Improve decisions by optimizing data from mobile devices
Being offsite or away from the control room does not mean personnel need to be away from key process events or from contact with colleagues in collaborative decision making. Secure and efficient mobile device usage can assist facility personnel in accessing critical decision-making information while supporting the organization’s digital transformation initiatives.
Mobile devices can unlock operational safety, reliability and efficiency by delivering information to users and helping modernize workflows. To achieve these benefits, however, mobile connectivity to process data must be well-planned so it delivers meaning within a user’s span of responsibility while fulfilling cybersecurity requirements.
Three key factors should be considered when evaluating the ability of mobile software to allow users to make the right decisions more quickly. First, the necessary data must be available and ensured through the integration of plant systems. Second, the software should allow personnel to focus on key areas. Third, workflows should deliver the right data to the right people without overloading them.
Accessing data from across the plant systems
Enabling mobility and modernizing workflows means personnel in various roles and responsibilities have immediate access to many types of data, including historical, real-time and maintenance data. However, this access also needs to promote data security and efficient communications. To create flexible and secure mobile software, a team must build a data architecture that is in accordance with information technology (IT) security and network requirements. The team also needs to think about the content that will be shared and the network architecture that will be used.
To determine the right direction for cybersecure networking software development, the team needs to understand the various data sources mobile users will need to access and the levels of access they ought to have on- and off-premises. Consider the architecture of the systems mobile users will need to access—control systems, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), historians, asset management systems and more.
The goals of multiple groups within an organization must be understood so operation’s concerns for situational awareness, management’s need for an improved understanding of production status and IT’s requirements for network cybersecurity are considered.
It is also worth noting a mobile app that is more integrated with the underlying data sources may offer additional native functionality and require less engineering effort for network design, deployment and configuration.
Focus on critical information
After a plan is in place for the secure architecture, access must be provided for groups of users. As permissions are built in, mobile users should be given access to only the data that will help them perform their tasks, avoiding information not directly related to personnel goals.
Data access should be based on roles and positions: operators, supervisors, engineers, maintenance personnel, etc. All users may have a unique set of key performance indicators (KPIs) for which their success is judged.
Access to operational data can bring meaningful results, but only if personnel have access to the data that is specific to their needs. Companies need to determine who needs to see or share data and for what purposes. A maintenance supervisor, for example, might be interested in machinery vibration data to set priorities on the tasks maintenance personnel must perform. Meanwhile, a process engineer might need tank data to help determine optimal flow rates.
Notifications and message escalation also depend on KPIs and roles. For example, certain operators might need event or alarm notifications immediately. An operations manager might want to delay notification to allow operators to address events. A process engineer might want weekly batch history information. The ideal mobile solution delivers information to the right people at the right times.
Modern workflow, collaboration
Mobility can tailor a modern workflow that guides personnel in the actions they take and decisions they make. For example, information can be supplied to mobile apps to tell users what corrective action is required in response to alarms to avoid risk to the process. Having this kind of expertise in hand can help organizations realize new ways of savings.
Mobility tools today present large-scale opportunities for savings from workflow modernization. Some organizations have started to design certain process areas so personnel do not need to interact with the process until they are requested to intervene by alerts on their mobile devices.
Automated workflows help streamline standard operations and eliminate repetitive tasks so personnel can focus on exceptions and other activities that require human intervention. One standard procedure that can be automated is notification escalation. For example, when a task is completed, the distribution of information can be automated so personnel do not need to think about who needs to know. The automated workflow takes care of passing the information to the right people at the right times.
Information needs to flow to the personnel that need it. Real-time data integration, automated data filtering and notification escalation help prevent data floods so personnel can focus on the situation at hand, know the actions they need to take, and communicate effectively with colleagues—even on the other side of the globe. Without these flood preventions, mobile workers might ignore or turn off the information flow.
Notifications also should be tailored to personnel or groups so they can communicate and act efficiently. When abnormal conditions occur, it is important notifications are only sent to personnel who need to be made aware of the issue at the right time.
Notification escalation paths also can be used to make sure additional users are made aware of alarms and other abnormal conditions that are not handled within a predefined time. Designing such a custom delivery path establishes a decision tree to escalate notifications via the mobile app.
Automated workflows also can contribute to workforce upskilling by providing personnel with information about corrective actions. This guides personnel and trains them in what to do if the event happens again. Upskilling also is supported as workflows can encourage information sharing and collaboration, which enables experts to participate in decision-making with newer operators.
Tight integration with a control system also enables the mobile design team to leverage existing control system configurations to create customized views, meaningful notifications specific to mobile worker requirements and modernized workflows that promote collaboration and workforce upskilling.
Mobile workers in the loop
A good mobile software promotes efficiency by delivering data on intuitive screens that empowers users to get information, make better decisions more quickly, and perform tasks well. The solution needs to bring information together in a way that makes sense and saves trips back to the control room or to the site.
Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that, regardless of location, personnel have the right level of access to the process and can track information quickly and securely to ensure operational success.
Danny Strinden and Mariana Dionisio are DeltaV product managers at Emerson. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keywords: Mobility, information control, mobile workers
Mobile software can be tailored for specific applications and deliver specification information to workers, depending on their roles.
Enabling mobility and modernizing workflows means personnel have immediate access to historical, real-time and maintenance data
The ideal mobile software delivers information to the right people at the right times.
Where can mobility and modernized workflows help the most in your day-to-day operations?