December 2012

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Tablets on the Rise

Will tablets impact system monitoring?

Manny MandrusiakManny Mandrusiak
Managing Creative Consultant,
4 Bravo Marketing

Contributing Editor

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The month of December is upon us once again and that typically brings out either reflections of the past year, or predictions about the next.  I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop considering what perspective to take for this article when I took a good look around and saw a sea of tablets in use. Everything from iPads to Asus tablets, to Blackberry Playbooks was being used by people in the coffee shop of all ages and walks of life. 

I spent some time talking with people in the coffee shop about why they used their tablets and all the answers pointed toward portability and ease of use.  One gentleman worked as a Rep for Maple Leaf foods and gave me a demonstration of his iPad.  The iPad contained everything that he needed to conduct business with retailers.  He accessed via its’ cloud based GUI to obtain all of his client data, and make all his notes about his visits. 

He used the built-in camera to take photos of all mods that displayed his company’s products and instantly sent them to corporate for their analysis of product placement and branding compared to similar products.

His iPad also contained several Apps that accessed inventory control sheets and incoming orders of his products so that he could inform the retail staff of upcoming price reductions and sales.  There was also his access to his Excel spreadsheets with Year-to-date sales of each of the retail stores in his territory via the new Microsoft Office 365 cloud based service.

It was awesome to see just how much control he had over the data that he needed to conduct business right at his finger tips on his iPad. Internet connectivity was made extremely easy thanks to a connection with the iPhone clipped to his belt.

Being a Blackberry guy I went out and purchased a PlayBook to see if I could experience the same type of flexibility, and I was most definitely not disappointed.  That PlayBook goes almost everywhere with me.  Meeting with clients is extremely easy as any reference materials that I need are quickly displayed in brilliant color for instant approval on graphic layouts, web content, case studies etc. For me the use of a tablet and smart phone is not just a consumer trend.  It is a new way to conduct business. These tools provide me with the ability to provide instant access to the data I need, and the ability to send that data directly to the people I need to see it without any delays.

Now we know from history that consumer electronic trends can have a huge impact on the way that industrial automation companies integrate these trends within their product line.  If we examine the two examples of the use of handheld technologies above, and then imagine applying the same type of example to an automation system, what type of result could be expected? An engineer working on a plant floor could have instant access to any piece of equipment on that floor instantly on a tablet.  Data flows, alarm records etc. could be accessed easily while the engineer is standing right next to the equipment.  I would have to think that preventative maintenance would be greatly improved.  An engineer standing next to an HVAC unit could instantly pull up performance specifications, maintenance history, performance output, alarm records right on a tablet, and then take the appropriate action to either order parts or schedule preventative maintenance with the confirmation of a visual inspection. Two birds with one stone as it were.

This then brings up the argument of bringing your own devices into the plant to access the devices on the network.  If the current trend in the consumer adoption of handheld technologies is an indicator then I would speculate that a worker wanting to bring their own handheld devices onto the job is inevitable.  Forward thinking engineers are going to become frustrated with waiting for their company to acquire and integrate tablets, so they will simply bring in their own. This presents a number of different issues:

  1. The desire by engineers to have the same type of liberating experience that is found in the consumer world will push equipment and device manufacturers to want to adopt and integrate handheld technologies into their product line.
  1. It will cause corporate IT sections to have countless sleepless nights as outside devices are brought in to access a secure network.  IT professionals need to ensure network integrity and that anti-virus protocols remain effective.
  1. Security! Everyone worries about data security. With the introduction of outside devices there is always the question of data integrity. What data is leaving the plant, and why? Can users download plant information, or simply view it in a dashboard configuration? There are a lot of questions that need to be answered when it comes to security and unmonitored devices accessing a plant network.

I have been reading articles in several industrial publications and these questions are getting addressed as the demand for the use of handheld technologies within an industrial network grows.

I also read one article where the author commented that the use of handheld technologies was a new trend in the industrial automation arena, and I had to question that.  I still remember meeting the owner of Controlsee at a CSIA conference.  He did a demonstration where he used a prepaid phone purchased at 711 to securely access his software and manipulate a boiler’s set point.  It was a fantastic demo back in 2008, and I know that the company now has the ability to control: alarm notification, scheduling, control, and analysis directly over an iPhone.

I am predicting that the desire to integrate smartphone and tablet technologies into industrial automation networks is only going to increase for 2013. We see the trends in consumer electronics growing extremely rapidly.  As a society we are craving the need for instant information gratification, and it is seeping into every aspect of our lives.  The creation of Apps has exploded over the past two years, and is showing absolutely no sign of slowing down.

The trend of handheld technologies has everyone thinking about the “cloud” and how to better access it through their chosen device.

I am thinking that 2013 will be a year of innovation and “thinking outside the box” especially if companies want to remain competitive in the coming year when marketing to a handheld generation. I am excited to what new innovations will be developed, and how much faster data access will become.

Note – I would like to take this opportunity to express my best wishes to all the AutomatedBuildings readers and their families for the upcoming holiday season.  I have greatly appreciated all of the emails, and LinkedIn connections over the past year. 

If you wish to connect with me, or ask a question, here is my contact info:




It can be a marketing or technology question, and if I can’t help you, I will put you in touch with someone who can. Best of luck in 2013.


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