Information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) have been the source of both value addition and value contention for different disciplines in a manufacturing environment.

The top challenge manufacturers face while creating or establishing an IIoT environment is IT and OT’s integration. The flow of information, decisions, control, and value between the production floor and the administrative offices is only possible with a symbiotic IT – OT relationship. Bridging the IT and OT divide is pivotal for any industry 4.0 manufacturer.

Today, disruptive technologies like IoT, ML, and big data have ushered in the fourth lap of the industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 is packed with the power to transform business processes across industries by combining physical production and operations with smart and digital technology. It enables the creation of a more holistic, sustainable and tightly knit ecosystem for organizations to optimize and streamline manufacturing processes. However, harnessing the benefits of industry 4.0 and IIoT will require an efficient integration mechanism to blur the IT and OT divide.

What Is The Difference Between IT And OT?

At a high level, IT deals with enterprise information, and OT deals with operational information. However, there is more to it.

The IT department’s scope covers the entire IT infrastructure and applications. Its responsibilities mainly concern security, scalability and manageability. It is also responsible for the processing and transmitting of information between functions within and external to the organization. It is usually a fast and dynamic environment. In an IoT setup, the IT department’s role is crucial as it plays a vital role in the tech stack from the network out to the edge and beyond.

OT focuses on ensuring visibility and control over operations of the manufacturing enterprise. Different OT systems come together at various levels to provide information, recommend actions, and actuate responses to stimuli from the manufacturing line. At the equipment level, it could be control systems like programmable logic controllers (PLC), microcontrollers, programmable equipment, or robotics. At the line level, it could be SCADA or DCS. It could also be operations management solutions like MES or scheduling systems. At each level, these solutions enable the enterprise to achieve its manufacturing operations objectives.

Between IT and OT, business and operations have the required insights and the ability to simulate scenarios that can lead to impactful decisions. The traffic of intelligence is heavy from OT to IT, instructions that align production to business objectives flow from IT to OT. A smooth integration and coordination between IT and OT components of the IIoT setup help to enable this exchange.

What Is Industrial IoT?

Industrial IoT is a framework of intelligent devices interconnected through a network to form an integrated ecosystem.

An IIoT framework leverages sensor technology power and combines it with the speed and reliability of cutting-edge technologies like machine learning, big data, and cloud computing. It offers a holistic approach to harvest a multitude of benefits like improving accuracy, increasing overall efficiency, and reducing cost. It can also help improve quality and minimize downtime.

What Is IT Data

The data used in IT processes are often termed IT data. Most IT processes are transactional and involve a data management component such as a database. So, the data included in these storage and retrieval activities come under the purview of IT data.

Implementing An IT Infrastructure

Broadly IT infrastructure can be grouped into three categories – system infrastructure, network infrastructure, and storage infrastructure. System infrastructure deals with a wide range of critical activities. It includes the administration of all IT assets within data centers. Usually, a chief technical officer (CTO) is in charge of all these activities. Network infrastructure involves the configuration of all the related networks and ensures that applications have uninterrupted access to resources and the network is secure. And finally, the storage infrastructure houses all the valuable assets of the business organization.

For a more granular approach, IT infrastructure can be further classified into 5 major components. We have briefly discussed each of them below.

Computer Hardware Platforms:

This covers physical components of the infrastructure like computers, servers & racks, hardware firewalls, routers, repeaters, boosters, power supplies, cooling units and other essential peripherals that enable the use of the IT environment.

Operating Systems Platform:

This is the layer of software that enables the hardware to interface with the software, middleware, and application layers of the IT environment. Operating systems make the hardware usable for the end-user.

Software Applications:

While the IT infrastructure mostly comprises physical components, it may also extend responsibility for some software applications. These are both enterprise-level software like SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and other client-level applications that interact or benefit from the enterprise layer. Different layers of software come together to make the hardware intelligent and perform actions like communication, computation, and even cognizance.

Data Management And Storage:

Data management and storage in the IT infrastructure are key functional areas. It involves oversight and management of data storage. It also encompasses responsibility for managing physical components (like data servers) and software components (like database management systems) used to organize databases.

Networking And Telecommunications:

The internal network and telecommunications of an organization come under IT infrastructure. It includes everything from virtual network software to modems, routers, and wiring. It may also include infrastructure closely related to internal and external servers that host websites and cloud-based applications.

Understanding OT In Manufacturing

OT can is a group of computing systems used to help manage, monitor, and control physical operations in the industrial world.

OT systems are distributed across a broad range of asset-intensive sectors. Their activities mostly revolve around tasks like monitoring infrastructure, regulating environment settings, and controlling robots on the production floor. OT commonly used in manufacturing industries.

What Is OT Data?

