In our personal and general business lives, we’ve all largely adopted the use of the smart devices to make our lives easier, find our destinations, and just generally stay more connected with each other. Whether or not this is truly a good thing for humanity is a subject for another article. For this article, we’ll just confront the fact that smart, mobile devices are fast becoming as much a part of our industrial operations as they are our personal lives.
To help address lingering doubts about the use of mobile, connected devices in industry, Gray Matter Systems recently released a report detailing six of the top reasons why we all need to get serious about the adoption of mobile devices in industrial operations. The company, Gray Matter Systems, is an engineering services firm and supplier of data management and process automation software to manufacturers and utilities.
Reason #1: If your operators don’t have a smartphone now, they will soon.
According to a study by Nielsen, 54.9 percent of mobile users in the U.S. owned smartphones as of June 2012. Nielson reported that, in the second quarter of 2012, two out of three Americans who picked up a new mobile device opted for a smartphone over the standard cell phone. Many telecom and market industry analysts believe that we are now, or will soon be at the point where the global installed based of smartphones and tablets will surpass the installed base of the PC.
In Information Week’s “Mobile Device Management and Security Survey”, 9 out of 10 tech professionals surveyed say smartphones and tablets will play a key role in the business productivity in the next few years.
Reason #2: Operators are evolving and mobility will take them to the next level.
Historically, industrial operators learned how to do things by gaining knowledge about process and machine operations from mentors and supervisors through years of on-the-job training. But as industry has advanced with far more levels of hardware and software technologies, today’s operator has become a multi-faceted, data-empowered, critical facet of the production process who is able to leverage data from many sources, make objective decisions based on complex, real-time information, and understand the system to solve problems.
As a result of this change, Gray Matter Systems says the next step involves mobilizing the data that drives the next generation of operator. Equipping this operator with a mobile device takes operations to the next level. Mobile technology can send real-time data to an operator based on their role that is also pinpointed to their location based on geo-technology. Operators responding to an alarm no longer have to make independent decisions based solely on training—they can review electronic standard operating procedures on their smartphones.
Reason #3: Mobility let’s you get out from behind your desk.
As a plant manager or supervisor, you can’t spend much of your day behind the desk. You have to walk the plant floor and spend time in the field with your team. Which brings up the question: How useful is data if it’s locked up in the computer at your desk when you’re on the move?
Mobility changes all of that. Mobile software can parse the information from your SCADA system and present you with dashboards highlighting just the key performance indicators that apply to you. As Gray Matter Systems points out in its report: Getting a call about an alarm in the field is one thing. Heading to the problem area and pulling up the SCADA system on your iPad to see predictive information is quite another.
Reason #4: Get alerts on the road; fix problems in the field.
Mobile technology allows you to take advantage of your smartphone’s inherent GPS capabilities and delivers real-time data about devices within your proximity. Gray Matter Systems points out that this kind of situational awareness technology combines criticality of situation with location and proximity to ensure that the user has the information they need, saving time and cost.
Reason #5: Get alerted when something important happens.
Rather than spending your time analyzing data for historical trends, automation software allows you to define what’s important to you and it will alert you when something you defined as being important happens. Using a mobile device, these alerts can now reach you immediately wherever you are and allow you access to the people and systems needed to correct the situation.
Reason #6: The mobile security nightmare is getting slightly less scary.
It’s not quite the elephant in the room since it always gets discussed, but security concerns are often the number one reason most people are reticent to deploy mobile devices in industry to any large degree.
As Gray Matter Systems points out, concerns over industrial mobility security are not without warrant because of persistent issues with insecure data storage, weak server side controls, and broken cryptography. Add to that the studies that have shown workers admitting that their organization’s data and/or files are not being encrypted as they should be and about one quarter of these workers acknowledging that they’ve been victims of malware or hacking on the personal mobile device they use for work.
Despite these issues, important strides are being made to make the use of connected, mobile devices more secure. For example, most modern industrial mobility solutions offer digitally signed certificates, 256-bit encryption, soft VPN, and more. Plus, operator education is becoming better as more people are becoming knowledgeable about things like not installing apps that require unlocked iPhones and how to guard themselves from social media attacks.
Gray Matter Systems notes that “more education means more operators with work-engaged mobile devices will think twice about letting a friend or family member make a call. At the very least, they will be more likely to enable the auto-lock feature.”