The environment for capital-intensive industries is changing dramatically. How does an enterprise embrace Industry 4.0 while utilizing today’s Information Technology (IT) to connect to its installed base of control systems, sensors, etc. to improve business performance? The answer? Driving a convergence between Operating Technology (OT) and IT groups and practices. Often, however, the priorities and tactics of the OT and IT sides conflict. Here are five factors that must be considered as these groups “converge.”
Plant operators are hyper-focused on safety: the safety of their workers and the safety of people living around their facilities. The ability to prevent and control industrial accidents is top-of-mind for the OT side. This focus on safety first flows through the decision-making of OT groups when it comes to implementing new technology.
On the IT side, “safety” usually translates into physical security and intrusion prevention at facilities. However, in the era of COVID-19, IT has been drawn into the creation of new safety solutions for monitoring employee health and wellness. As IT pushes into the OT space, there is a growing awareness of the need to prioritize safety.
2. Operational Efficiency
OT is interested in optimizing the operational efficiencies of its facilities, capital equipment, its supply inputs and product outputs. IT is traditionally focused on optimizing the efficiency and ROI of its IT assets, including hardware, software and people. In capital-intensive industries, the expenses related to facilities and capital equipment usually far outweigh IT expenses. One positive implication of this difference: IT investments that address OT efficiency can have a material impact.
Both OT and IT are interested in cybersecurity, but the tactics each group uses will differ and have consequences on the other areas of convergence. OT is rightly concerned about cyber intrusions to its operating networks that could jeopardize equipment and personnel. As the Stuxnet and Triton attacks showed, undetected access and changes to control systems must be prevented. The OT side will often “air gap” the operating network from the corporate network, including preventing connections to the internet. Another OT tactic is to implement data diodes, only allowing data and signals to travel in one direction … away from the control systems. These tactics make it difficult for IT to weave OT assets into the enterprise.
On the other side, IT groups strive to keep technology up-to-date, including applying the latest software patches as they are released and tested. However, OT is generally averse to making systems changes, not wanting any associated downtime to impact production. The solution for this dilemma: OT and IT must collaborate on a risk/benefit analysis for system changes.
4. Technological Obsolescence
OT wants technology solutions that last years and years without being touched. It is not unusual for a production software application to operate in a constant state of revision for 5-8 years. The IT side, however, worries about technical obsolescence and technical debt, looking to stay as current as possible with the latest releases of software and by ensuring that hardware remains supported. The implication is that the OT group must be sufficiently convinced that technology changes will deliver significant, measurable benefits.
5. Real-Time vs. Periodic Data Collection and Analysis
Lastly, the needs for information and analysis vary greatly between the two groups. For OT, the context is the facility or operating controls environment … OT needs information to operate the plant effectively. Often, data collection, analysis and control must be done in real-time. This real-time requirement can also limit the richness of the collected data. This is a factor that IT must understand as it proposes new technology platforms.
Conversely, IT is trying to meet the needs of the enterprise: corporate analysts and data scientists, for example. Their mission is not just maximizing the efficiency of one plant, but of maximizing the efficiency of the entire enterprise. Real-time data is not needed in this context, but reliable collection and richness of data is important. This is where senior OT and IT management must again come together so that the needs of both are met.
Understanding the different and sometimes conflicting perspectives of OT and IT is a critical success factor for the implementation of the latest Industry 4.0 technology solutions. Fostering collaboration between both groups can limit pitfalls and wasted efforts, and speed the path to achieving benefits for the enterprise.
Industry 4.0 solutions are available today, and with almost 40 years’ experience providing software solutions to industry, we understand the convergence of OT/IT. Learn more by attending our upcoming webinar, How to Unlock Business Value from Industrial Data with AIoT.
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