Abstract Advances in automation systems are a consequence of the technological innovations and theoretical developments in the area of systems engineering. The application of powerful automation techniques has enabled complex processes to be safely and efficiently operated, bringing numerous economic benefits for mankind. However, the development of the so called modern automation systems represents one of the most challenging tasks that faces the developing and the under developed countries from the point of selection for the appropriate type of technology. Despite increased automation, the human in the loop is more important than ever before. Deficiencies in the process can cause automatic control systems to fail to meet the requirements of the operation thus demanding intervention by operators and control engineers to keep them working. Shortcomings always occur because performance requirements and the plant characteristics are unconfirmed at the design stage. The performance requirements, plant characteristics and controller parameters change when a control system is designed and when it is commissioned. However activities such as controller tuning, fault detection, diagnosis, start-up, shut-down etc. which can occupy significant part of an operator or engineer's time, should be automated allowing them to utilize their skills on more productive activities. Progress in Information Technology and Microprocessor power has enriched and enhanced the capabilities of the Integrated Control System (ICS). The Instrumentation and Control (I&C) equipment form the nerve system of the plant and so is placed very high up in order to achieve the desirable goals. This paper deals with some practical issues, problems and challenges faced by developing and underdeveloped countries in the wake of rapid advances, theoretical developments and technological innovations in automation. The discussion is centered on the following aspects with particular reference to power and desalination plants in the Gulf region: 1. • Functions and hierarchical structures of control systems, 2. • Man-machine interface, 3. • Integrated control systems, 4. • Distributed control systems, 5. • Fault tolerance, and 6. • Manpower training. In the interest of clarity and completeness, certain essential terms in the highly specialized field of automation are briefly introduced and explained in the text.