An intelligent input/output system for a programmable controller includes a plurality of input/output (I/O) modules, each of which may be located in proximity to the process being controlled. Each module is interconnected, via a communications link, to a central processor unit (CPU) through an I/O controller. Each module is made up of a plurality of input/output circuits and each may be selectively operated as an input circuit or as an output circuit. The selection is preferably under control of the CPU. Each I/O module includes an operations control unit for controlling each I/O circuit and for providing an exchange of diagnostic and control signals between each I/O circuit and the I/O controller and CPU. Communications between the operations control unit and each I/O circuit is preferably carried out via a pair of conductors, one conductor of which conveys a set of recurring control signals (e.g., in signal frames) and the other of which conveys encoded diagnostic signals.