Mobile computing – the promises and the pitfalls

More and more manufacturers are taking advantage of mobile computing devices in the workplace, but many remain unaware of the problems they can generate. Alan Johnson reports.

Australian manufacturers are increasingly turning to mobile computing devices to ensure efficient and accurate manufacturing and delivery processes.

With employees working more flexibly and relying on them as a means of operational efficiency, they also want to use mobile devices they are more comfortable with; many which they personally own.

However, according to experts in the field, many manufacturers are leaving themselves open to data leakage, theft of sensitive information and cyber-attacks.

According to Philip Dimitri, ANZ Systems Engineer Director with Check Point Software Technologies, the use of mobile computers is great for productivity, however from an IT security perspective it introduces a new level of complexities into securing a company’s corporate environment, which is very dynamic.

“The breadth of mobile personal data used means unsecure, unmanaged data across a range of platforms which can quite easily compromise the network and sensitivity of the data that exists,” Dimitri told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

However, for those companies that think they can buck the mobile computing trend, Dimitri had some bad news. They are kidding themselves, he said. “It’s here to stay.”

“Manufacturers should adopt the trend and embrace it, but at the same time they should undertake additional security measures to combat the risks involved with mobile computers, such as unsecured data and leakages of sensitive information.”

Dimitri said it’s vital companies have a policy and a mobile-based theft prevention solution that target these areas.

“That solution and capability should mimic and emulate the company’s internal IT security environment, with the same capacity,” he said.

He also said the mobile theft prevention product should have additional data encryption, plus similar functionality as the office computers across all mobile devices including smart phones, tablets, laptops and other mobile devices.

“They should be integrated into a mobile device management solution or function stand-alone to provide incident prevention, including data leakage, data loss, application control, and anti-virus malware,” he said.

As with most technologies, Dimitri said manufacturers are adopting mobile security software at different rates. However, he did also confirm that employers are becoming increasingly aware of the problem and are adopting mobile policies and governance regarding mobile devices in the workplace.

And with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) becoming increasingly common in the workplace, Dimitri revealed there are now containerised solutions, where users can have their personalised data on their device and at the same time securely access their corporate data whether it is on the corporate network or on the corporate cloud.

He advised manufacturers to adopt a measured (rather than ad hoc) approach across the company’s other applications and software.

“Some companies look at mobile security policies by department rather than as an enterprise end-to-end initiative,” he said.

“Instead companies are much better served by approaching their mobile policy and governance as a similar discipline to what they do across IT security and financial governance.

“Managing the company’s IT security across all platforms is much easier in terms of reducing the total cost of ownership.”

Trends

Tony Repaci, Australia & NZ country manager with Honeywell Sensing and Productivity, said there are a number of trends Australian manufacturers can expect to see over the next 12 months.

“Driving innovation on the manufacturing shop floor in 2016 are new technologies that automate a number of processes that have been problematic in the past, and which feed into the practice of lean manufacturing,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

Repaci said manufacturers need to consider whether a mobile computer investment will provide a good ROI (Return on Investment) into the future.

“This might involve looking for a mobile computer that easily integrates with current and future systems, such as a WMS (Warehouse Management System), and has the flexibility to work in tandem with other operational hardware,” he said.

“There are now mobile computers on the market offering Windows and Android operating systems that enable businesses to use devices with hybrid operating systems or switch to a new operating system in the future.”

He said mobile computing technology has come a long way since the first bulky devices with limited functionality hit the market years ago.

“These days, the latest devices focus on power, battery life, design, operational flexibility and scanning capabilities,” he said.

Repaci advised Australian manufacturers looking for mobile computers that will best serve their businesses, now and into the future, to consider devices with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with 2.26GHz quad-core CPU which enables robust application performance at better speeds and power efficiencies.

“For tough work environments, operators should choose a device that offers an IP67-rated design for protection from dust and water and the ability to withstand multiple 1.5m drops to concrete and 1,000 0.5m tumbles,” he said.

And for enterprises that require anywhere, anytime real-time connectivity, Repaci suggested that advanced enterprise-ready 4G/LTE handheld computers that support either Windows or Android operating systems are key.

