CIO upfront: IT versus OT – why they’re converging, and why you should care before it’s too late

4 - minute read

As manufacturing technology has evolved over the decades, IT has played an increasingly important role. However, throughout the Industry 3.0 era, with the introduction of computer control and automation, IT has remained largely separate from OT (operational technology) in the manufacturing environment. 

While traditionally, IT and OT have played different roles, they do in fact share a common goal – retaining control of systems and machines to ensure the safety of employees and customers alike. They have also both grown in their sophistication and value to businesses.

But the next revolution comes with the bridging of that IT/OT divide and it’s a revolution that is happening now.

Industry 4.0 is predicated on the Industrial Internet of Things (Industrial IoT) where deep data is harnessed from a myriad of connected sensors and devices and used to make both instant, automated operational decisions and to enable business intelligence at a strategic level.

The result is smart factories that run smoother, more efficiently and can respond more quickly to changing market conditions. It’s a revolution that relies on bridging the divide between IT and OT but the good news is that Industrial IoT technologies make this integration possible.

Global research and advisory company, Gartner, has defined IT/OT integration as “the end state sought by organisations (most commonly, asset-intensive organisations) where instead of a separation of IT and OT as technology areas with different areas of authority and responsibility, there is an integrated process and information flow.”

But what does this mean? In the practical manufacturing environment, this means that traditional OT data silos, where data collected is restricted in use to the immediate production environment, are instead opened to the internal (or even external) network for complex use with IT systems.

No manufacturer is inherently comfortable with the idea of exposing their business to potential external disruption

The benefits to the global manufacturing industry of this revolution are extensive.

For example, IT/OT convergence integrates production directly with the supply chain, both up and downstream from the manufacturing plant.

Smart, automated processes based on this integration will be able to fine tune time-to-market delivery and manage inventory precisely with minimal human intervention or planning.

Meanwhile similar processes will be able to monitor and preemptively initiate plant maintenance with increased efficiency. As a result, the integration should ultimately provide financial returns by minimising cost to the organisation.

Manufacturers that get on board with such processes early – even allowing for the risk involved in early adoption – will gain significant operational and market advantage. Those that do not, will find themselves falling further behind in a race where it will become increasingly difficult to make up lost ground.

Given these realities, it may seem that implementing Industry 4.0 principles should be a priority. However, IT/OT integration is an essential component of this and the difficulties in integrating two parts of the business that have traditionally not spoken the same language, creates a barrier that is slowing down adoption of Industry 4.0 practices for many businesses.

Unfortunately, the theoretical advantages of IT/OT integration do nothing to overcome the practical difficulties involved in switching a legacy business to work in this new paradigm. So, what is involved in breaking down this barrier?

The traditionally enclosed world of OT needs to open vast swaths of data to IT, the IT world needs to learn to talk to systems it is not familiar dealing with and both sides need to address the security concerns raised by Industrial IoT devices transmitting data across the network.

No manufacturer is inherently comfortable with the idea of exposing their business to potential external disruption and it’s a problem our team at Facteon has been dealing with for some time.

As manufacturers, we’ve tackled this problem – and the development of our smart manufacturing products – with the knowledge that IT and OT teams need to shed their current views on best practice. The role each has in the manufacturing process to truly take advantage of Industrial IoT technologies must also be revaluated.

In the absence of viable solutions on NZ soil, we created our own which brings smart manufacturing advantages while maintaining the flexibility needed in order to keep pace with ongoing developments in technology. COSMOline is an Industrial IoT tool designed to make the movement of data and information across the IT/OT divide seamless, all the while integrating with other systems to enable the exchange of important and relevant operational and business information

Based on our own experience, we’ve found that the marriage of IT and OT systems need not be a major barrier to Industry 4.0 adoption.

Getting the IT/OT integration right and using an approach that puts that integration as the core pillar of our Industry 4.0 adoption strategy, is key to success. Given how dramatically technology can (and will) change in a very short space of time, taking an approach to the Industry 4.0 journey that maintains flexibility is also vital to delivering a positive outcome.

Successful IT/OT integration is an essential step in the journey towards creating a fully functioning, dynamic and flexible smart factory. It’s not a small step to take, but without it your ability to continue to compete in what is now a global and very fluid manufacturing environment will be limited.

Source: CIO

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