How to best carry out IT/OT system integration

How to best carry out IT/OT system integration
Integration of IT and OT systems can help to streamline manufacturing operations and improve equipment performance. Although there are costs involved in carrying out integration, the return on investment is often worth the effort both in the short and the long term.
 
“Practically every industry can benefit from applying IT technologies to OT data,” said Kevin McClusky, Co-Director of Sales Engineering at Inductive Automation, a California-based industrial automation software provider.
 
Disparate systems and operational processes means integration methods differ for each business. McClusky suggested companies “start small” and take “what the highest value areas are” into account when implementing the integration.
 
If efficiency is the priority, companies should start by gathering production information on one or two areas and then stream that information back to an enterprise system. “The more you use the tools, the more you'll get a feel for what works for your organization and the areas where you should invest your resources,” McClusky explained.
 
ABI Research Industrial Solution Principal Analyst Pierce Owen concurred, saying companies should keep an eye on the “tangible benefits.” Questions to ask include: How much can it save if it could reconfigure lines faster? How could it reduce scrap or improve quality?

Custom and off-the-shelf solutions 

There are a number of solutions available on the market to help companies carry out the integration. IIoT integration specialists include Telit, Litmus Automation and PTC. Smart manufacturing platforms include PTC ThingWorx, Siemens MindSphere and 3DEXPERIENCE.
 
With regards to how companies choose a solution, Dave McCarthy, VP of IoT Solutions at systems integrator (SI) Bsquare, said: “Much of this relies on the balance between custom and off-the-shelf solutions. In some cases, you can find a product that addresses your need. However, many companies are exploring requirements that demand some level of customization.”
Dave McCarthy,
VP of IoT Solutions,
Bsquare


“The best approach is to find repeatable components that can be assembled to solve a need,” McCarthy added.
 
McClusky believes selecting best-of-breed software for both OT and IT applications is the way to go, for it enables companies to continue operating “efficiently on both sides while taking advantage of newer technologies for the integration.”
 
Companies should check on a software platform’s flexibility, openness, ease of integration and ability to keep up with new technologies, McClusky said. “The last thing you want is to be locked into a single vendor's platform or stuck behind the times five years from now because of a bad decision made today.”

Security after integration 

Integration of IT and OT systems may pose security risks. Hackers could infiltrate the OT system and work their way up to the IT system. An example of this is the 2017 cyberattacks on Ukraine, which crippled the websites of the country’s banks, ministries, newspapers and electricity firms, among others.
 
Richard Hsia, Product Marketing Manager of IIoT Solution at Moxa, which provides industrial networking, computing and automation solutions, said: “OT personnel does not always pay attention to cybersecurity issues. It is recommend that a firewall or router is installed between IT and OT systems. This way if the latter is compromised, the former won’t be affected right away.”
 
McClusky concurred, saying that “OT networks should always be separated from IT or corporate networks, and firewalls should be put in place to only allow specific, desired traffic to bridge the networks.”
 
It is worth noting that IT/OT integration provides an opportunity to make a company’s network more secure.
 
“Historically, in the disconnected silos of IT and OT, companies ‘bolted on’ security patches and solutions as they went along. A new application or a new piece of software meant a new security solution,” Owen said.
 
With IT/OT convergence, companies could more easily ‘build in’ security now that OT applications and solutions would all feed into a more integrated, centralized and standardized IT platform with a secure architecture, Owen explained.
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