While rugged mobile computers are specialised devices designed for collecting data and providing real-time information in non-office environments, Repaci said they should still adhere to enterprise standards for connectivity, security and development whenever possible.

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“Specifying devices that meet these criteria will help keep down development, integration and support expenses, which can vary greatly and are a significant source of minimising the total cost of the device,” he said.

However, Repaci warned that mobile computer operating systems designed first and foremost for consumer smartphones and tablets, Android and iOS are not easily deployed in manufacturing environments ‘as is’.

“Because they are designed for individual sales rather than large deployments, they don’t come with built-in support for enterprise management and security systems,” he said.

He said mobile computers should be adapted to communicate with enterprise systems using standard connectivity and security.

“At the same time, security policies should not be adjusted or weakened to accommodate wireless mobile devices,” he said.

He said mobile computers are available that support a variety of standard wireless security protocols (including 802.11x, WPA2, FIPS, et al) and VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) so security can be applied and managed consistently with that used for laptop and desktop computers.

“Organisations with wireless LAN backbones from Cisco Systems should specify CCX certification for their mobile devices to simplify integration and management and to benefit from the advanced features available in a Cisco environment,” he said.

If wide-area wireless connectivity will be used, Repaci said the mobile device maker should have partnerships with cellular carriers and offer devices certified for data and voice on the preferred network.

While perceived cost savings, improved worker satisfaction and morale are some of the strongest drivers behind businesses introducing consumer grade devices or BYOD policies, Repaci warned manufacturers that the biggest impact a mobile device will have on day to day worker productivity is not how happy it makes employees (through offering them the ability to access the internet or games) but how reliable it will be in the field.

Mobility strategies

According to Carsten Billeschou, Managing Director of Handheld APAC, when it comes to mobility strategies, organisations need to understand the environments and conditions their workers are to operate in and understand what the equipment to be used is built for.

“A rugged device is not a regular computer or smartphone that is put in a waterproof case, or built with just a waterproof shell,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“To be truly rugged, computers have to undergo multiple tests for ruggedness including the industry standards; MIL-STD test methods and the Ingress Protection scale.

Billeschou said the term “ruggedised” gives the sense that fragile internal components have been somehow protected.

“But a truly rugged computer is designed from the inside out to operate reliably in very harsh environments and conditions,” he said.

He said tough and durable mobile computers and smartphones are gaining in demand and popularity.

“While some mainstream devices are advertised as rugged because of features such as water resistance, these devices are ruggedised, and not truly rugged,” he said.

“They might be waterproof, but they lack other aspects of ruggedness, such as the ability to withstand vibrations or shocks and to function well in extreme temperatures.”

When it comes to mobile computer screens, Billeschou said the trend is clear in both the consumer and enterprise space. Screens are becoming larger and applications are becoming touch centric.

“The screens are now developed with a user experience in mind that requires larger screen real estate with the best possible outdoor screen experience,” he said.

He also believes the tablet trend will continue and that Android will continue to take market share in the enterprise space.

“As we move into 2016, there will be more focus on usability with better screens and longer battery life performances without losing focus on ergonomics,” Billeschou said.

Regarding security, he said it’s important proper mobility strategies, including the use of hardware and applications, are a must for any larger organisation.

“We are seeing mobility strategies, which include data security, data handling and hardware choices, becoming more and more standard,” he said.

“We are also seeing mobility strategies and policies increasing, which is much needed to ensure maximum effect of the use of mobile devices in the workforce.

“The range of complexity, of course, varies but we are seeing more and more enterprises taking the mobility opportunity seriously.”

And that is not just the case for the younger generation. Dimitri, Repaci and Billeschou all agree that the idea that older workers are much slower to adopt mobile technology should be dismissed.

Dimitri admitted that, during the early stages of technology introduction, that might have been the case.

“But today with the intuitiveness and the ease of navigating through the user interfaces, plus the greater functionality…[ uptake and proficiency comes very quickly with an older person]. The gap has evaporated,” he added.