Information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) integration can optimize equipment performance and produce financial gains. But issues — such as cultural divides between departments — must be overcome before successful integration can take place.
Information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) integration can optimize equipment performance and produce financial gains
. But issues — such as cultural divides between departments — must be overcome before successful integration can take place.
The first challenge of IT/OT integration is addressing compatibility issues between different hardware and protocols.
“When you walk onto a factory floor, you generally see dozens of types of machines from dozens of manufacturers, all communicating in proprietary protocols, making it impossible for them to exchange data with each other,” said Pierce Owen, Principal Analyst of the ABI Research Industrial Solution.
Given the situation, data exchanges with an IT system is even more difficult, Owen noted.
Nonetheless, technology issues can be overcome with data consolidation and integration tools. Products on the market, such as Telit deviceWISE, Litmus Automation LoopEdge and PTC’s Kepware, can translate different protocols and deliver data to any level of an enterprise, Owen added. He said this was done by passing data from platforms running on-premises (like SCADA) to the cloud or an enterprise app.
Cultural divide between IT and OT
The bigger challenge is the cultural divide between OT and IT departments
within a company. IT and OT departments do not talk to each other regularly and therefore do not understand each other well. They also have different priorities and projects.
“OT systems are bought, supported and run outside of IT. And they may use very different approaches to managing systems and data. So IT needs to learn how to work with the engineers and operations people on the OT side,” said Kristian Steenstrup, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner.
OT protocols were so complicated that IT staff tended to not bother with them, said Richard Hsia, Product Marketing Manager of IIoT Solution at Moxa
, which provides industrial networking, computing and automation solutions.
Both sides must form a consensus before pursuing integration, Hsia said, adding the goal should be to bring the “maximum benefit to the company as a whole,” instead of “individual wins or losses.”
ABI’s Owen suggested forming a cross-functional team to give IT and OT staff the opportunity to reach a consensus on the terms, tools and processes of integration, before the technical aspects are carried out.
A dialogue that expands across the company to improve understanding may also take place. “Extracting maximum value from an IoT initiative requires cooperation between IT and OT as well as other departments across the wider organization, such as human resources and legal,” said Dave McCarthy, VP of IoT Solutions at Bsquare
, a NASDAQ-listed technology distributor and system integrator.
“I am always impressed at the interactions when different areas of the business come together for the first time. Most often it leads to an improved understanding of various perspectives and new business ideas,” McCarthy added.
OT drives integration
Kevin McClusky, Co-Director of Sales Engineering at Inductive Automation
, a provider of industrial automation software solutions, suggested putting the OT department in the driver’s seat in the integration process.
“Many organizations see the integration as an IT-down approach. Enforcing new standards on OT from IT is often the wrong approach,” McClusky said.
OT engineers and decision makers are usually responsible for ensuing product delivery, which is critical to generating revenues. Installing new technologies as part of integration risks disrupting operations on the factory floor.
McClusky advised using an “OT-up” approach for the integration initiative. This way, while integration is in progress, the factory can continue production by “piping data from existing OT systems or doing data collection with best-of-breed OT software.” Adopting newer OT technologies allows for data to stream from OT systems to IT systems seamlessly, McClusky added.