Is industry ready to adopt IT trends?

08 May 2012

Christian Schad, CEO and founder, and James Hannay, senior VP of international development, at SCHAD, discuss the issues surrounding adoption of some of the latest mainstream IT trends by the industrial sector.

Christian Schad
Christian Schad

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a strong IT trend today and is definitely something that will have an impact in the industrial sector. However we do not see this happening for a while, primarily due to concerns over security. As with many IT trends, the first stages of uptake are being seen in the mainstream office environment, primarily at a management level. Historically, the engineering and manufacturing sectors tend to late adopters of new technologies and we believe this will be the case for BYOD.

The basic idea behind BYOD is that workers bring the devices of their own choice into the workplace and use them to access business applications. So, in the case of mobile SCADA systems, engineers would use iPhones or BlackBerrys to monitor and control automated systems, taking advantage of enterprise applications made available for their use.

This is a good idea in principle but security is a major concern. It is important for business and private use to be kept distinct and for data resulting from business use to be held securely and remain the property of the employer. In practice this is not so easy to achieve and is one reason that BYOD within an industrial environment is still some way off. Where BYOD is most likely to be adopted is among management, who may use personal tablet devices for instance, to access management information and reports.

Managing the split between business and private use is going to be a challenge for IT administrators and software developers alike. More sophisticated software platforms have built in technologies to maintain the distinction but until BYOD has been proven to be a reliable and secure way of working, we will not see this approach in process engineering environments where mobile SCADA is used. What we do see as being more likely is a situation where organisations are supporting users with a range of devices simultaneously, for instance, iPhone, BlackBerry, Android. Technically this is not a challenge and it is simply a matter of having the required corporate IT security policies in place.

Related to the issue of mobility within an engineering environment is the question of what the control room of the future will look like. We believe that there will always be a need for a central control area. However in the future this may not be manned. Instead, it will be more likely that control rooms become decentralised, with greater use of HMI terminals being made. The idea of having no control room at all is achievable for certain companies and some will migrate to using mobile devices only, but this requires something of a cultural shift within an organisation because many engineers get a certain level of comfort from having a fixed control room to fall back on, even if it is unmanned for long periods.

Mobile SCADA is a logical extension of control rooms to improve workflows and quality of service while at the same time saving on costs and resources.

Chance of clouds?
Cloud computing is a positive trend and more automation will move to the cloud in the future, especially once control systems become decentralised. It is entirely possible to run a SCADA system with the software remotely hosted in the cloud. In reality this is nothing new because companies have effectively already been working in their own private clouds with VPNs for many years.

Overall, recent security issues have heightened concerns relating to security and SCADA systems. Trends like BYOD and cloud computing are very interesting and represent future opportunities for industrial applications, but in reality they are all still some way off for the industrial sector.

* SCHAD was founded to offer a global standard for the mobile operation, control and maintenance of automated systems using an ordinary mobile device. The company has been recognised with numerous industry awards including Best Machine to Machine Solution 2010 by Vodafone and for Transforming Enterprise Business Performance by BlackBerry in 2010 and 2009.

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