The raw data transmitted from sensors, devices and equipment for further processing forms a considerable part of the OT data. It also includes information from asset management, genealogy, MES, and other systems that aggregate granular data for a higher level of plant visibility. It is the OT data that provides information for monitoring and controlling specific processes within the industrial workflows. This data is then processed and analyzed to aid decision making.

Setting Up An OT Infrastructure

OT systems are the backbone of OT/IT solutions that manufacturers use to drive production efficiencies to reach revenue targets. The growing adoption of Industry 4.0 as the manufacturing philosophy makes factories susceptible to complex security challenges.

Hence, OT infrastructure needs to be planned and built to the manufacturing floor’s specific processes and culture while ensuring foolproof data security and alignment to intended outcomes.

The following is a customizable 8-step approach to planning your OT infrastructure,

Step 1:

Establish policies and procedures that match the specific OT environment for the organization.

Step 2:

Identify the level/complexity of OT infrastructure:

  • Level 1 Sensing and manipulating the production process
  • Level 2: Monitoring, supervisor control and automatic control of the production process
  • Level 3: Managing the workflow to produce the desired end products. Maintaining records and optimizing the production process.

Step 3:

Identify IT/OT Convergence Points: Every factory floor has its crossover points from OT to IT and vice versa. Thus, it is essential to classify processes and map them appropriately.

Step 4:

OT Solution Planning And Implementation: OT will help uncover a large amount of data when connected to the tools capable of computing these inferences. Thus, the OT technology solution needs to be developed for easy convergence with their IT counterparts and the eventual data parsing manufacturing intelligence tools and platforms.

Step 5:

OT Asset Management: The next step is establishing workflows for processes like change Management, obsolescence management and disaster recovery. OT asset management helps ensure compliance with the standard and custom protocols and industry-specific requirements in safety or environmental regulations.

Step 6:

Training And Workforce Development: A planned approach is needed to equip the workforce with the necessary skills to use and manage OT systems. Training is critical from a personnel safety and data security standpoint. It is ideal if the training is synchronized with the introduction of the upgraded infrastructure in a brownfield installation.

Step 7:

Set Up And Maintenance Of The OT Security Infrastructure: Data and information security for OT systems is a separate effort or a specialized OT security vendor.

Step 8:

Aligning With Leadership On Priorities: OT infrastructure and management requires timely investments and support from the leadership. And thus, business leadership buy-in is important, and this alignment would require outcomes from the OT systems to be made visible.

How To Bridge The Gap Between IT And OT

For the most part, IT and OT have constituted completely different and disjoint aspects of an organization’s infrastructure. But combining operational and enterprise information is the secret ingredient for manufacturing excellence. It makes success repeatable and scalable. It also allows complete visibility to risk at the lowest and highest levels of the manufacturing organization thereby placing the power to prevent incidents in almost everybody’s hands.

There is no playbook that guides successful interoperability and interaction between IT and OT. This is because no organization has perfected this yet. But there are clear signs that certain initiatives are working, some of which are categorized below in two separate lists:

Investment, Infrastructural And Business Context

  • Clear sponsorship and support from the business leaders
  • CIO and COO partnerships driven by common KRAs and KPIs
  • Implementation of IT/OT solutions with the purpose of ensuring seamless interoperability
  • Definition and adherence of all network and cybersecurity requirements that not only protects data integrity but also prevents cyber-attacks.

Awareness, Administrative And Training Context

  • Educating all stakeholders, and tactical leaders like managers and senior technicians who will operationalize this convergence
    • Clear definition of benefits to all stakeholders and established link to outcomes like cost savings, profitability, production improvements, and other outcomes
  • Constant review of progress towards meeting operational objectives with published documentation to all stakeholders
  • Training and reskilling wherever required to help the benefactors extract the most out of such an initiative
While there are no standard guidelines, the above steps can help keep the drive up for all the players who will be responsible for and benefit from the IT-OT convergence.

The Emerging IT-OT Overlap

Since the advent of industry 4.0, there is an increasingly converging IT-OT pattern that is changing how an organization’s infrastructure functions. Assets like assembly-line machinery that have previously been offline are being brought online by the power of IoT. The new IT-OT convergence opens up avenues to create new efficiencies by applying the intelligence of IT to the physical assets of OT systems.

The IT-OT convergence can benefit organizations in several ways. Let us take a look at a few advantages:

  • Minimizing unplanned downtime using predictive maintenance
  • Better decision making with decision support systems
  • Use of wireless technology in an operative environment
  • Improvement in critical data management
  • Enhanced efficiency and better first-pass yield rates
  • Better safety standards in the work environment

The Blurring Lines Between IT And OT

As the boundary between IT and OT continues to blur, organizations must consider the implications of various aspects like cybersecurity, compliance, and data integration. This transition is going to cause an upheaval in how different processes function, but it is also likely to open up exponential opportunities for businesses.