The Value of Secure Remote Access for Industrial Control Systems

A Detailed Explanation of the Value of Secure Remote Access for OEMs and End Users, Including Examples of Common Use Cases

COVID-19 has changed the way people work.

In the last two years, many people have transitioned from traditional, in-person work environments to remote working from home offices. This transition was driven by government restrictions but has persisted because most people want to work from home. In the end, if employees are happy and productive at home, why should companies drag them back to the office?

We can all agree that it makes sense for companies to enable their employees to work remotely, but how can companies provide secure remote access to industrial control systems? It seems that everyone involved in industrial control systems is stuck between a rock and a hard place — on one hand, they need to increase the connectivity of their systems to enable remote working and support and on the other hand, they need to improve their cybersecurity policies to mitigate the risk of breaches and hacks.

This post explains how companies can provide secure remote access to their industrial control systems using FactoryTalk Remote Access and the value that secure remote access creates for companies.

If you were curious about implementing secure remote access for industrial control systems and weren’t sure where to start, then you will get a lot of value from this post.

Let’s start by looking at some key industry trends around secure remote access.

Industry Trends for Secure Remote Access

Remote Access Survey Results

PMMI is a global resource for the packaging and processing industry. Every year, PMMI surveys its members, which represent both OEMs and end users, and releases reports that highlight industry trends. In the last few years, PMMI has been collecting data about the adoption of remote access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This data has been shared in PMMI’s most recent report called “Trends in Adoption of Remote Access: Moving Forward During COVID-19

The most interesting observation from this report is that 45% of respondents were already using remote access tools and will continue to do so. Of the remaining 55% of respondents, 11% are planning to invest in remote access tools in the near future. This means that 56% of respondents understood the value of remote access tools for industrial control systems and were planning to invest in their remote access strategy.

Both end-user and OEM respondents understood the value of remote access.

When end-users were asked specifically how OEMs could best support them, the most frequent request was for “more remote support”.

One OEM quoted that they “can solve issues for 5 clients in a day instead of weeks it could take for one service technician to go to 5 different locations”.

Value of Remote Access

Secure Remote Access provides value for both end-users and OEMS by;

Improving Response Time

If your production line is down, you need support fast.

With secure remote access, an OEM technician can dial into a facility at a moment's notice. There is no need to wait for a local technician to be dispatched to get the support that the facility needs.

Reducing Costs

Since OEM technicians can access a facility remotely, there is no travel time or expenses to be paid for. This reduces the cost for OEMs to provide support to end-users and leads to savings for everyone involved.

Maximizing Productivity

Since any OEM technician can dial into the facility, the most knowledgeable technician can be assigned to a call instead of the one who is in the area. This means that issues can be solved quickly to reduce downtime and maximize productivity.

Now that we clearly understand the value of Secure Remote Access, let’s look at some typical use cases for Secure Remote Access.

Use Cases for Secure Remote Access

Use Case #1: Maintenance and Troubleshooting

A packaging machine in Texas is displaying alarms with error messages. The local operator has tried to resolve the issue but can’t figure out the root cause.

He contacts the manufacturer of the machine who assigns a remote senior technician to investigate the issue. Since the technician can access the system remotely, he can start working on the issue immediately without worrying about booking flights, hotels, or rental cars.

The technician connects to the machine remotely to diagnose the issue. Once he understands the root cause, he can provide guidance for the local operator to fix the issue.

This is the most common use case for Secure Remote Access from an OEM to an end-user with a Service Agreement.

Use Case #2: Temporary Access

An assembly machine located in Ireland won't start. The end-user does not have a Service Agreement with the OEM and hires an expert remote contractor to fix the issue.

The contractor has the expertise to fix the issue but needs remote access to the machine. An administrator can assign temporary remote access to the contractor which allows the contractor to access the machine remotely for a specific duration.

Most Secure Remote Access solutions allow users to be configured for temporary access with an expiration date for cases like this where a temporary contractor needs access to the machine for maintenance or upgrades. Not only can the duration of the access but limited, but so can the scope. A temporary user may be assigned a role with specific permissions to limited the scope of what the temporary user can do while remotely connected to the machine.

Use Case #3: Remote Updates

An OEM machine is shipped to an end-user in Asia. The end-user has purchased a service agreement that includes maintenance checks and periodic updates.

Since the machine is deployed on the other side of the world, it is not always easy to send a technician to perform software updates locally.

With a remote access solution in place, the OEM can fulfil its obligations to deploy periodic software updates, maintenance checks, and troubleshooting remotely.

Wrap Up

As you can see, Secure Remote Access creates an undeniable amount of value for both OEMs and End Users. Secure Remote Access leads to increased productivity and reduced costs for both OEMs and end-users while minimizing cybersecurity risks.

Secure Remote Access is becoming increasingly important thanks to the rise of remote working, the globalization of OEMs, and the decrease in the availability of local skilled workers. Even if you are not concerned about Secure Remote Access now, it will become very important in the future.

Now that you know the value of Secure Remote Access and some common use cases, you may be asking yourself what solutions are available for Secure Remote Access?

That’s exactly what we’re going to discuss in my next article where I will introduce you to FactoryTalk Remote Access and explain how Rockwell Automation’s Secure Remote Access Solution enables secure remote access to industrial control systems through VPN tunnels.

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