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BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) Best Practices for Plants and Manufacturing

Over 75% of the world’s population now has access to portable phones and devices. As technologies improve, an increasing number of these devices are smartphones, and the market continues to grow for always-connected devices like tablets and wearable technology.  SCADA and HMI software platforms can make browser-based access to dashboards and controls easier than ever. Choosing how users of smart devices will be allowed access to the system and how they will be managed is a part of a conscious decision that process engineers, application developers, and IT personnel must consider when implementing new applications or changes to existing ones. Numerous factors must be considered including, personnel, product and plant safety and security; system mobility, access, convenience, and user operational efficiency.

There are certainly some applications in which the personal device policy can have a large positive impact on production and operations. Here are some of the most important factors to consider when designing your BYOD policy:

Personnel, Plant, and Process Safety: In many industrial applications, portable devices are simply not allowed for safety reasons, whether they are personal devices, or company-owned assets. For example, in 21CFR Part 11 compliant facilities, untethered items pose a large potential safety and contaminant risk. Dropping a phone or other untethered device into a food production area could cause a plant shutdown and potentially waste large amounts of materials or product and create hours of production downtime. Distractions from personal devices may also pose safety risks on a plant floor, such as handling a phone and/or looking at a screen may cause machine operators to lose focus on machine operation or alarms, along with the possibility of creating many other potentially dangerous situations or problems.

Mobile technologies and portable multi-touch devices have great potential uses within control and SCADA systems, or as an HMI, data display, or dashboard.  They can alert machine operators to process or operational  issues, allow for alarm viewing/acknowledgement and remote access for maintenance personnel, or even allow machine and equipment operation from a safe distance, in the field, or by otherwise untethered remote control.  However, Control System applications must be designed appropriately and with safety, security, and functionality as the primary design goals.

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System Security:  User authentication to the system is critical for system security in BYOD workplaces. A BYOD system especially concerned with security might employ a feature set that includes a barcode reader and/or GPS functionality, if needed, in order to be used inside of a “fenced” area so that the authenticated user can gain deeper access to the system or the equipment when required. The company IT department could provide potential BYOD users a list of known BYODs or required functionalities that should work on their network, if employees decide that they want or need to participate in a BYOD program.

Accessibility and Convenience: The largest arguments in favor of a pro-BYOD policy are convenience, operational efficiency, and functionality. Allowing operators, plant managers, and executives to view plant data from a personal device or utilize mobile multi-touch can enable quick decision making and better plant maintenance. It can improve operator efficiency and productivity, and offer remote access to hard-to-reach equipment, especially for field operations such as tank farms or remote pumping stations with the potential to assist with safety and security within many critical infrastructure verticals.

Easy access to machines and production data is only convenient if that access can be delivered safely and securely to the wide array of portable devices that employees wish to use. Therefore, a paradigm shift in the way that applications and application security are designed must be employed in order for mobile devices, smart devices, and BYODs to be used safely and correctly within a process or plant environment, in order to take advantage of their many unique features that would otherwise not be available using any other technology.

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