WIN-911 is used to ensure facility and equipment uptime, operator productivity and safety. Charting a course for the development of SCADA alarm systems requires constant feedback from our partners, systems integrators, and the people who rely on our software to help keep their teams safe and operations running smoothly.
Staying Alert with Mobile
At WIN-911, along with increased use of Ethernet-based SCADA systems, we foresee an increasing emphasis on the use of smartphones and connected tablets for alarm notification. Concurrent user sessions, as opposed to single user sessions tied to a specific workstation or auto-dialer, will take the fore. This move to decentralized alarm notification will have the advantage of accommodating ever more mobile teams.
Workflows built around mobile devices offer more flexibility for people in charge of plant operations. Instead of being trapped inside a control room, they can move more freely and perform higher value tasks. Mobility also increases reaction and resiliency in the face of technical challenges. For example, in the event of a power or internet outage, having a device tied to a cellular network or unaffected hotspot can help operators coordinate remedies quickly and effectively.
For a business with a diverse, multi-national staff, mobility allows everyone to have a keyboard layout that’s familiar to them (like Dvorak) instead of risking delays by having a one-size-that-may-not-fit-all hardwired layout that your team may not be uniformly comfortable with.
And, practically speaking, the more eyes you can have on your alarms, the better. Tying your alarm notification software to a stationary terminal without the benefit of mobile interface compatibility can limit the oversight of a collaborative process, especially if your team is constantly on the move. This is why WIN-911 Mobile has become such an asset to flexible, dynamic teams, allowing for more people to engage with workflow creation and management together.
Creating Redundant Safeguards To Prevent Redundant Alerts
To accommodate the multi-session workflow that mobile devices permit, features need to be included to ensure SCADA alarm systems don’t’ devolve into an “echo chamber”. At a recent meeting, a team member shared a humorous but enlightening instance where someone was signed into their WIN-911 mobile client but was not actively checking their phone. They received thousands of alarm notifications over the course of a weekend because, when the first alarm wasn’t acknowledged, it was escalated to the same person, and then that notice was escalated, and it went “unacked,” and so on in an endless loop.
Issues like this can be resolved with versatile, redundant workflows that ping multiple members of a team following an unanswered alarm. In WIN-911 you can set timers for acknowledgment. If an alarm has not been “acked” after a certain time, then the system will send it to another person or a group of people and so on. The software actually does “know” who to contact and when.
Another way to prevent the “echo chamber” effect is to build “activity timers” into mobile clients that would automatically sign a user out if they don’t engage with the interface after a certain period of time. Timers would prevent a situation where someone who just put their phone or tablet away to drive to another site or attend an important meeting is the first point of contact when an alarm sounds.
Cooperating Without Being Co-Opted
A shift to increased mobile use will require more forethought on the issue of cybersecurity. Most phone apps ask us to sign in only once for convenience sake. An app for monitoring and responding to alarm systems may not seem the most obvious choice for someone looking to hack into a factory or plant. But people looking to compromise systems count on those assumptions.
We will require tools to prevent people who have ‘accidentally’ acquired your phone — whether they’re hackers or maybe a child curiously fidgeting with the control while their parent is making lunch — from gaining access to the system. The simplest way is to ensure your phone automatically locked and then unlocked using a password. Another way to implement this would be biometric inputs for operators to verify their identity with a thumbprint. Voice verification might be an option for users who receive an alarm notification while their hands are busy with a task (or if they’re wearing gloves. No one wants an alarm to escalate because they were fiddling with velcro straps). While voice recognition isn’t difficult to spoof, a constantly changing verbal passcode unique to each user could provide another layer of security. To some extent these systems will be the purview of the cell phone manufacturers, so we’ll see what they come up with.
There’s no “crystal ball” for our industry to determine its future needs. Instead, we are dedicated to forecasting the development of our technology and grow it to meet the changing needs of our partners and users all over the world. We will continue putting our ear to the ground and taking in feedback from those who rely on our product.