Seven benefits to using mobile software in your organization
Mobile technologies have become pivotal to the way companies operate. Employees—millennials in particular—value mobile tools that help them stay informed and productive. By implementing built-for-purpose mobile automation solutions, organizations can redefine the way plant staff operates, creating a draw for the best and brightest people, while simultaneously delivering improvements to operations and production.
Mobile technology benefits
As automation roles broaden to include more responsibilities, the risk of becoming overloaded at work rises for employees. Daily tasks, meetings, and emergencies can add up and leave plant staff frustrated, tired, and less efficient. Moreover, as employees try to accomplish more work in shorter periods of time, safety concerns also emerge.
As responsibilities around the plant increase, personnel have an increasing need for secure, on-demand access to critical information to enhance operational safety, productivity, and efficiency. Mobile technologies are a core component of solving this challenge by providing these seven benefits:
1. Freedom to multitask
Mobile automation tools can provide the same real-time data available from the operator console to mobile phones and tablets without being tethered to the control room or remotely connect to a PC. Any parameter or alarm that has been configured in the distributed control system (DCS) can be delivered to mobile devices easily and securely, giving users confidence they will always have the most up-to-date information about their operations.
To speed up time to success in the field, these mobility solutions provide out-of-the-box filtering and targeted notifications to ensure that critical alerts are only sent to the right people and not buried under a flood of nuisance alarms. Users will only see needed events and not have to sift through irrelevant data.
Secure mobile access to data means freedom and flexibility to move around the plant (or the world) and multitask, allowing staff to more efficiently perform tasks and collaborate across the organization. At the same time, management gains peace of mind knowing critical events are not overlooked and are reaching the necessary people.
2. Stability and safety
Next-generation workers value the ability to collect and have data at their fingertips from anywhere on and off-site. They see mobile software as a means to reduce time-consuming manual operator rounds, which can require physical equipment checks in dangerous or remote locations. By integrating mobility into automation workflows, these workers are provided with the flexibility they have grown to expect. Secure mobile access to data can increase productivity and safety by reducing or eliminating the need for manual rounds.
3. Deliver positive user experience with mobility software
Providing tools to help users increase safety and efficiency can have a significant impact on an organization’s ability to attract and retain talent. However, providing mobility plant personnel will appreciate—and more importantly, use—is about more than providing continuous visibility to the DCS. Modern mobility solutions need to be designed for a simple, secure user experience.
Many millennial engineers entering today’s plants have come to expect mobile technology. Mobile devices have likely played a central role in their social lives and previous work experience. These users thrive with mobile devices and applications that are intuitive and are easy to integrate into their workflows.
Plant management should focus on implementing mobile solutions that provide easy, secure access and require minimal configuration.
4. Ability to meet user expectations
There are many ways to provide mobility, but it is essential to provide secure access that helps users operate more efficiently. Just as today’s most successful mobile apps don’t require complicated, time-consuming configuration to function, mobile solutions for automation systems must also be ready to work out-of-the-box.
Layered mobile solutions that are complicated to configure and integrate with a DCS or historian are no longer necessary. Organizations should look beyond layered solutions and instead provide personnel with modern, secure mobile solutions that are natively integrated with the DCS, designed to operate with Android and Apple iOS devices ensuring no additional DCS configuration is required. Users receive the same real-time information and alarms that are available on the operator console, with relevant process data and rich content that layered solutions cannot readily provide.
Solutions that include native Apple iOS and Android applications offer more intuitive functionality. Recognizable interfaces quickly and easily meet the expectations of next-generation users with touch screens and navigation features, delivered through simple mobile interfaces. Users can now access the same wealth of data that is available at an operator console in a mobile format.
5. Secure mobile data access
As mobile technologies have evolved, so too have user expectations of secure mobile access to data. From banking applications to electronic wallet technology, users regularly experience products with built-in security features and protocols.
Mobile software for process automation also can offer integrated security features that are nearly invisible to the user. Designed with read-only access, these applications prevent users from inadvertently affecting operations. In addition, mobile access to process and diagnostic data is typically provided through dedicated secondary servers located above the automation control network, giving the user an extra layer of security.
The best solutions will provide these features out-of-the-box with little to no administrator configuration and no end-user configuration. Leveraging user-friendly technologies simplifies plant workflow is a key role in retaining millennial talent.
6. Improve departmental communications
Instant connectivity to information has torn down communication barriers in the workplace. Organizations that provide fast, easy access to critical data—coupled with the ability to easily share that information across the enterprise—creates a significant competitive advantage. Collaboration tools enable fast dissemination of data across the organization and enable key personnel to stay informed despite their location, which builds a network of subject matter experts that drive efficiency and success.
In many organizations, data is difficult to transfer because it is siloed in individual departments or databases. Collecting data from various sources in the plant or throughout the organization can be a cumbersome process and lead to serious consequences.
Next-generation workers are accustomed to having a world of information at their fingertips. This expectation makes the siloed nature of plant data particularly troublesome when it comes to retaining millennials. These users operate at their best when communications are fast and easy.
Mobility solutions can break down organizational barriers by integrating data from multiple sources into mobile views, delivering new opportunities for faster decision making. They also can be designed for collaboration across the enterprise, with features such as sharing screenshots, images, video, and other media through the application or through email and text message. Text messages or emails can include deep links to directly connect recipients to live mobile views and allow multiple people to view the same synchronized information in real time.
As roles are consolidated and less experienced workers are expected to take responsibility for more tasks, they will come across unanticipated events. Mobility tools give these users more than just alerts and notifications; they also provide prescriptive recommendations for mitigating future events and incidents. Users can drill down on alerts to view recommended actions and relevant contextual process data, helping next generation workers make faster and better decisions.
7. Workforce support
Employees value organizations that provide them with the tools and technologies they need to perform their jobs as safely and efficiently as possible. Employer investment in tools, guidance, and opportunities helps millennial workers perform and prepares them to be successful throughout their careers. Such an outlook can be the difference between attracting and maintaining a strong, dedicated staff and a revolving door.
The millennial workforce has grown up with mobility as an important and inherent aspect of their lives, and they expect similar user experiences with mobile software in the plant: secure and easy access to data, out-of-the-box functionality with minimal configuration, and intuitive user interfaces.
Bringing these mobile solutions into the workplace provides plant personnel with the tools to enhance safety, efficiency, and collaboration to ultimately improve the operations of an organization. The mobile workforce has arrived. The organizations that harness it will gain the competitive advantage for years.
Mariana Dionisio, DeltaV product manager at Emerson. Edited by Emily Guenther, associate content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, firstname.lastname@example.org.
KEYWORDS: Mobile automation software, mobility benefits
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