5 ways to facilitate the convergence of IT and OT in IoT Industry 4.0

How to approach IT/OT convergence training and certification

IT/OT convergence training involves rethinking existing processes and acquiring new skills to bridge the knowledge gap in areas like business process engineering and project management.

Companies have embraced the convergence of IT and operational technology because it can provide valuable business insights that lead to improved processes and reduced costs. But integrating IT and OT is a complex process. To be successful and fully realize the benefits, you should first familiarize yourself with the reasons for convergence, required knowledge and skills, relevant courses and certifications, employee training tips and best practices for integration.

Why are IT and OT converging?

Industry 4.0, first initiated by the German government in 2015, was spearheaded to make manufacturers more competitive. It promoted a means to intelligently network machines and manufacturing processes together through the use of information technologies, such as IoT security, robotics, big data, simulation, cloud computing and system integration. Important Industry 4.0 goals included making manufacturing processes more productive, cost-efficient, malleable and visible for those who perform and manage them.

The pre-Industry 4.0 world

Before Industry 4.0, manufacturers used programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that managed manufacturing processes in individual machines and on assembly lines. Manufacturing engineers manually programmed computer numerical control machines so they could produce parts and products without a worker present. Design engineers used CNC machines to produce physical prototypes of new designs during product development. The problem was that each of these operations was a standalone silo.

Manufacturing engineers had to go out to the floor repeatedly to redesign workflows and work orders whenever a manufacturing approach changed. Information had to be relayed in person from station to station because there was little IT integration with manufacturing. Consequently, there were holes in the end-to-end visibility of manufacturing processes, which prevented a holistic and integrated view of every operation and how it was working with others around it.

How Industry 4.0 changed manufacturing

This changed when Industry 4.0 integrated IT with OT and former islands of information became integrated with the help of industrial control systems and industrial networks. These systems integrated machines, data and newer technologies, such as IoT, with holistic IP-based network architecture. Suddenly, there were integrated platforms for the OT environment that included OT networks and OT systems.

Introducing Industry 5.0

The next generation of factory automation is Industry 5.0. Industry 5.0 takes the original data and technology automation initiated under Industry 4.0 and integrates collaboration between people and machines. What this means for technology professionals working on IT/OT integration is that much more emphasis is being placed on the business processes themselves and how humans and machines interact with each other.

Skills and knowledge needed for IT/OT convergence

The employee training and integration aspect of IT/OT is even more important with the implementation of Industry 5.0. Although companies have seen the advantages of integrating IT and OT, revising work processes and retraining employees present several issues.

Dealing with employee pushback

During Industry 4.0, employees were fearful of losing their jobs as industrial automation and robotics moved in. To be sure, there were job losses as certain manufacturing operations became automated. But what many manufacturing employees and managers found instead was that their jobs were still there -- only now they were tasked with learning new skills, such as how to report or record status with an internet device on the floor, how to interpret dashboard reports on their devices and how to respond to IoT-generated alerts on the floor when maintenance to a particular machine was needed.

With Industry 5.0, employees might again initially push back against new technology until they are secure in their employment prospects and in what their roles will be.

Addressing security concerns

As more IT moved to the manufacturing floor with Industry 4.0, managers and supervisors also had to assume responsibility for guaranteeing the security of manufacturing processes by participating in the implementation of security products, technologies, strategies and practices. All were areas where they had little or no expertise, and they'll be expected to grow their expertise even more under Industry 5.0.

Manufacturing personnel aren't cybersecurity professionals, and most are ill equipped to assess the cybersecurity risk of their work environments. However, they must develop hands-on experience with OT cybersecurity, incident response for cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, and their roles and responsibilities in incident response cybersecurity and industrial cybersecurity in general.

Identifying important skill sets

Security isn't the only area that employees, managers and supervisors in manufacturing must expand their knowledge on. Other important development areas include the following:

  • Soft skills in communications and collaboration.
  • Business process engineering.
  • Training and mentoring.
  • Business use case identification and proof of ROI.
  • Project management.
  • Technology and operations integration.
  • Human factors engineering.

IT/OT convergence courses and certifications

Although some of the skills above can be enhanced via an online webinar or by reviewing case studies, most areas require a more concentrated training regimen that has employees coming away with real-world skills that they can immediately apply to their work.

The following is a cross-section of training courses and certifications worth considering.

