Mobile In Manufacturing Is Here To Stay, And Security Matters

Mobile is how people choose to communicate for both work and play with the same accessibility expectations whether on or off the clock.

Mobile devices are miniature computers that live in our pockets, carried around with us, day-in and day-out. Losing a smartphone or tablet is more frightening than losing any other personal item –– our wallets included. Beyond our personal lives, however, mobile devices have become indispensable tools that are used every day in the world of manufacturing. Shifting to mobile means affordability, portability, and availability. Mobility creates efficient workflow for employees on the job, and because there is a mobile device in everyone’s hands, it makes sense that this is where business is now conducted. When we look to the modern workplace, we’re seeing that Millennials have now surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce, and according to a recent Deloitte study, 77 percent of working Millennials long for greater mobile connectivity in the workplace. Mobile is how people choose to communicate for both work and play with the same accessibility expectations whether on or off the clock.

The shift to mobile has made information sharing quicker and easier than ever; it’s part of the job, and employees demand intuitive, easy-to-use applications on their mobile devices. When employees are using their personal mobile devices in the workplace, however, the security risk for organizations skyrockets. It’s not surprising to see that the top two technology priorities of industrial manufacturing CEOs today are mobility and security, according to PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey. Security and privacy are an absolute requirement when exchanging critical or sensitive information across teams, and likewise, applications designed for mobile-first usage within an organization need to have security and privacy built in from the start.

Modern Safeguards Meet Good Old-Fashioned Conversation

We have become accustomed to sharing experiences and knowledge at the touch of a button, and have come to expect access to different communities and interpersonal networks the moment we need it. Every day on the job, manufacturers are connecting with contractors, suppliers, employees, and customers, in the form of digital conversations and person-to-person data exchange.

This ability to connect with others, both within an enterprise and externally, drives business momentum. Manufacturing companies with field service teams must be able to make service calls, file work orders, and engage in broader company communication –– both from the top-down, sharing information from corporate teams, or laterally, such as ongoing peer-to-peer communication at a manufacturing plant. Outside of the organization, manufacturers may find themselves helping customers configure products, or collaborate with partners on engineering specs. With so many open channels of conversation, the risk of sensitive information getting into the wrong hands becomes greater. The biggest culprit? Consumer communication apps that lack privacy and security.

Zogby Analytics recently conducted a survey of U.S. employees, finding that approximately 50 percent of deskless workers –– those who spend the day on their feet or in-between work sites –– use a messaging or communication app every day for their job, with texting as the most preferred mode of communication. And when texting isn’t enough, others turn to group chat or video calling apps to connect with one another. Without one set, secure standard, organizations open themselves up to a host of privacy risks and greater institutional disorganization.

Deploying one secure communication platform can make all the difference, allowing administrators to proactively create managed groups, both internally and between collaborating organizations. This eliminates many of the risks posed by sharing information via consumer apps. Manufacturing companies can also organize their employees and partners to communicate within “official” groups, curbing over-communication and side-conversations, encouraging workers to share relevant information in a timely fashion, ultimately streamlining operations and driving efficiencies across the business.

Managing Day-to-Day Operations With Mobile

Manufacturers use mobile devices to support many of their core fulfillment functions, as well as provide visibility into the movement of their products through the supply chain. The use cases vary, but include integration of CRM systems with order management, pricing, and fulfillment to improve customer responsiveness; the tracking of suppliers and inventory; and specifics like manufacturing machine and equipment maintenance.

While each of these examples requires different software that varies by business, the shift to performing many of these steps and following standard operating procedures via mobile often comes with corporate-sanctioned devices. This is not always the case, however, as personally-owned devices can eliminate extra costs for the organization, but are also immediately available for use. When manufacturing employees use their own smartphones on the job, it’s harder for organizations to manage each individual device. Out-of-date devices often bring with them a number of risks, as they more frequently run with non-compliant software, increasing vulnerability to security failures.

Today using a password sounds like a given, especially given the around-the-clock emphasis on security. Even still, a 2016 Ponemon Institute study found that 35 percent of professionals indicated their work devices had no mandated measures in place to secure accessible corporate data. The same study found that even when employees do set up a password to secure their accounts, 68 percent of them share the passwords to access work-specific accounts on their mobile devices. It may sound simple, but the ongoing security risk in guarding corporate information and business operations can be easily reduced when employees password-protect their mobile app logins, and keep their passwords private.

Ponemon’s study also found that nearly half of all employees today use their mobile devices on the job without a passcode for entry; thus, the foundational layer in mobile security is not only controlling access to enterprise applications, but first securing the mobile device itself. Advances in biometric technology have led to the development of new security measures like fingerprint readers and facial recognition software, which serve as the access point for many of today’s smartphones. This further allows manufacturing workers, who may regulate company operations and control data on their mobile devices, to implement an additional security gateway.

Looking Ahead to Industry 4.0

Automation and real-time data exchange in manufacturing technologies characterize the not-so-distant future of industrial manufacturing in Industry 4.0. With machines interacting as peer-to-peer devices, these points of contact within smart factories will soon be manufacturing products, monitoring systems, and speeding up operations at scale. Existing, centralized IT systems struggle to maintain large numbers of devices in autonomous, cooperative networks –– especially when those devices are operating at the edge of a large-scale industrial manufacturing system.

Hacking into an automated manufacturing system can halt production in one fell swoop, impacting productivity levels and of course the bottom line. As we transition into this next era of “smart” everything, it’s more important than ever to get security right from the beginning. To create a tamper-proof security network of this magnitude, it is necessary to deploy a holistic security fabric, capable of managing and monitoring many dynamic, distributed mobile devices. Manufacturing networks are decentralized in nature, and should therefore be protected by decentralized security systems that can scale and adapt to a growing network of mobile devices at the network edge.

While it does come with its own set of risks, the age of automation will also facilitate improved mobile threat detection. Currently, crowdsourced threat intelligence using machine learning algorithms allows computers to recognize patterns over time. As these AI capabilities become more widely adopted, integration within mobile applications built for manufacturers and their respective technologies will lead to more sophisticated and immediate threat detection. Manufacturers will be able to use mobile software to flag threats faster and easier, notifying the automated system and their employees at the touch of a button.

As mobile-first technology advances continue to meet the needs of the modern workplace, the world of manufacturing will continue to increase its mobility as well. Leaders must prioritize security safeguards and follow best practices for all employees, applications, devices, and their greater organizations, so that mobile devices seen as a security asset, rather than a security risk.

Stacey Epstein is CEO of Zinc.

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