When worlds collide: Understanding emerging IT/OT convergence
Industrial IoT continues to fundamentally change the manufacturing industry, and smart companies across the globe are discovering the benefits of combining data from information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) entities. This is known within the industry as IT/OT convergence, which involves integrating data from IT and OT systems into a single, information-driven environment.
The problem? IT and OT technologies are segmented and often managed by different teams, with IT being advanced in analytics capabilities and OT teams exploring technologies capable of delivering the level of real-time insight. The convergence of IT and OT is an adjustment beneficial for the industry as optimizing data ultimately increases efficiency and productivity in industrial environments.
The good ol’ days
Prior to the concept of IT/OT convergence, management of IT and OT entities were completely segmented. The two networks were developed independent of one another — IT was used solely for business purposes, while OT was built for monitoring industrial machinery. Different job titles were required to oversee each, without any harmony or coordination between the two. Despite the lack of integration, the divided entities were functioning well on their own, as IT and OT data were providing effective solutions to their respective areas.
It takes two to make a thing go right
With the rise of big data, machine learning and smarter industrial equipment, a shift in industry norms started to occur as IT/OT convergence became more advantageous. In fact, a Gartner survey reported that organizations are increasingly eager to integrate their entities, as advancements in technology have demonstrated that integrated systems produce optimized data results. So, what does that mean for organizations looking to modernize their IT and OT strategies?
In order to adapt to the needs of the industry, forward-looking organizations have begun integrating their IT and OT networks by employing IoT sensors on machinery to monitor valves, pumps, gauges and other pieces of equipment. Through converging these systems, companies are able to monitor and harness data like never before — live dashboards, anomaly detection, process automation, relevant generation of key performance indicators (KPIs) and hundreds of other features are possible with IT/OT convergence. Analyzing integrated data is cost-effective, increases transparency and efficiency, and ultimately supports the safety of workers.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
While the benefits are clear, handling IT/OT convergence is no easy undertaking — this change is complex and requires a number of criteria to execute effectively. Since IT and OT departments are often not cohesive, it can take a village to create a single, well-oiled machine. It doesn’t help that the operational difficulty between IT and OT is incredibly different — IT is a well-established and advanced field, and while OT advanced on the equipment side of the house, it is considered the laggard for analytics technologies. Combining the technologies is a daunting task, and there is no best practice to follow since IT/OT convergence is an emerging concept.
So, how can you integrate systems without disrupting current operations?
- Educate yourself on IT/OT convergence and the challenges and benefits that come with the change. Putting your leaders in positions where they feel enabled to take on a change can lead to higher success rates.
- Communication with key players is essential — make this unification as simple as possible by being transparent and open to adjustment. Because IT and OT entities are vastly segmented, effective internal communication between teams is essential to ensure success.
- Create a plan where all parties refer and contribute as needed. Make effective use of this plan by reviewing it often with team members from the top and the bottom of the team organizational chart. Most importantly, evaluate and make changes to your plan as needed.
- Be open to change and accept new processes and trainings that will inevitably come. Keep a positive mindset and work together to make this change work. While this change is elaborate, it is both inevitable and necessary given the rapid evolution of the industry — so while it is no easy feat, embrace the shift and adapt to challenges as they come.
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