OT/IT convergence: how to bridge two worlds apart?
Since there’s no sufficient trust between IT and OT sides, manufacturers still note strong resistance when it comes to bringing information and operational technologies together. Yet, the boost of technological knowledge and constant innovations set their own rules of the game: time has come to change the way the things operate in the world of industry.
What’s IT/OT convergence?
It stands for integrating operational technologies, including remote terminal unit, programmable logic controllers, meters and sensors working in real time with IT systems.
Traditionally, IT and OT teams had separate, complete control of their strategies and budgets. Combining the enormous experience and competence in these two domains would lead to terrific positive changes in the manufacturing environment. IT/OT convergence would mean creation of the common ground between the organizations, so that they could rely on one another as specialists within a larger organization whose collaboration is essential to mutual success.
Just imagine, high-tech machines on the factory floor, fleets of trucks that are used for highly technical purposes, drills, industrial robots - all these elements are already de facto involved in the upcoming integration of OT and OT, and IoT.
As for IoT, its key mission is to automate processes using connected devices with a capacity to gather, receive and send information, embed intelligence and connectivity into devices and set up processes and applications that open up a realm of new possibilities with the proper tools to analyze data, automate and ‘write’ applications and develop APIs, putting these devices at work.
What’s driving the convergence of these opposing poles? First of all, it’s all about the increasing complexity of networking and computing in OT and the need for a significant increase in process maturity in areas that are normally within the domain of IT, especially network security and identity management. The value proposition is more than just cost savings of eliminating duplicate resources running the IT functions in OT. The value is directly linked to the material improvement in the effectiveness and capability of the cross-functional team to fulfill the core mission of secure, reliable, and streamlined operations. While OT typically refers to the control and automation technologies supporting operations intentionally separated from IT, OT consists of turnkey, proprietary systems designed to operate only on vendor-specific equipment. Unfortunately, these still strongly separated departments tend to have different people, goals, policies and projects.
Benefits of OT/IT convergence:
There are four of them: cost, performance, productivity and agility. Cost is seen as the benefit overlapping both OT and IT departments. For IT, cost is about predicting profitability, while OT ties this notion to the production expenses reduction. Performance and productivity are interrelated advantages. Thus, building a common platform where OT and IT data work together means that organizations can generate accurate performance indicators. Once an organization gains greater control of costs and begins looking at KPIs in real-time, they become empowered with the ability to react with agility and flexibility. As a result, production timelines get improved and there’s more room for innovations. The latter is almost impossible to achieve within a siloed OT and IT environment.
Imminent IT/OT convergence challenges. The experts in the field claim that continuing to operate separately not only slows the adoption of solutions based on technologies that fall outside of operations’ comfort zone, but also exposes companies to fault or security risks that could significantly impact production. Moreover, redundancy, resilient network designs, the need for remote access and security, as well as IT processes that meet or even exceed the complexity of the engineering requirements create significant discrepancies in the work of different departments of the businesses.
So, why implementing IT/OT convergence makes sense?
A possibility to convert huge amounts of data into some actionable insights;
Large assets spread around multiple locations;
Open standards and network connectivity that facilitate data-sharing across all levels of organization;
Need for an integrated, actionable platform to deliver the right information, at the right time, in the right format, to the right person, for the crucial strategic decisions to be made;
Handling and streamlining system operations and maintenance costs due to aging infrastructure and workforce nearing retirement.
How can one facilitate IT/OT integration? To begin with, the strategies of the IT and OT departments need to be aligned. Once the responsibilities are unified and IT managers share certain goals, they will start cooperating. As a result, the operations will harmonize duplicated or overlapping systems and processes, and promote the development of the interdisciplinary skills that are still missing in most companies. Secondly, they should identify simple pilot projects that can offer tangible value and a low-risk benchmark for the company. Not only they will provide a chance to train resources and progressively develop the specific mix of IT/OT skills in the team members, but also will help managers learn to share goals and develop a new shared governance model to effectively and continuously support the initiatives.
However, the difficulty in developing an effective governance for IT/OT projects should not be ignored. The cooperation between IT and OT needs to extend to adapting those models for use in operations, considering the different impact of projects and the different culture of the involved stakeholders. Remember, being smart in manufacturing is the only option. You should be able to adapt quickly to stay smart in such a rapidly changing environment full of strong competitors.
Factory of the future is the next chapter of the digital story. As OT/IT convergence is usually viewed as an integration of the enterprise and embedded networks, it will cause an emergence of highly-efficient factories of the future, where the value streams are fully digitized. Such a factory will have hardware modules and functions digitally available in real time and sophisticated software solutions collected. This will improve all processes across the value stream, from procurement to production, right through to the end customer. Transparency, productivity, and efficiency will become the usual components of the operational processes. Moreover, hardware, software, machines, and equipment will be represented by the most valuable asset - digital data. Productivity, cost/profit, quality, and efficiency will all be measured and analyzed in real time. It goes without saying that only those who will make use of this metamorphosis in the right time and in the right place will turn into the leaders in their industry.
OT/IT convergence means that OT/IT needs are correctly managed, secured, stored, processed, routed, and leveraged. It’s worth mentioning that such a convergence presents a real challenge for modern manufacturers, since it refers to both technological changes and new ways of thinking. Two completely different worlds are on the dawn of a new revolution. Featuring completely different, separate systems and technologies, they are inevitably colliding in the context of IIoT. The challenge for many IT professionals constitutes in defining the phenomenon of this digital transformation for their organization.
It is not simply about putting more mobile devices in the hands of factory floor employees - it’s about adding value to the business and making a difference.