IT vs OT: Why they’re converging & why you should care before it’s too late

As manufacturing technology has evolved over the decades, IT has played an increasingly important role. However, throughout the Industry 3.0 era, with the introduction of computer control and automation, IT has remained largely separate from OT (operational technology) in the manufacturing environment. IT is commonly used at the business level without connection to the OT servicing at the production line. Both IT and OT have grown in sophistication and value to business, but the next revolution will come with the bridging of that IT/OT divide. It’s a revolution that is happening now.

Industry 4.0 is predicated on the Industrial Internet of Things (Industrial IoT) where deep data is harnessed from a myriad of connected sensors and devices and used to make both instant, automated operational decisions and to enable business intelligence at a strategic level. The result is intelligent factories that run smoother, more efficiently and can respond more quickly to changing market conditions. It’s a revolution that relies on IT/OT integration. Industrial IoT technologies make that integration possible.

Gartner has defined this IT/OT integration as "the end state sought by organisations (most commonly, asset-intensive organisations) where instead of a separation of IT and OT as technology areas with different areas of authority and responsibility, there is an integrated process and information flow." What this means in the practical manufacturing environment is that traditional OT data silos, where data collected is restricted in use to the immediate production environment, are instead opened to the internal (or even external) network for complex use with IT systems.

The benefits to the global manufacturing industry of this revolution are extensive. For example, IT/OT convergence integrates production directly with the supply chain, both up and downstream from the manufacturing plant. Intelligent, automated processes based on this integration will be able to fine tune time-to-market delivery to and manage inventory precisely with minimal human intervention or planning. Meanwhile similar processes will be able to monitor and pre-emptively initiate plant maintenance with increased efficiency, maximising up time. Ultimately, it provides financial returns in minimising cost to the organisation.

Those manufacturers that get on board with such processes early – even allowing for the risk involved in early adoption – will gain significant operational and market advantage. Those that do not will find themselves falling further behind in a race in which it will become increasingly difficult to make up lost ground.

Given these realities it may seem that implementing Industry 4.0 principles would be a priority. But IT/OT integration is an essential feature of this and the difficulties in integrating two parts of the business that have traditionally not spoken the same language – both technically and philosophically  - creates a barrier that is slowing down adoption of Industry 4.0 practices for many businesses.

The theoretical advantages of IT/OT integration do nothing to overcome the practical difficulties involved in switching a legacy business to work in this new paradigm. The traditionally enclosed world of OT needs to open vast swaths of data to IT. The IT world needs to learn to talk to systems it is not familiar dealing with. Both sides need to address the security concerns raised by Industrial IoT devices transmitting data across the network. No manufacturer is inherently comfortable with the idea of exposing their business to potential external disruption.

At Facteon this is a problem we’ve dealt with for some time. As manufacturers we’ve tackled this problem – and the development of our intelligent manufacturing products – with the knowledge that IT and OT teams need to shed their current views on best practice. The role each has in the manufacturing process to truly get the advantage of Industrial IoT technologies must also be revaluated.

The solution we’ve arrived at is one that brings intelligent manufacturing advantages while maintaining the flexibility you need to keep pace with ongoing developments in technology. COSMOline, our Industrial IoT software, makes the movement of data and information across the IT/OT bridge seamless. It is designed for easy integration with other systems to enable the exchange of relevant operational and business informatio

COSMOline provides software equipment maintenance and real-time monitoring as well as management of efficiency, quality and power consumption. It also integrates with existing industrial automation stacks and uses machine learning to evaluate and report on the production line’s state. This gives the visibility and accessibility that managers demand

COSMOedge, an edge computing unit powered by Facteon’s Industrial IoT platform, communicates with third party software or COSMOline. Production data is drawn from PLCs and intelligent sensors in real time. Then a software solution, such as COSMOline, converts this data into meaningful information. COSMOedge uses high-level encryption to maintain data security. It is designed to integrate with multiple products, such as SCADA, MES and ERP.

Our own experience as manufacturers developing and using this system demonstrates that the marriage of IT and OT systems need not be a major a barrier to Industry 4.0 adoption. We have been able to provide our customers with tangible benefits in using these technologies.

We have been able to provide customers with tangible benefits, such as increased operational efficiencies and cost savings, by using these technologies quickly. We put the customer on a journey towards full intelligent factory implementation without them having to give up immediately on their existing technology investment. Given how dramatically technology can (and will) change in a very short space of time, taking an approach to the Industry 4.0 journey that maintains flexibility is vital to success. For us, getting the IT/OT integration right, with an approach that puts that integration as the core pillar of your Industry 4.0 adoption strategy, has been the key to success.

Successful IT/OT integration is an essential step in the journey towards creating a fully functioning, dynamic and flexible intelligent factory. It’s not a small step to take, but without it your ability to continue to compete in what is now a global and very fluid manufacturing environment will be limited.

Greg Purcell

Greg Purcell

Industrial IoT Lead Engineer

Greg’s role involves leading the implementation of Facteon’s Industrial IoT solutions for our software product, COSMOline. With his prior experience as a Facteon Control Systems Engineer, Greg brings a unique perspective and a strong understanding of PLC’s. He’s also a certified integrator of Ignition by Inductive Automation. Greg plays a key role in defining and implementing Facteon’s modern day SCADA approach that aims to prevent SCADA becoming a bottleneck for machine data.