Information Wants to Be Everywhere

How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down at the Plant Now That They Got an iPad for Christmas?

By Nancy Bartels

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April 2011 CoverOkay, people, take out your notebooks and write down this phrase: "The consumerization of workplace tools." Everyone from the CEO to the technician is seeing the ease, benefits and, yes, fun of using mobile tools in their personal lives, and they're wondering why, when they can carry around a phone, a camera and hundreds of tunes, videos, games and books all in one device in their pockets, they have to slog through a 3-inch stack of spreadsheets, lug around a 5-pound laptop or be tethered to a desktop computer or a control room console to get to the data they need at work.

It's a question that isn't going to go away. Research group International Data Corp (IDC) predicts that the global mobile workforce will increase to over 1 billion workers in 2011, totaling 30% of the workforce worldwide. In the United States, numbers are higher still. A total of 70% of the American workforce will be mobile by 2012. If that sounds like a lot, remember that the survey defines "mobile worker"as everyone from the iconic "road warrior" to the contract worker on another company's site to mobile field workers.

Chris Stearns, senior product manager at Honeywell Process Solutions, says, "We're still in the early adopter phase, but there's momentum here, and it's not going to slow down."

Mobility Drivers

The fact is, says Paul Brooks, business development manager for the networking business at Rockwell Automation (www.rockwellautomation.com), during a phone interview conducted, by the way, on a VoIP connection between Chicago and Brussels, "We are all mobile workers—both the CEO and the technician. You can't constrain where individual workers are going to want information and what information they want to get. And the most important thing is that they want information where they are rather than move to where the information is."

It's not just the perennial attraction to the new and shiny pushing these tools into the process automation workspace. The usual suspects are all there: the drive to do more with fewer workers; the aging workforce and the correlative need to transfer its years of hard-won knowledge to less experienced workers and get them up to speed quickly; globalization that spreads facilities around the world; vital assets and operations in remote locations; and, above all, the demand for greater efficiency and productivity. 

 "If we have non-productive time, and the workers are supposed to be putting us back in business, they need access to information," says Mark Miller, director of solution sales for Cisco's Energy Operation Division (www.cisco.com). Ideally, technicians will have access to that information where they are—in front of the machine—not back in the control room or buried in a stack spreadsheets somewhere.

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