Q&A: Smart solutions for the remote worker

Feb. 25, 2021
Key elements: Communication. Collaboration. Security

At the recent ARC Advisory Forum, GE Digital revealed a remote-operations solution for oil/gas/chemical industries, promising that it enables remote staff to further collaborate with on-site staff to centrally monitor plant operations (i.e. further empower plant mobility) in the event of unforeseen circumstances like weather-related disasters or global pandemics. 

We wanted to learn more, so we connected with John Korsedal, GE Digital principal digital product manager. Take a look…

Smart Industry: What’s new in the world of enabling remote workers? 

John: Working remotely poses challenges that go far beyond just remotely connecting—let’s explore: 

  • Communication: Effective communication tools that span large geographical areas are important—cellphones and radios simply won’t cut it. Workforces must be able to communicate via workgroups, text, and voice-to-text, regardless of worker location. And the tools must be secure, so open-source applications won’t work.
  • Collaboration: Effective collaboration tools must allow for share permitting on HMIs or workflows.
  • Security: OT networks must be secured from a zero-trust perspective. Just because a tool has been considered secure in the past doesn’t make it secure today.

Smart Industry: What unique needs do remote workers in the oil/gas/chemical fields have? What unique opportunities can be found when it comes to workers in these fields?

John: Workers in these industries face several difficult communications scenarios, including limited connectivity to OT and IT systems at the asset. Involving workers and empowering them remotely—either at the asset or off-site—enables them to be more productive, effective and involved.

Smart Industry: How has the pandemic changed the working world of remote workers and those who manage them?

John: The pandemic has accelerated industrial companies’ digital transformation, “making way” for remote work. Third-party vendors, like OEMs, no longer have the ability to travel freely where services need to be performed; control rooms have become isolated; plant personnel staffing has been kept to the bare minimum, with many workers working from home as often as possible; maintenance activities have been delayed or differed; the list goes on. 

Communication and collaboration tools have become a vital part of this new way of working, along with optional remote access and capabilities. With less workers on-site, the present-day risk of cybersecurity issues is at an all-time high.

Smart Industry: Are these pandemic-promoted changes permanent, or will they disappear post-pandemic? 

John: Many of these changes are here to stay. Effective operators are not only taking advantage of creative IT solutions to manage the pandemic, but also establishing precedent to continue leveraging them long after COVID-19 to maximize operational savings. It’s neither a good nor bad thing if done properly. Successful remote work can be enabled through sound communication, collaboration and security solutions. These trends are not new—they existed pre-pandemic and have just been accelerated.

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