With the advent of industrial cloud-based platforms and Internet-based applications and databases, the question of security comes up quite often—but so does the question of ownership of information. This is an especially sensitive subject in the industrial arena due to the criticality of operations and need for protection of proprietary information, all of which gives a manufacturing company a competitive advantage. At the same time, industrial operators depend heavily on third-party equipment providers to enable them with machinery and processing equipment that helps streamline their operations. Add to this the continued brain-drain and exodus of skilled workers and it becomes clear that a new partnership is needed between the owner-operator and the equipment provider regarding information and data.

If you are a plant manager or operations manager, how many times have you been faced with this situation: A piece of equipment is down and your maintenance people can’t successfully troubleshoot exactly what the problem is? The only way to quickly understand the issues is to get the OEM equipment provider engaged, and troubleshoot using information from the process. Typically this involves a technician coming to the plant, getting security access to be on premise and then start the activity. This can be a time-consuming effort and if the right authority is not present to grant access, plant personnel will often find creative workarounds like downloading information to USB keys, an even less secure way to safeguard data.

This reminds me of the same issues U.S. citizens are facing today regarding information captured through their smartphones—their movements, their online transactions, their buying behavior and other aspects of their life. In the wrong hands this information could be dangerous. But if used for good—for example by a municipality or government agency to provide better traffic management services, or a safer environment for them to travel or do business in—then this is a good thing.

People need to decide whether the benefit of sharing information outweighs the danger of providing it. Does relinquishing a little bit of control provide for the greater good of the population?

Let’s take this example of an OEM equipment provider. If a company is seen as a reputable partner by the customer, and knowledgeable about their equipment, then why not provide access to the information to the plant staff? Why not help them help you?

Maybe if a facility allows the information to be captured and retained for a certain purpose, a subsequent legal agreement is all the protection they need. Employing a secure, industrial cloud-based environment protects information in the right way.

Now consider the equipment provider providing access to the end user for information on how their equipment operates at the plant under certain conditions. Would it not benefit the OEM to provide this information so the end user can use their equipment more efficiently or properly, reducing warranty costs and improving customer satisfaction?

In the new world of ubiquitous data access, the old rules around data security are going to have to be rewritten in order to accommodate the most productive business environment for all parties involved.

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About the author

Steve Garbrecht

Director of Product Marketing, Brilliant Manufacturing software, GE Digital

Steve has 26 years of experience in the industrial automation, control and information management. Previously he held several product marketing leadership positions at Invensys Operations Management, Schneider Electric and Honeywell where he was responsible for product marketing for HMI and SCADA solutions sold into manufacturing, smart cities, water & wastewater and other infrastructure industries.