Operational technology (OT) is a group of computing systems used to help manage, monitor, and control physical operations in the industrial world. In other words, the use of information technology to control physical processes, devices and infrastructure can be termed Operational Technology. IoT and IIoT are the evolved versions of operational technology.
OT systems are distributed across a large range of asset-intensive sectors, and are widely used in the manufacturing industry. Their activities revolve around tasks like monitoring infrastructure, regulating environment settings, and controlling robots on the production floor.
The roots of IT have spread far and wide across industries. As a result, IT has become more of a layman’s term today.. OT on the other hand requires a more complex definition as it involves computation and communication systems that are used to manage, monitor, and control industrial processes. The primary focus of OT is on physical devices and the processes involved around them.
OT is what enables seamless tracking and control of the production line.
The term information technology is mostly used today to denote anything even remotely related to data. IT is generally defined as the ability of computers to store, access, manipulate and transmit data or information. OT on the other hand helps manage and control activities of specific devices and processes within industrial workflows.
A very significant aspect in the evolution of operational technology was the ability to remotely access, monitor and control physical devices. The fusion of OT with IT based technologies like big data, and ML along with evolving machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and rapid proliferation of sensor technology further broadened the scope of innovations within terms of management of physical devices.
IT is highly standardized. For instance, the TCP/IP protocol that is in place in one infrastructure will work the same way the TCP/IP protocol would in another facility. This offers resilience to the system. In case of OT, the operations are relatively unique. There can be more than just a few ways to make a system do the same thing. Also, it is mostly created to perform specifically tailored tasks. In other words, most systems are custom built for specific purposes, and interoperability can be an issue.
Conventionally, IT and OT have always had their respective worlds of modern organizations. The birth of IoT has brought these two worlds closer than ever before. IoT takes systems like assembly-line machinery that have traditionally been offline and brings them online, creating countless avenues of possibilities in terms of efficiency improvement.
The convergence of IT-OT points towards the greater challenge of cybersecurity, compliance, and data integration implications. While this transition is likely to bring in an exponential growth in possibilities for businesses, it requires a large amount of upskilling and technical know-how.
Operational technology can be applied at various levels. At the machine level, PLCs and microcontrollers can control the operation of a machine. SCADA and DCS can be good examples of OP at a plant or line level. Data Historians can be another example of OT at a plan level. Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) are a part of the OT that connects the enterprise systems to manufacturing systems. IIoT has brought a new paradigm for OT enabling the interoperation between multiple kinds of OT and even disparate products & systems that are outside the manufacturing environment.