Remote connectivity in the post-COVID world
By Nick Meehan, Lifecycle Services Manager, Emerson Automation Solutions
Friday, 13 May, 2022
I’m not sure what your experience may have been, but I’m certain everyone learnt something new during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Some learnt how to make sourdough bread, others learnt a how to play a musical instrument, some of us working from home learnt their partner’s work voice — possibly much to our surprise.
However, I think there is one thing many people involved in various industries learnt during this time: just how disconnected from support they were when Australian state borders sprung up, the movement of people wasn’t nearly as easy as it used to be, and the ability to get on-the-ground support suddenly became more difficult than many of us had ever imagined.
For my part, working closely with end users one thing became clear: the need for secure remote connectivity was real, and in some cases early adopters benefited in critical situations when the crunch came. Raising the need for secure remote connections pre-COVID often seemed like a luxury. “Why don’t we just get someone in?” was the likely response and at the time if often seemed to make the most sense.
I saw many firsts during the last few years, and a number of those revolved around remote connectivity. I had never seen site implementation of a project supported remotely, until it was the only way it could happen. Through the use of secure channels a project was able to proceed as planned, and deadlines were met. If not for the infrastructure that was put in place back when it was a ‘nice-to-have’, these critical improvement projects would have been delayed for 12 months or longer.
It isn’t hard to see why industrial facilities are now much more interested in exploring the different opportunities that connecting to the cloud (be that on-premise or not) presents. Information that until recently remained locked away from analysis is now finding its way to the right software, and more importantly the right people. The ability to drive improvement has always been based on having the right data, but accessing that data was a challenge that is becoming easier to solve.
While it is now very clear what the benefits are, the risks remain real and require thorough consideration. Implementing a cyber-secure solution is the key to realising the benefits while also remaining protected from very real threats. Each installation will have its own methodology, following an industry standard (such as IEC 62443) or a guideline such as the Essential Eight Maturity Model, but the advice remains consistent. The success of your project hinges on whether or not you have managed to implement the solution in a secure way.
It is my experience that restricting access to data, or remote assistance for that matter, is rapidly becoming anachronistic. All over the globe companies are changing their ways, perhaps as a result of the pandemic and perhaps not, but a connected future is a future full of possibility. The idea of allowing remote connectivity can still seem daunting, or even risky. However, like sourdough bread or musical instruments, it just takes some time and commitment and you can achieve something you never thought possible.
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