As more and more process manufacturers are digitalizing their operations, operational technology (OT) teams are more frequently crossing paths with information technology (IT) teams. It has, in fact, become something of a cliché—the frustrated OT team struggling to keep IT out of their hair, or discreetly planning an end-run around them as they implement a new technology. Or there’s the alternative, a vision of an overzealous IT team storming in to change everything about the way OT operates with no regard for the complexity and unique needs of operations.
In reality, though, there is no reason IT and OT need to be at odds. Much to the contrary, today’s best performing organizations have OT and IT teams working closely and cooperatively to help improve key performance indicators and to deliver fast, sustainable return on investment for digitalization projects. The key, Claudio Fayad explains in his recent article in Efficient Plant magazine, is to follow five critical strategies to drive better collaboration at the IT/OT convergence. The strategies don’t require any special technology or deep knowledge—they simply require a commitment to cooperative effort and improved understanding.
OT and IT are not the same
One critical strategy to managing the IT/OT convergence is to openly recognize that IT and OT are not identical, and their goals, though usually aligned, are not always achieved through the same roadmaps. Claudio explains,
“Even with the vast experience in securely connecting systems that IT brings, OT has concerns that are not as common in the IT industry, so a cookie-cutter IT approach to connecting systems is often not adequate to develop effective solutions. OT teams are required to focus much more directly on safety, production, and availability of the plant—and IT strategies often must change to accommodate those needs.”
Accommodation is part of collaboration. When each team is willing to meet in the middle, they can accomplish great things together.
It’s all about data
One of those amazing things IT and OT can accomplish when they collaborate well is the democratization of data across the enterprise. When IT technologies are properly deployed in an OT architecture, teams can more quickly break down silos, moving data from the intelligent field, through the edge and into the cloud to empower cross-functional teams to innovate. Working closely with a key partner can make this easier. For example, Emerson’s Boundless Automation™ vision is designed specifically for this increase of data mobility and implementation of next-gen automation across the enterprise. Claudio elaborates on this idea in the article,
“Today, OT and IT teams can securely connect systems at the edge for easier movement of contextualized data using fit-for-purpose edge-specific technologies, data diodes, and defense-in-depth cybersecurity strategies. These systems deliver unidirectional data flow, providing continuous access to selected critical data without the risk of unauthorized personnel accessing OT systems.”
“A more advanced solution, and one that thrives on the collaboration between IT and OT, is creating an infrastructure layer to integrate the IT and OT worlds, while still keeping them separate enough that teams can accommodate differences and specific needs.”
Today’s most advanced automation partners are building technologies explicitly to serve this purpose. For example, Emerson’s DeltaV Edge Environment is designed to securely connect with all control system data and make it ready for use in real time across the enterprise, or even locally, with the ability to securely run third-party applications right at the edge.
The best digital transformation technologies implemented by collaborating teams will make the most of the IT/OT convergence, using Boundless Automation strategies in contextualized data from disparate systems for distribution across the enterprise without the risk of users touching the control system. All it takes is for IT and OT to understand each other’s needs and be ready to take the extra effort to design holistic solutions from the outset.
You can learn all five of Claudio’s strategies by reading the article in full over at Efficient Plant. And while you’re here, please take a moment to leave a comment below, sharing your strategies for better collaboration between IT and OT in your organization.