In today’s global marketplace, it's arduous for businesses to operate in isolation. This is regardless of their industry, business size, operational location and nature of operation. The relationship between industrial control and information systems continues to grow. At the same time, control systems platforms are promptly embracing information technologies.
The evolution of IT and OT convergence
Back in 2011, Gartner predicted the convergence of information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT). However, only 6% of manufacturing organizations worldwide have fully integrated their IT and OT operations with a knowledge of the financial impact. The remaining are still facing challenges in achieving operational efficiencies, commercial rewards and other well-known benefits. Some of the major challenges that manufacturers experience while integrating IT and OT are as follows:
Cultural and structural impediments
This correlates significantly with how IT and OT implementations evolved into extremely varied architectures and protocols to address different issues.
According to the experts, one of the most pressing concerns manufacturers are now confronting with IT and OT convergence is security. Cybersecurity is the primary reason plant and IT operations remain separate. Therefore, when you’re planning for IT and OT convergence, you must prioritize security. After all, compromised systems can have a negative impact on several aspects of your company's operations, including quality, profitability, worker safety and reputation.
Another critical IT and OT challenge that manufacturers face is unconnected data or a lack of interconnectivity between siloed systems/technologies. Despite some convergence, organizations are unable to use data effectively and there is a significant requirement for manual operations.
We believe that tools, technologies, people, processes, data and devices —combined with continuous collaboration between IT and OT teams and leadership —can help in overcoming this obstacle.
According to the Manufacturer's survey, when it comes to architecture, 48% of businesses' IT and OT convergence plans were developed in collaboration with operations. And the outcome? Well, some researchers say that operation workers may diagnose issues more rapidly. And in some cases, they predict problems and fix them before service disruptions affect consumers. This is done by employing a single platform to monitor 80-90% of IT services.
Therefore, it does seem to make complete sense to focus on resolving these challenges for attaining sustainable benefits from IT and OT convergence.
Moving on to the broader picture
There must be convergence of the IT and OT operating paradigm before the integration of IT and OT.
Setting up the framework, roles and responsibilities should be the first step towards achieving uniformity and continuity among methods, KPIs, competencies, data and security standards.
For better collaboration and agility, it is recommended to unify central and local IT and OT processes. It helps to adopt industry standards like those from the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). Reinforcing harmony and resolving issues before they impede progress can be made possible by enhancing operational transparency, which enables us to make data-driven business decisions.
The adoption of a common set of KPIs is essential to transparently monitor both IT and OT systems across important criteria including effectiveness, delivery speed, reliability and resilience.
Businesses must allocate a significant budget for employee skill development and hiring outside consultants.
Central data and security governance
There should be a unified operating model to manage and maintain a high degree of cybersecurity. This will make sure that both IT and non-IT systems receive consistent application of controls such as asset management, patch management, device management, vulnerability assessments, applications and device onboarding. And that is how data loss prevention, security operations and incident reaction and recovery are being taken care of properly.
Thus, for a successful IT and OT convergence, data must be correctly managed, orchestrated and distributed from on-premises to the cloud and everywhere in between, including devices, peripheral servers and edge networks, with a strong and secure data governance. Most importantly, all deliverables for digital use cases must be connected to company operations with clearly defined benefit structures.
All in all, it’s the right time to start this transformation initiative of IT and OT convergence, which may result in improved business possibilities, in addition to other benefits. However, breaking down barriers and allowing seamless connectivity between the production line and the organization is essential for success in contemporary industrial landscape.