By Andy Graham, Solutions Manager, SolutionsPT
There’s an old saying that goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The same principle applies to businesses and their use of IT and OT convergence.
An article in Forbes magazine by Joseph Ferrara discusses how the convergence of these two fields has resulted in significant benefits for businesses.
The benefits of such a convergence include increased productivity due to automation, faster time-to-market, and lower cost of ownership. This means that businesses will be able to save more money and focus on what they do best: innovating new products and services.
These digital transformations and the rising influence of Industrial IoT are presenting industries with lucrative new opportunities that can improve efficiencies and drive growth. For this to happen, two diametrically opposed networks need to bridge the divide and converge. This is easier said than done.
Historically, the IT and OT groups have clashed rather than collaborated. The disconnect that lies between them comes from their previous isolation. They’ve always been independent of each other, operating with different goals and made up of individuals from contrasting work backgrounds.
That’s all changing because of the rise of Industrial IoT and the evolving security threats that businesses face every day. It used to be that the operations side of the business didn’t have to worry about cybersecurity threats but attacks like WannaCry have shown how vulnerable they are.
To ensure the business is protected from all threats, convergence of IT and OT needs to happen, and for this to work the two groups need to find common ground and work together.
Benefits of IT OT Convergence
Closing the gap between the two is a slow and complicated process. It requires the erosion of a mentality that’s been built up over decades. It’s fair to say the two sides aren’t particularly fond of one another. Because they’ve both worked in isolation, there’s a feeling of mistrust and scepticism.
Repairing these relationships and encouraging collaboration is a challenge but the benefits are worth it.
Improved Agility and Responsiveness
IT and OT teams both hold influence over decisions within your organisation and its performance as a result. Bringing the two together allows you to utilise data from the factory floor more intelligently. It’s easier to create relevant KPIs and common objectives that combine to drive growth and improve operational efficiency.
In practice, this could look like a beer company reducing production because IT integrations have shown that the summer will be a washout. Heavy rain means less time spent in beer gardens and fewer products sold as a result.
Data can suggest a new, reduced production plan that will save money in inventory management by reducing waste, once the newly calculated ingredient orders are sorted too. Plus, reduced production means fewer machines are running so less energy is needed to operate them. Being agile and quickly shifting to reflect real-life market trends gives any business the edge over their competition.
Effective Protection from Security Threats
Security is a key priority for any IT team. A breach can be devastating so it’s their responsibility to implement effective security measures that will protect the network against evolving cyber threats. This is how it’s always been in the IT world.
OT, on the other hand, are just now encountering malicious attacks from online thieves and aren’t as accustomed to fighting cyber threats as the IT lot are. The more OT that’s adopted into a production environment, the more attractive that setup is for anyone looking to get their hands on valuable data.
OT security is sometimes neglected, presenting gaps in your network that could be exploited. Ensure you’re protected by extending the sophisticated IT security measures you have in place across to OT systems as well.
Bringing People and Processes Together
There’s a growing need to integrate people and processes, across both IT and OT, more tightly. Consider a pharmaceutical company who has been using SCADA software in OT for several years.
Given the validated nature of the environment and the lengthy sanction process that follows, the upgrade or refresh cycle can be several years apart. Changes are costly because they must be sanctioned by pharmaceutical professionals. As a result, many don’t keep systems up to date between versions and wait until the very last minute.
However, when this point is reached there’s a decision to make – stick with the status quo while ensuring the latest systems are supported or take this opportunity to look at wider integration with IT.
Following the latter path, alignment would allow for benefits like a workflow being triggered in a quality system running elsewhere in the facility because the OT SCADA has detected an issue in production.
This is just one example of how technology is converging IT and OT which gives the platform for people and processes to align too.
Drive Efficiency and Productivity
Data that’s produced by IT and OT systems gives unique insight into how the company is performing. Not only can it be harnessed to drive growth through external factors (like the beer example from above) but it can also be used to address internal inefficiencies. on the factory floor.
Information regarding business processes, previous operations, staff productivity and machinery maintenance costs can all point to areas of improvement. Anything that highlights where time, money or resources could be better spent elsewhere.
Integrating this data into a single normalised model provides insights that can be used to drive operational efficiency and give your business a competitive advantage.
IT and OT both aim to reduce expenses and predict profitability – alignments just bring these goals together.
Gartner was highlighting how alignment could save organisations money as early as 2011. They outlined how a shared set of standards and platforms would reduce costs for future integration projects, software licensing, external and internal support and more.
Integrating IT into the OT system gives an organisation the capacity to leverage the capability of powerful and cost-effective data analytics in the cloud. These analytics can identify areas of potential savings in the OT enterprise to reduce overall costs.
Hybrid projects relying on IT and OT investment will meet fewer obstacles if the staff working on them have an agreed-on approach and the same set of standards and architecture plans.
IT OT Convergence Strategy – There’s No Time to Waste
You’ve been familiar with the idea of convergence and bridging the divide between IT and OT for a while. The benefits speak for themselves, but the associated challenges are enough to cause anyone to hesitate.
Converging IT and OT can be a difficult task to accomplish. With the advances in technology, we see both the rise of the digital and physical worlds. The two worlds are now so intertwined that it’s impossible for them not to converge.
But Convergence of IT and OT systems isn’t a straightforward process. You’ll need to achieve buy-in from management, convince both sides to compromise, retrain some members of staff and take some time to determine what convergence means for your business. Will IT and OT simply collaborate more, or will IT and OT systems physically integrate into a single shared platform?
Whatever you decide, the best time to start is right now. The earlier the process begins, the sooner your business can begin to reap the many benefits.
We’ve put together an eBook that’s perfect for any business interested in convergence.