Traditionally, OT referred to technology in manufacturing environments that linked factories, production lines and industrial measurements that SCADA or other controls provide to modern data services. On the IT side, alerts and dashboards make the information accessible and provide more relevant insights for controllers, managers and leaders.
Today, the term is more generally applied to almost any business that uses IT in operational roles, mostly desk-based teams overseeing smart factory devices powered by Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things, 5G networks and a range of other technological constructs that shorten the distance and eliminate lag between head office and the work floor.
There is a growing convergence as IT dashboards present OT data to workers connected with smart devices to improve process and business understanding. And, as the coal face technology gets smarter, more data becomes available, allowing for smoother production, faster alerts to problems, allowing leaders to respond to actionable insights from real-time data.
While established production-based firms move to become digital businesses (through digital transformation or other initiatives), startups have been developing connected IT/OT from the off, creating a range of attitudes and differences in approach. Follow these 5 tips to help start your business on a road to IT/OT alignment and ensure that problems down the production line are avoided or resolved faster than ever.
1. Don’t just jump in, create a plan
While vendors love to pitch their solutions as simple, there is lots to learn about IT/OT convergence from both sides of the fence. Whatever “walk before you run” metaphor you want to use, any business needs to set up a team that provides a solid platform for action, incorporating the wishes of business leadership, and helps resolve the wants and needs of both the IT and OT teams.
Establishing a maturity model will help understand the current internal landscape and uncover weak spots or opportunities. Building a framework and roadmap helps align all the stakeholder needs into a logical plan that can be budgeted, with responsibilities aligned to roles and help when it comes to sourcing products or partners to build out any solutions.
2. Win over business leadership
With a framework and plan in place, it becomes easier for department leaders to win over the rest of the board or leadership. Costings and budget approvals become clear and any high-level documents whittle down the inevitable jargon to a language that everyone in the business can understand. With leadership on-board, IT and OT teams can put forward any competing views and get a balanced hearing.
If there is leadership resistance, it’s worth highlighting other examples of IT/OT convergence within your industry or market. Convergence is becoming an imperative as early-adopters reap the rewards of their efforts and are building next-generation facilities that take convergence to new heights. Leave your leadership in no uncertain terms; show them that staying still or rejecting plans could lead to embarrassing failures in the marketplace as customers move to providers who are more efficient or have more robust facilities.
3. Align the IT/OT systems
When it comes to practical planning, IT needs to lay out all its enterprise software services and necessary vertical applications, including asset management, execution systems, billing tools and ERP. On the other side, OT needs to list all the centralized and distributed functions and facilities (such as SCADA, energy management, process controls, fault monitors and so on).
Both sides may have different plans or design philosophies but the two need to hammer out a practical structure to link the appropriate IT applications to the OT functions that deliver the necessary feedback and control mechanisms. Seeking advice from IT/OT specialists can help smooth over any cracks, while some areas – such as security – may site more naturally with one team over the other.
4. Cross-train employees and empower both teams
Ensure that a mix of roles are jointly trained and responsible for the delivery of IT/OT services, integration, support and management, and creating a unified approach to the solution to avoid any fractious relations or power struggles.
Empower the teams to make decisions and drive or provide further in-role training across the departments. Where possible, a unified budget should be used to avoid creating arguments over expenditure, and system alerts should be notified to all relevant roles, not just those on the IT or OT side.
5. Define the IT/OT differences
Having spent all this time bringing people, roles and teams together, there will be areas where IT or OT have clear primacy. Through each phase, assign roles or tasks on a best-fit basis, but ensure there is backup and support or collaboration with someone from the other department to help build a wider understanding of the importance and capabilities across the business.
For clarity, OT roles are usually focused on supporting value creation through manufacturing processes while IT supports the technologies focused on information processing. If people end up on the “wrong side of the fence”, this should be cause for concern, but if members show a natural affinity for their new role, they should be allowed to prosper.
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