SANS Institute's "ICS410: ICS/SCADA Security Essentials" is a six-day online course that provides foundational skills for industrial control system cybersecurity. IT security professionals might know many of these fundamentals, but manufacturing employees who are tasked with supporting and defending ICSes against cyberthreats at the local plant level might be unfamiliar with privacy policy; privacy preferences; and the day-to-day IT tasks that are needed to monitor, check and secure IT and IoT assets and networks that are running in the plant.

This includes security products, technologies, strategies and security gap discovery. Students gain an understanding of ICS components, purposes, deployments and constraints and also participate in interactive, scenario-based training with hands-on exercises.

Why it's important: Personnel in manufacturing must develop a battery of para-IT skills that include knowledge of how industrial networks work from an IT/OT standpoint, as well as the ability to be sensitive to and to administer security on a local level in the plant.

Udemy's "Soft Skills: The 11 Essential Career Soft Skills" is an online course that teaches 11 essential soft skills that employees need to effectively collaborate and communicate with each other in a team environment. Billed as a "lunchtime course," it's 34 hours of self-paced, on-demand instruction and can be easily consumed in video sessions that fit into small time frames. Communication and listening skills are taught, as well as group leadership skills. Upon conclusion of the course, participants receive a certificate.

Why it's important: The glue that binds together IT/OT work isn't development and integration, but rather cooperation and coordination. IT/OT teams must work together as they digitalize work processes. Without effective cooperation and collaboration, that can't happen.

Coursera offers a series of project management courses and certifications that are helpful to anyone asked to manage an IT/OT project. Topics range from an introduction to project management, which is ideal for those who have limited project management experience, to more advanced and specialized topics, such as engineering project management and business analysis and process management.

Why it's important: IT/OT convergence work is done in projects, and many employees on the OT side might be unfamiliar with working in a project format. Even for individuals in IT and OT who have project management experience, it might still be useful to attend a more advanced course that can assist with the particulars of the projects they're tasked with.

SMEClabs' industrial IoT (IIoT) training is a group of IoT courses that covers a wide range of technical topics -- from working with PLC and SCADA on the manufacturing side to developing IoT stacks, systems, networks, physical cabling, logical topologies, wireless considerations, holistic IP-based network architecture, enterprise-wide networks, network components, secure network architecture and industrial technology on the IT side. Training is self-paced and online, and it offers lab work.

Why it's important: Companies need technical training at all levels of manufacturing and IT, from beginner to advanced topics. This course collection provides a full array of courses and certifications.

Koenig Solutions' "Human-Machine Interface (HMI) Design and Implementation" course teaches students how to design effective and efficient HMIs for industrial automation and control systems. Topics include a SCADA overview, project creation, system and alarm configuration, data logging, trend configuration, recipe management and user administration. Students must have a basic understanding of HMIs before they take the course, which consists of 32 hours of lecture and labs.

Why it's important: Industry 5.0 and beyond will focus on how man and machine interact and collaborate in business processes and decision-making. UI skills development is foundational to designing effective interactions between humans and machines.

IT/OT convergence training tips and strategies

Each organization faces unique IT/OT convergence challenges, but there are five best practices that work in any situation.

1. Train from within

There will be times when you need an outside consultant to train elements of IT/OT, but the best way to ensure a smooth transition to new IT/OT processes is to train from within. This requires train-the-trainer education for mentors and others who'll be responsible for training and coaching fellow employees.

2. Don't forget the soft skills

The ability to communicate, collaborate and cooperate in the design of new manufacturing and IT processes depends on employees who can communicate well and work with each other. IT/OT teams should be composed of individuals from operations and IT who possess these skills.

3. Choose an integration platform before choosing IIoT

IIoT technologies -- i.e., robotics, sensors, hand-held devices, etc. -- that pave the way for industrial business process design must be able to work together. Because many IoT devices offered by third-party providers have proprietary OSes and there's no industrywide interoperability standard, IT should first select a platform that can work with a wide array of IoT and specify the compatibility criteria any IoT platform must meet before it's purchased.

4. Use cross-disciplinary IT/OT teams

Manufacturing and IT must collaborate if IT/OT convergence is to work. IT/OT teams should be interdisciplinary and should share in the work of business process design and technology integration.

5. Design for usability

With the move into Industry 5.0, humans and machines will be expected to work together seamlessly in business processes. Seamless and productive work can't be attained until you develop and implement well-orchestrated, easy-to-use GUIs and natural and intuitive business process flows. In the IT/OT interoperability environment, testing and certifying applications for usability are every bit as important as ensuring that every technical bug is resolved before deployment.

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology analytics, market research and consulting firm.

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