Until recently, Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) have worked separate from each other in many industrial establishments.
However, modern advancements towards Smart Manufacturing Methods and increasing recognition of collaboration benefits propels industry leaders to close this gap.
Businesses that master this cutting-edge convergence ahead of their competitors will see significant advantage and substantial return realizing the Smart Manufacturing vision and optimizing their manufacturing operations management practices.
What is IT, OT, and IT-OT Convergence?
In order to understand the complexity of IT-OT convergence, it’s imperative that you can interpret each business operation as well as its function.
Operational Technology (OT): The use of hardware and software that detects or causes a change, through the direct monitoring and/or control of industrial equipment, assets, processes and events. Traditionally associated with industrial environments and are found across a large range of asset-intensive sectors, performing a wide variety of tasks ranging from monitoring critical infrastructure to controlling robots on a manufacturing floor.
Information Technology (IT): The use of computers to create, process, store, retrieve and exchange all kinds of electronic data and information. Traditionally associated with the office environment and includes the information systems and communication infrastructure used to run the business functions. IT resources include computers, data storage, networking devices, and processes to create, process, store, secure and exchange all forms of electronic data.
Due to the complicated working nature in each of these technology areas, manufacturing organizations traditionally delegate different departments- all made up of individuals with a unique set of skills, training and career path- to ably manage them.
However, Smart Manufacturing looks towards future efficiency, and seeks to connect entire organizations with information flowing in real-time between production and enterprise systems to achieve streamlined processes within plants, factories and across the entire value chain. For this future to become a reality, the convergence of IT and OT systems is a must-have requirement, even with the technical, cultural and security challenges that come with it.
IT-OT convergence is the end state sought by manufacturing organizations whereas instead of separation between IT and OT as different technical areas of authority and responsibility, there is an integrated approach to process optimization and information flow between production automation and enterprise information systems.
The Development of IT-OT Convergence
Through rapid technological advancements over the last two decades, the gap between OT and It has drawn closer together. This can also be attributed to the prevalent use of internet and wireless connectivity for PCs and IIoT devices at the production floor.
While IT seeks to build effective communication networks, OT on the other hand has not been traditionally associated as a networked technology, and especially not to the internet.
This is largely due to the absence of digital capabilities within many industrial devices for monitoring or control. The few devices that did possess computing features generally used closed proprietary protocols and PLCs rather than technologies that provide control through IT software on IT servers. The production control systems often relied on “air gapping” for security.
However, advances such as machine-to-machine communication, as well as the introduction of IIoT devices fitted to legacy industrial equipment are requiring that OT and IT departments start joining forces and working together.
IIoT devices include a wide assortment of sensors for gathering current information of fluctuating conditions such as temperature, pressure, vibration, and chemical compositions. IIoT devices also include actuators that translate digital commands and instructions into physical actions, such as controlling valves and moving mechanisms.
IIoT devices can utilize systemic networking practices to wirelessly communicate the appropriate information from each physical system back to IT systems. Here, the information will be monitored and/or analyzed by IT systems that include applications either running on-premises or on the cloud. The results of that analysis can then be passed back to the physical system to allow more autonomous operation, enhance accuracy, benefit maintenance, and improve uptime.
Cloud and Edge Computing
The addition of edge computing capabilities to IIoT devices enables real-time data processing closer to the source. Instead of sending the data over a network to a centralized location for processing, the IIoT devices can analyze time-sensitive production process data and return insights quickly for direct monitoring of industrial conditions before the data becomes obsolete.
Edge capabilities are important because IIoT and OT devices are often part of a distributed network architecture, making transmission to a central processing location difficult or impossible in some cases. Edge devices can also maintain critical industrial systems running when a connection is down or interrupted, which would otherwise incur costly consequences.
The reality for many industrial organizations is that they have implemented multiple generations of equipment and systems that need to somehow be part of the convergence story.
IT-OT convergence goes beyond the technological aspect, it is also an organizational convergence dealing with the existing structure of the internal business. In order for IT and OT departments to successfully integrate, it’s important that they reform their processes to accommodate each other, willing to make any necessary communication adjustments, and employees need to be cross-trained.
For example, a business might follow specific processes for storing and protecting IT data, but this process might have to be adapted or extended for converging OT systems.
When workers are properly educated on new technologies, they will not only be empowered with insights to help them in their daily jobs, their capabilities will allow them to fully leverage the benefits of new applications to drive the business forward.
As IT reaches more OT systems, air gaps can’t provide adequate security for network communication and OT data. Organizations driving IT-OT convergence must educate and train staff to understand and implement adequate security. When implemented properly, IT-OT convergence can merge business processes, insights and controls through secure systems and a uniform governance model.
Overcoming culture and governance issues with a wider set of stakeholders across the business is not a trivial task and it could make the difference between a smooth or rough ride along the convergence journey. A recommended strategy is to use multi-disciplinary teams to help guide the effort and establish common terminology, drivers and goals among IT and OT teams. Cross-discipline collaboration is key to a successful initiative. Early convergence on security practices will also be essential.
Benefits of IT-OT Convergence In Organizations
The following are some of the benefits of IT-OT convergence over separate IT and OT:
- Improved automation and visibility
- Shorter time frame involved in implementing Smart Manufacturing solutions
- A shared auditing staff Improves IT and OT governance and security methods
- More decentralized autonomous decisions at the edge near the work cell for routine situations and semi-autonomous triggering of alerts for non-routine situations
- Effective device management
- Efficient energy and resource usage,
- Preparation to integrate production data directly into the supply chain
Successful IT-OT integration stands at the forefront of the progressive journey towards creating a fully connected, dynamic and flexible Smart Manufacturing organization.
This enterprise is not a small or easy one to undergo- but with the exclusive, unwavering support of industry leading experts as well as groundbreaking digital security resources to safeguard your operations, your organization will be empowered through the convergence process and long after implementation.
Reach out to one of our trusted advisors here at MCDA CCG, to learn more about the immense value we can add to your journey with our industry specific expertise, reputation for successful department integrations, effective management/employee training, and more.
Because without it, the ability of a business to compete and participate in a highly connected market will be substantially limited, and, after time, unable to keep up.
The conversation is free and there is no obligation, so call our office, headquartered in Placentia, Orange County, California, today!