Should every machine owner have secure remote service?
The ability to detect machine issues remotely is challenged by precautionary security concerns
- Understand the importance of secure remote service.
- Know the challenges in implementing secure remote service.
- Learn about the benefits of secure remote service adoption.
Secure remote service insights
- Secure remote service is crucial in modern industrial manufacturing; it enables efficient problem-solving and minimizes downtime.
- There are challenges when implementing secure remote service, including the need for effective communication between IT and OT teams.
- The benefits of adopting a secure remote service strategy include cost savings, reduced carbon emissions and improved efficiency in equipment maintenance and troubleshooting.
Owning an industrial machine, regardless of its size and scope, often requires the expertise of the machine’s original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM) service team. Because the OEM built the machine, its service technicians are specially trained to provide unique, machine specific service offerings that compliment a local team’s skill set.
Service challenges: high demand, limited service capacity
Experienced service technicians that can solve problems fast and efficiently are in high demand — there are not enough of them and they can only fix one machine at a time. Travel time is expensive and takes away valuable capacity.
While machine owners expect to receive the most tenured and skilled service representatives each time, it is more likely for a less experienced employee to be available, potentially increasing resolution times.
The scarce number of trained service personnel and the presence of a skill gap among them highlight why secure remote service is indispensable to a machine owner. Machine owners should rightfully be able to demand immediate access to the most experienced and proficient service technicians to meet their service needs. How can a small team of senior technicians be in multiple locations around the world on the same day? The solution lies in the implementation of secure remote service.
Benefits and barriers to secure remote service access
Secure remote service provides the ability for authorized technicians to securely access the controllers e.g., programmable logic controllers and human machine interfaces (the brains) of the industrial machine. A highly secure solution for secure remote service access control should operate through a device that carefully controls access.
One way that is gaining popularity today is by establishing a zero-trust architecture, ensuring that only service technicians authorized by that industrial machine owner can gain access and only at the defined time periods that the machine owner deems it necessary. The secure remote service session is created, scheduled, enabled and reported by the machine owner, who ensures the company’s security and safety are upheld.
Despite advancements in secure remote service access, its adoption is lagging in today’s manufacturing environment. One reason for this lack of adoption is the fact there are instances where the customer’s operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) teams fail to communicate enough information necessary to connect the machine, thereby making it impossible to establish the channel necessary for secure remote service. This failure to communicate will inevitably result in reducing the performance and functioning of the machine because the unconnected machines now begin to accumulate downtime, incurring significant costs to the machine owner, who must wait for a technician, already on-site at another job, to appear at the next customer site.
In a recent Organization for Machine Automation and Control survey, 82% respondent emphasized the crucial need for a cooperative IT and OT relationship and shared effective strategies to improve collaboration. However, the existing lack of coordination between IT and OT departments for secure remote access solutions remain unacceptable, despite the technological advancements in 2023.
Implementing a scalable and secure remote service strategy
In an ideal scenario, a new machine is seamlessly installed, equipped with a scalable and easy-to-deploy remote access strategy, promptly connecting to a secure, zero-trust remote service system. When inevitable issues arise, the OEM promptly dispatches experienced service providers to assist the customer’s machine needs. In most cases, there would be no need for service personnel to physically visit the location and in fact industrial machinery OEMs who are best-in-class for using remote service experience a reduction of more than 80% of their service technician travel episodes. Remote access enables service issues to be resolved efficiently resulting in minimal downtime, because machines are up and running in hours, not days or weeks.
To make this ideal scenario a reality, industrial machine owners should demand that their machine builders institute a remote service strategy that is secure, scalable and easy to deploy. Additionally, it is imperative the machine owner’s IT and OT department find ways to work together and become well-prepared to support the installation of new machines by having the proper network design, hardware and cabling ready for connectivity. By ensuring new machines are connected from day one will improve the speed and success of new equipment installations and decrease the reliance on trained service technicians.
A range of remote service devices are available in the market and it is essential for the industrial machine owner’s IT team to use devices that are managed from a security perspective. These are devices that operate on a global managed secure network, providing the guarantee that the security of the device remains up-to-date by the remote service provider. By using trusted sources such as common vulnerabilities and exposures, all credible security threats are promptly patched on a global secure managed network upon notification and discovery. This approach eliminates zero day exploits and creates a robust security firewall around the machine’s controls.
Opting for a device requiring manual updates by the machine owner’s IT team leaves the device exposed over time. This adds to the local IT team’s load to maintain security configurations for the hardware in each individual machine, incurring costs associated with the number of hours spent by IT in addressing an issue that could be resolved effortlessly.
Ultimately, if none of the incentives drives your interest in exploring remote service, consider the reality of service technicians constantly traveling worldwide for business needs, resulting in unnecessary travel costs and waste of resources. As the demand intensifies for manufacturers to reduce their carbon emissions and implement sustainable practices, the advantages of adopting strategies such as remote access can create lasting business value. Highlighting cost savings and reductions in carbon dioxide usage, through prominent assessments such as the environmental, social and governance report, underscores accountability and commitment to environmentally responsible practices.
As service offerings rapidly evolve, it becomes vital for machine owners to prioritize a secure remote service strategy using a global managed secure network, when analyzing their machine fleet and considering acquiring new equipment.