Get Ready to Leverage Mobile Device Control Strategies

Adoption is just taking hold, but mobile access to process data and controls is here to stay

By Jean Femia, Opto 22

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• Always change default usernames and passwords on networked devices.
• Use a virtual private network (VPN) for remote access.
• Train employees on safe Internet usage.

If technicians use mobile devices to gather and store data, for example from remote equipment, another consideration is keeping that data safe and available if the device is lost or damaged. Backing up data to the cloud or to a company server are options to consider, depending on the confidentiality of the data.

4) Connectivity
As the Internet of Things expands, adding wireless capability to an increasing number of sensors and equipment, COTS mobile devices become attractive for their ability to connect. With a variety of standard wireless options built in — cellular (3G, 4G, LTE), wireless LAN (Wi-Fi), and often Bluetooth — they simplify connections to your business and automation systems (Figure 6).

Of course, your application and environment will determine whether wireless connectivity is a concern. In hazardous environments, wireless devices may need explosion-proof certification. In addition, some industrial settings may find wireless networking problematic due to signal interference from equipment and machinery.
In other industrial settings, wireless networks can work consistently well and provide a new method of connectivity that makes maintenance and monitoring easier.

The location of the systems and equipment you want to monitor and control affects how you connect to them. If you’re commissioning a system or checking KPIs within your facility, for example, your mobile device will connect through your local wireless network. If you’re monitoring production miles away or controlling remote pumps, you’ll need to connect over the Internet. 


Whenever you connect to a private company network using the Internet, most security experts will recommend using a virtual private network, or VPN. The VPN creates a kind of protected tunnel through the Internet for increased security. COTS mobile devices have a VPN client built in, which simplifies setup for a VPN.

So what’s the answer to the question: Is mobile in automation “Russian roulette” or “the new normal?” Possibly both. It depends, of course, but COTS mobile devices are already being used in industrial automation, and the trend will accelerate. The only question is whether the pharmaceutical industry, among others, will be prepared. Start thinking now about the environmental, safety, security and connectivity factors your automation system requires. Then work with IT to build out the security infrastructure, as well as with management to establish mobile policies.

It is also time to decide whether or not the organization will provide mobile devices to employees. Similarly, the organization has to decide whether or not employees’ personal devices should be used for business purposes. At this point it is prudent to make sure everyone understands the rules and reasons for how mobile devices (both personal and company-supplied) will be deployed and implemented. Finally, it’s time to carefully consider how COTS smartphones and tablets can help your business be more efficient and competitive. Talk with other engineers, technicians, and managers about specific ways mobile can be useful to most any manufacturing operation.

“What’s lacking is broad recognition of what has become possible, and the vision to utilize these new technologies to transform industry,” says Andy Chatha of ARC Advisory Group.18 “Our challenge as automation professionals is to embrace connected intelligence in an intelligent way.”



1 LinkedIn ISA group discussion, January 2014,
2 Mobile: Learn from Intel's CISO on Securing Employee-Owned Devices (webinar, not dated),
3 Gartner press release May 2013,
4 Bill Lydon, “Is BYOD (bring your own device) worth the risk?” 17 Dec 2012,
5 COTS Journal online (undated),
6 E. Ozdemir and M. Karacor, “Mobile phone based SCADA for industrial automation,” ISA Transactions, V 45, No 1, Jan 2006, pp. 67–75,
7 LinkedIn Automation & Control Engineering group discussion, Dec 2013,
8 James R. Koelsch, “Time to upgrade your HMI?”, Automation World, 8 March 2014.

9 Suzanne Gill, “Industry prepares for the next industrial revolution,” Control Engineering, 27 June 2013.
10 Philippe Winthrop, “Thinking About The ROI of Mobile Apps? Think Instead About Sports Advertising,” 20 Dec 2013, blog post.
11 Corning website,
12 OtterBox website:
13 Reviewed by Control Engineering,
14 FCC Guide, “Wireless Devices at Gas Stations,”
15 LinkedIn discussion in ISA - International Society of Automation group, Feb 2014.
16 Ivan Fernandez, “Cybersecurity for Industrial Automation & Control Environments,” April 2013,
17 Jim Toepper, “Industrial Networking Security Best Practices,” 20 August 2013,
18 Andy Chatha, “Planning for the Industrial Internet of Things,” ARC Advisory Group, 30 Jan 2014.
19 groov website:


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