There are many aspects to consider when choosing a remote access solution. Before settling on a specific vendor or approach, it is key to identify the most common use cases you will face as this will help identify the ideal fit for your company.
In essence, what is offered by all remote access solutions is to create connections between an external technician and a faulty machine, quickly. However, while providing external connectivity is relatively simple, doing so in a secure way that integrates with existing ways of working is where things get more difficult.
Many OEMs offer a type of remote access solution to fulfill their SLA. While this kind of solution brings certain benefits, it also risks noncompliance with IT policies while adding complexity to an already complex OT network. For that reason, many manufacturers choose to implement one standardized remote access solution across all their OEMs.
For a modern manufacturer, what is needed in terms of remote access is a unified solution that offers documented cybersecurity and full access control; is easy to use; and seamlessly integrates with IT and OT processes. We have outlined the most common categories that all fulfill these criteria to various degrees:
Generic industrial firewall/VPN solutions
Generic industrial firewall/VPN solutions exist almost everywhere. They connect networks and make individual employees’ PCs part of a greater office network. When it comes to fine-grained access policies like allowing someone access to a specific asset, this type of solution gets complicated and requires deep IT knowledge.
Generic remote access solutions
Generic solutions are made for multiple purposes across industries. They are generally seen in the form of client screensharing applications. Although easy and convenient to use, the unrestricted network access by external parties entails substantial risks to cybersecurity.
PAM system with remote access capabilities
Privileged Access Management systems control access and permission rights across an IT environment. Remote access is typically one functionality among many. PAM systems usually require physical, on-premise servers, and training is required for non-IT users.
Purpose-built remote access solutions for manufacturing
This type of solution is specifically made to connect remote users to manufacturing equipment, allowing them to view and control interfaces, troubleshoot equipment, and install updates. Controlling fine-grained access is simple, cybersecurity is built-in, and no IT knowledge is needed.
“It’s definitely a competitive factor for us to be able to say to our customers that we are able to help them at any time and can solve any operational issues within a short period of time.”
– Hans Christian Jorgensen, Electrical Engineering Manager, Haas-Meincke
When evaluating remote access categories, there are four central perspectives to consider:
Rather than trying to answer these questions in silos, make sure to involve your buying committee in the process. Being vigilant about pinpointing your defined needs is crucial. Otherwise, it is easy to lose sight of the task at hand, and you risk ending up with a solution that does many things averagely instead of a few things well.
Navigating early category selection can be difficult. Vendors are good at highlighting what they are good at and downplaying the weaknesses of their solution. The most overlooked factors in identifying the right category are total cost of ownership, adoptability, and future-proofing. All of these have a big impact on the overall success of your solution – and in ensuring that the right approach on paper is also the right one in practice.