For most modern businesses, there’s a divide between Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT). The difference between these equally integral facets of digital manufacturing is a subject currently under debate. Ultimately, information technology deals with information and data. In contrast, operational technology handles the physical processes necessary to use that information.
To streamline the process and aid in adopting new technologies – including the Internet of Things (IoT) – IT and OT have begun to converge. What is the IT/OT convergence in manufacturing, and how is it bringing about a wider digitalization of manufacturing?
Adopting the Internet of Things
One of the most exciting side effects of IT/OT convergence is the opening it creates for adopting IoT devices. Technology related to IoT already naturally falls into the gray area between IT and OT, collecting data and acting on it, as part of its programmed capabilities. We’ve seen it appear in cars incorporating more sensors and sensing technologies. By collecting data about how the car operates, IoT tech can monitor the vehicle’s health and send that information back to the manufacturer or individual in charge of its maintenance.
On the other side of the coin, this same system can transmit weather and traffic information and other data back to the driver. This data can make it easier for the driver to make informed decisions about routes or driving behaviors, enabling them to stay safe on the road.
This change isn’t always an easy one. It might work well for cars, but things aren’t so straightforward in the manufacturing sector. According to the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation, companies specializing in manufacturing are one of the 10 industries most likely to be disrupted by an IT/OT convergence.
Embracing Data and Data Analytics
The average modern business generates massive amounts of data daily, from client orders to design specifications and maintenance logs. This data is the foundation of IT. Instead of letting it languish in digital limbo, IT/OT convergence makes it easier to embrace data analytics and turn it into actionable insights and predictions.
Data analytics is becoming an essential part of foundational IoT systems. The challenge lies in creating the bridge between ground-floor operations and the office-based informational technology teams that, until recently, haven’t worked together in any significant capacity.
Benefits of Digital Manufacturing and IT/OT Convergence
Despite these challenges, there is a growing list of benefits associated with IT/OT convergence. These benefits can include but are not limited to:
- Shorter development pipeline and time to market for technology that relies on convergence.
- Elimination of siloed IT and OT departments. These teams traditionally worked independently, but convergence will require them to collaborate, sharing expertise and resources as they learn to work together.
- Improved automation on the OT side because IT better supports the data collection and real-time monitoring necessary for these systems to operate efficiently.
- Reduced downtime, which can, over time, save the company money. It also reduces unscheduled downtime by relying on predictive maintenance models to keep equipment running.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does paint a picture of the potential benefits IT/OT that convergence could have on the digitalization of manufacturing.
Growing Security Concerns
One of the most significant benefits of IT/OT convergence and its related technology is also its biggest downside: Its reliance on internet-based networked systems.
Cybersecurity is a growing concern for any company utilizing IoT or associated technologies. Since 2009, U.S. Presidential administrations have been issuing executive orders to strengthen cybersecurity protocols at the federal level. Still, malicious actors keep coming up with new and inventive ways to infiltrate these systems.
Manufacturing companies may rely on older technologies that don’t follow modern cybersecurity requirements. Some may not even have a cybersecurity specialist on staff, leaving them vulnerable to attacks once they begin incorporating these new technologies. Anyone looking to take advantage of IT/OT convergence must consider the state of their cybersecurity systems and what might need changes moving forward.
Merging Old and New Technologies
One of the biggest challenges presented by IT/OT convergence is the prevalence of old or outdated technologies in manufacturing settings. Many of these devices aren’t designed to be networked and may even lack the capability to integrate with newer technologies needed for complete IT/OT convergence and digital manufacturing.
This challenge isn’t insurmountable, but companies relying on older equipment may find it exorbitantly expensive to purchase and install new equipment or upgrade legacy systems.
Three Phases of Convergence Integration
Convergence integration strategies require at least three phases depending on the company’s needs.
This process starts with the organizational phase. Before you start making any changes, everyone needs to be on the same page. IT and OT teams will need to start collaborating, usually under the supervision of a single team leader or supervisor, to prepare for the subsequent two phases and the eventual integration of the two teams.
Phase two is the technical phase. Once the planning and organization phases are complete, it is time to implement those plans. This phase will likely also help identify any security or management problems you’ll need to address before moving on to phase three.
The third and final phase of convergence integration is the operational phase. Everything’s in place and ready to be deployed. You may need to make small changes or tweaks once the system comes online, but most of the bug hunting and troubleshooting were carried out in the previous two phases.
The IT/OT Convergence in Manufacturing
Like most innovative technologies, smart, digital manufacturing is gaining momentum. The push for improved innovation, efficiency, and quality control will continue to fuel these changes for years.
The IT/OT convergence is just one piece of the puzzle. IT and OT have always existed separately, with a gray space in the middle where neither quite fit. This convergence is the missing piece of that puzzle. It will bridge the gap and bring the two fields together in ways that will continue transforming manufacturing for the foreseeable future.
About the Author: Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine celebrating innovations in industry, science and technology. Subscribe to our newsletter for industry updates.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.