement over 50 successful innovative migrations every year, and it is applicable to virtually every major automation platform.

Though a DCS migration can seem overwhelming at first, a solid methodology and up-front planning will eliminate the madness and deliver benefits for years to come.

Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes is the DCSNext Portfolio Manager at Rockwell Automation and MAVERICK Technologies. Scott is a licensed control system engineer with 20+ years of experience leading automation projects and programs, as well as hands-on configuring and networking of DCS, PLC, HMI, process historian and visualization solutions.

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