Focus on Cybersecurity Essential to AutomationBy Pedro Alcalá | Thu, 08/27/2020 - 09:27
Q: What kind of problems do you solve for Belden’s clients as its manager of application engineering?
A: I am responsible for pre-sales and post sales services at Belden’s industrial division business. I handle the pre-sale of industrial networking applications, which include cybersecurity applications. This entails supporting the sales team with final order specifications. This means making sure that each product is approved by the client.
As part of the pre-sale process, we visit clients at their facilities and present the product, proofs of concept, scaled models and live tests of both hardware and software. We also organize pilot tests with the company’s engineers. We do not provide integration services so that we do not compete with our integration channels, but we do everything in order to determine the product’s final specifications.
Together with engineer Raul García and another colleague who is in charge of tech support in the US, we are also directly responsible for post-sale support for our clients, which include companies in the automotive, mining, energy, oil and gas sectors. We work with CFE in areas of energy transmission, distribution and generation. We work with PEMEX and with all automation vendors, such as Allen Bradley, Emerson, Schneider Electric, ABB or Yokogawa. We have support and have formed local partnerships with those companies so that we can better attend their needs. We also support clients such as Volkswagen, BMW in San Luis Potosi, Audi in Puebla, along with other important players in Mexico’s automotive sector. We also work with government institutions such as SCT and CAPUFE – we work with 70 percent of the country’s highway network and its tolling and ITS systems through our Hirschmann product lines. Through our pre-sale and post-sale services, we have become a kind of “solution consultant” within Belden. Although we are working from a home-office modality now, we usually work at the plants, out in the field and in meetings with our engineers and clients.
Q: As the company’s structure is reorganized, how will Mexico continue to contribute to your client and project portfolio?
A: I would say Mexico is one of our biggest challenges. The country’s economic situation and political context has created certain bearish perceptions among the main players in the region’s private sector in terms of investments. We want to change those perceptions. When it comes to projects in Mexico, we have a degree of knowledge when it comes to the country’s most important projects and companies’ present activities. Enterprises still need premium products and services like those which we provide. We will continue working with them closely, and as such, we consider it an important challenge to rise to the occasion during these turbulent times.
Q: How does your direct work for PEMEX differ from your work for its service providers?
A: The work depends on the speed of its business. When we work with a parastatal like PEMEX, there is a working rhythm to the processes that tends to be slower, given its sheer size as a company. Approvals take longer, both from the technical and from the commercial side. When we work with companies such as Schneider Electric or ABB or the system integrators that they in turn work with, things go much faster. For example, a proposal can be requested in the morning and will be expected to be delivered in the afternoon of the same day and presented formally the following morning. On the other hand, parastatals like PEMEX and CFE are filled with very talented people who just need some technical or product-specific training to update their skillset. I believe Belden has a great deal to contribute in that regard. We can help close that engineering gap, not only between the private sector and the public sector, but between Mexico and the US as well. Through Belden’s Customer Innovation Center, we can offer these kinds of training services to companies of any size.
Q: What gaps remain to be sealed in terms of infrastructural capabilities, especially in cybersecurity?
A: In terms of cybersecurity, Mexico lags behind to a certain extent. We know that PEMEX had to deal recently with cybersecurity issues. Its internal cybersecurity policies had to be severely restructured. Belden has a great deal to offer regarding industrial cybersecurity that could be of great use to companies such as PEMEX. This includes the use of products from the Tripwire brand, which has over 20 years of experience in international cybersecurity for major companies. These products can help identify vulnerabilities and alleviate them efficiently, especially in the constant maintenance of infrastructure that is necessary to keep cybersecurity standards up and running. One example of where Belden can assist is CFE – their employees in charge of transmission operations are actively working through a large initiative to optimize its security standards in every sense, which includes updating the perimeter security for its substations. Belden played an important part in these safety and security improvements.
Q: What questions do potential clients tend to ask regarding cybersecurity solutions?
A: There are two kinds of inquiries that we mainly get: those that come before there is an attack and those that come afterward. By the time a client has already suffered a malware or ransomware attack, the first question usually touches upon containment and damage control. This puts us in a difficult position, not to mention the fact that we have to make recommendations of product lines that go beyond what Belden has to offer, because the problem becomes that much larger. IEC-62443 standards help us to communicate with companies regarding the need to be proactive and to take preventative measures when it comes to cybersecurity. The truth is that many companies are aware of the vulnerabilities that allow attacks to happen way before they do, so a pre-attack inquiry does not guarantee that there will not have to be a post-attack inquiry down the road.
Belden is a global supplier of cabling products, industrial networking switches, cybersecurity and solutions that ensure data connectivity in a wide variety of industrial sectors and work environments, including oil and gas.