BYOD Impacts the Factory Floor

The growing worldwide trend for workers to “bring your own device” (BYOD) to work has impacted the industrial space, according an IHS Technology survey.

The past few years have witnessed a remarkable growth in the popularity of smart phones and tablet computers. The Pew Research Center’s Mobile Technology Fact Sheet reported that by January 2014 58% of adults in the USA owned a smartphone, and 42% of them had a tablet computer.  A Nielsen Company report says that people in the UK used their smartphones nearly twice as much by the end of 2013 as they did in the beginning of that year.

With such broad usage of smartphones and tablets, it is not surprising that people expect to bring that power and convenience into the workplace. Indeed, this is rapidly becoming the case, as reported in the 2nd Annual State of BYOD Report issued last year by Good Technology.  According to their survey, 95% enterprises either support BYOD in the workplace, or are at some stage in planning or considering it.

These worldwide trends are resonating in the industrial space, according to Toby Colquhoun and Tom Moore at IHS Technology.  In a recent article, Mobile devices spread to the factory floor, they share the results of an IHS global survey of companies in the manufacturing and energy sectors.  Of the companies surveyed, almost half of them (46%) are currently allowing their employees to use smartphones and tablets at work, and another 11% plan to adopt such technologies within the next three years.

Integration of smartphones and tablets into the company network adds a potential new point of vulnerability for hackers/malware to exploit.

To clarify, this is not actually BYOD in most cases.  You won’t find many factory workers monitoring mission-critical systems on their personal cell phones.  Typically, companies that allow smartphones and tablets on the shop floor issue them to the personnel, preconfigured for the data they are authorized to access.  The investment in equipment is offset by the advantages of this portable technology for monitoring processes from anywhere in the plant, responding quickly to alarms, and in some cases doing supervisory control.

But not everyone sees it this way.  About 7% of the participating companies that are currently using mobile devices plan to discontine this kind of program within the next three years, and another 20% surveyed responded that that they have no plans to adopt the technology over that time period.  The reasons for this reluctance include device performance in an industrial setting, as well as concerns for the security of the data.

“Integration of smartphones and tablets into the company network adds a potential new point of vulnerability for hackers/malware to exploit,” states the report.  It also mentions concerns related to human error and carelessness, which can be addressed by company policy.  But the report does not mention how companies can protect their vital data from exposure to the Internet.

To ensure the success of BYOD in the industrial sector, security questions must be resolved. The approach of Skkynet’s Secure Cloud Service™ addresses these questions in a unique way. Details about the service will be shared in a Skkynet white paper to be published soon. Put briefly, the traditional architecture for industrial networking was not designed for access via the public Internet, because it requires opening the firewall into the production system. With the proper design, as implemented in the Secure Cloud Service, BYOD is not only possible in the industrial space, it can be secure, quick, and convenient. As this kind of high quality service becomes widely adopted over the next few years, we can expect to witness some remarkable changes taking place on the factory floor.