What is the best way to manage BYOD in a plant?

With the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) trend beginning to gain a toe-hold in the process industries, plant managers and IT groups are taking note.

Not only do they have legitimate security concerns but, in refineries, chemical plants, mines, and other industrial facilities with hazardous areas, the field devices must be certified to operate in those environments; a requirement that excludes most consumer devices.

Mobility is the core value proposition of BYOD. Mobile computing is rapidly becoming the normal use-case for enterprise IT, rather than the exception. In the plant, most workers already own their personal mobile devices, which they often prefer to use. And in every industry workers dislike mandates forcing them to carry multiple devices.

Ubiquitous wireless internet access enables BYOD. Carrier cellular coverage saturated the strategic areas in developed economies many years ago.

However, in recent years, carriers have rolled out higher capacity, 4G networks capable of much greater data rates to support the growing numbers of smartphones served by their networks. These service levels compare well with what was provided by wire line enterprise networks only recently.

The huge volume of the consumer market has also revolutionised the price/performance of smart devices, especially smartphones. At the same time, there has been a convergence of the networks and platforms. Most smartphones support LTE carrier networks, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth local networking, and GPS.

There has been a huge convergence in terms of operating platforms toward Android and iOS, with the former champions BlackBerry and Symbian both on the ropes and Windows volumes remaining almost invisible.

For industrial service, smartphones, tablets, and other mobility devices require enhanced ruggedness, hazardous location certification, and — in some cases — dedicated higher performing interfaces for barcode scanning or other job-specific capabilities.

Management is now the biggest challenge

While ubiquitous connectivity and technological convergence have enabled the BYOD trend, it has been constrained by the limited capability of enterprises to manage the more complex demands represented by mobile consumer devices operating within the enterprise.

Like all management, network management involves the allocation of resources according to policies and rules in pursuit of enterprise objectives.

Effective network management balances a number of objectives. One of these is to improve cost behaviour.  Enterprise TCO will scale well when network management reduces the labour intensiveness of network operation as the network grows. But TCO is only one of the attributes of BYOD requiring management attention.

Other major factors are:

Policy – Organizations need to make policy decisions at the outset of BYOD. These decisions include a set of supported devices and platforms, (BYOD does not mean the same thing as bring ANY device).

Likewise, a set of carriers must be selected and rules developed for network selection when multiple networks are available. A set of applications must be sup-ported.

Finally, the policies for cost sharing between employees and the enterprise need to be developed, with a view toward keeping the rules simple and comprehensible, yet comprehensive.

Device Management – Dozens of companies offer solutions for mobile device management. This includes provisioning, configuring, and updating devices, and deactivating devices as they are retired as well as protecting/destroying (“zapping”) the content on devices that are lost or stolen.

Some level of security and protection from malware is involved.  Billing and network policies need to be implemented. These solutions can come from either the carrier or from a third-party enterprise solution.

Mobile Application Management – Effective mobile application management is critical because the apps come from multiple sources. Besides managing the set of supported applications, distribution of apps must be managed via the major online stores or other means.

Mobile Identity Management – For BYOD, identity management requires more rigorous authentication, authorisation and accounting (AAA). Enter-prises need an architecture for distributed systems that enables control over user access to services and resources. Multi-factor user authentication is just the first step.

Mobile Information Management – The coexistence of enterprise and personal data on the same device is drawing attention to the concept of managing device data through various means such as tracking, sand-boxing, encryption, and automated data time-outs.

Mobile Expense Management – This consideration is non-technical, but nevertheless a pain point for real-world implementations. Enterprises can hardly expect service providers to manage their costs optimally. They have to implement their own policies based on both cost and technical considerations.

BYOD in industry

One of the biggest challenges with respect to BYOD is that it puts enterprise IT onto the fastest of fast-paced consumer electronics platforms. This presents management challenges for the IT organization as well as third-party software firms.

The rapid churn in consumer electronics is a barrier to device certification for hazardous service. The certification process can take up to two years and by the time it is completed, a consumer device is likely at the end of its product life.

Unless the certification process can be speeded up, this will remain a serious barrier. Re-packaging of smart devices for extra ruggedness is generally available immediately.

Also, due to the platform convergence, industrial versions of smart devices can be developed at more favourable price/volume tradeoffs than was possible with past hand-held platforms. Examples of these new products are reaching the market now.

[Harry Forbes is Senior Analyst, ARC Advisory Group.]

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