Challenges in Engineering Enterprise Mobility

By Biplab Hore, Head IT, TATA Hitachi Construction Machinery Company Ltd

Mobile devices have brought about a revolution in the majority of rural and urban Indians’ life. Rapidly growing mobile market is disrupting traditional processes in engineering industry too. Just eight years ago we were debating how touch technology is going to affect our life. Today this has changed our lifestyle and we are easily handling online shopping, weather prediction, travel bookings, location guidance, banking, socialising etc. A wide range of models with user friendly features has made our life easier and made the mobile device an essential commodity without which life cannot move on. This has also resulted in tremendous pressure on IT to introduce mobility in every industry. Usage of mobile devices in factory floor has led to faster decision-making and productivity gains. Industry usage is still limited to mails, conference calls, image/video transfer, opportunity matrix update, viewing employee portals etc. There is huge latent demand of having every application on mobile devices so that employees can work anytime anywhere. Ideally speaking, it would be a delight for Factory managers, if they can see the production figures, stock status and despatch schedules on mobile devices. Top management would be delighted if they can view Turnover, Sales / Production figures, Dashboards, Profitability, Inventory etc. and their drill-down without having to open their Laptop or iPad. Executives would be happy to give workflow approvals through mobile devices while attending meetings & presentations. The need, therefore, is to have company or organisation specific Apps development to bring in true Enterprise Mobility. 

Enterprise mobility can significantly improve employee productivity and decision making, but there are huge challenges for IT especially in engineering industry. Engineering industry thrives on proprietary tools, robust processes and engineering knowledge. Many of these are under protected environment and have restricted and encryption access and require large bandwidth to access applications. Role of IT will be to provide a mobile platform for secure access by deploying appropriate policies and technologies. 

Key Challenges & probable solutions for engineering enterprise mobility:
• Access without affecting productivity:
IT needs to play a balancing role between productivity and security. Preventing unauthorized access will be important but the authentication process needs to be swift and user friendly to avoid repeat logins. Connectivity cost for the employee, which is variable in nature, needs to be minimized. Backend IT systems need to quickly authenticate both user and the user device. Communication channels need to be encrypted to meet corporate & regulatory standards. There shall be sufficient bandwidth so that the user can easily browse files in File server kept in Cloud or In-house Data Centres for reference.

• Protection against unauthorized access: 
IT needs to develop systems that will prevent unauthorized usage. Some of the initiatives can be strong MDM and MAM policies, remote wiping of device data whenever the need arises, quarantining the lost devices or multiple wrong password attempted devices, allowing access only on a virtual platform, digital certification of the mobile devices, controlling file level access in File servers etc. 

Though BYOD is a good concept, this cannot be allowed in case of those engineering industries for whom IPR is key to success in the market. Only corporate sponsored devices shall be allowed to access company systems. Standardizing on models will reduce the work burden of IT and application related issues can be minimized. Apps shall be configured to keep company data encrypted, disk area partitioned and inaccessible through any other systems. The user shall be working on a virtual mode on mobile devices while the data would be residing in Cloud or In-house Data Centre.

• Software development & upgrade management:
Considerable budget will be required to develop applications interface on the mobile. Phase-wise approach with availability of frequently used processes & transactions in the initial phase will be needed. Timing the patch upgrade is a key issue here as unlike Desktops & Laptops, these devices are always in use. Hence, scheduling the upgrade over company Wi-Fi (Mac based) or cellular network and complying with the policy is a challenge. User co-operation on scheduling upgrade will be key to success in patch management but there should be minimum intervention from user side for this to succeed. 

In conclusion, developing engineering enterprise mobility will be more challenging but rewarding in terms of reduction in product development life cycle, faster decision making and analysis of data, real time tracking of production, procurement, dispatch and field performance, and many more. Real usage will increase if the user can have the same experience over LAN, WAN and Cellular network for the same application and is supported by skilled support teams.

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