By Cheryl Nelan
Technology and the Manufacturing Industry:
Providing managed IT services for manufacturing has many nuances that are important to understand. Technology is critical for advancements in the manufacturing industry. The Internet of Things has added productivity and efficiencies never seen before in this industry. Depending on the industry served, regulatory compliance can be crucial. As CMMC (Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification) is rolled out, it becomes more critical for many manufacturers. Even those that do not need to comply to CMMC regulations, IT security remains a concern and needs to be considered.
Internet of Things
Internet of things presents many opportunities for manufacturers today – connected machines on the shop floor let manufacturers collect real-time data. Yet, one of the challenges is that expensive machinery isn’t always ready to accept new technology. Manufacturing equipment is expected to last 10-20 years or more, yet PC’s life span is much shorter. So, manufacturers end up with equipment that is not compatible with the latest PC operating systems.
There’s a natural conflict – a Windows 7 (or even older device) is a security nightmare. It is no longer supported and therefore an easy target for cyber thieves. It isn’t the cost of a new PC that prohibits the upgrade, it is the $100,000 equipment the PC is driving. No manufacturer wants to sink another $100,000 into a new machine, especially when the current one has another 10 years of life. What a dilemma!
Virtual CIO with Creative Strategies
So, as our clients’ virtual CIO, we are often asked to manage this with creative solutions. Depending on the workflow, sometimes simply isolating the system to access the machine only (and not the internal network) enables the manufacturer to continue using the machinery safely with the aged operating system for some time longer. Of course, there is still a risk of failure for the PC – any PC older than a few years has a significant risk of crashing. Again, here is where we work with our clients to be sure they have contingency plans.
One thing we’ve learned working with manufacturers is that while they may use similar software applications and tools across different industries, there are almost always unique workflows that have to feed into the equation. Again, getting to know our clients and understanding how they do business is what enables us to provide better guidance as we help build their IT strategy.
IT Compliance Regulations
We first learn about the business itself as we work with new manufacturing clients.
This includes understanding any compliance requirements they must meet or certifications they need to attain. We’ve been providing managed IT services for manufacturing for a long time that include:
These services are key to meeting cybersecurity guidelines including New York’s Shield Act and PCI compliance. We are now seeing many more requests for log monitoring (with full SEIM/SOC services), end user training, and full documentation of IT policies and procedures.
These advanced security offerings will become an important element of our clients’ IT strategies and planning as CMMC (and other cybersecurity guidelines) roll out. CMIT is here to guide our clients through these changes – it is part of our Quarterly Business Review that we do with all of our managed services clients.
Keeping Staff Productive – All the Time
Managed IT services for manufacturing isn’t just about securing data and keeping compliant – it is also about maintaining systems so they are running smoothly and users are working productively. This is where finding a strong managed IT services partner can make all the difference. Traditional break/fix support might seem more economical but, essentially, you are paying to get something fixed when it breaks. That means there is downtime.
A strong managed IT services provider will work hard to make sure your systems don’t break down in the first place. They take proactive measures so your systems are running when you need them – which of course is all the time. They also make sure your data is secure and work with you to develop a backup and recovery plan that works for you and your business.
What is Included in Managed IT Services for Manufacturing?
That depends on what your business needs – but in most cases, it can include everything from the traditional application and infrastructure management to end user support and all things connected to your computer. Think of them as your Outsourced IT team. One call for support. A partner that helps you make critical decisions for your own IT infrastructure. Virtual CIO services help you assess your IT strategy and plan for the future.
What is new in the industry that you need to understand – what are the newest threats and how do you mitigate these risks? What applications make sense to move to the cloud? How do you streamline your inhouse servers to maximize their effectiveness and uptime? How about the users, how do you keep everyone as productive as they can be? Your IT partner will have your back and protect you, your users and your data.
What is the Difference Between Managed IT Services and Professional Services?
The primary difference is the relationship. Managed IT service partnerships typically last for years. You choose a company you trust to help you not only with the immediate needs but to continue supporting your business under contract for years to come. They make sure systems work well from the day they are installed until they need to be replaced. They advise their clients on best practices and how to navigate through new security risks and regulations.
Professional services may be included in a managed services contract but not the other way around. Professional services are generally project based and simply address a specific problem or challenge. Your managed service provider is there to help you through challenges and opportunities whenever they come up. In fact, they most likely meet with you on a quarterly basis to review your current IT infrastructure and discuss the current IT landscape while working with you to build your IT strategy and budget. (and if they don’t, they should)