IT and OT, Friends or Foes in the Industrial Internet of Things?

In the past, Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) were seen as two distinct domains of a business. The former focused on all technologies that were necessary to manage the processing of information, whereas the latter supported the devices, sensors and software that were necessary for physical value creation and manufacturing processes.

One of the factors that is reshaping the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) market is the convergence of Information Technology and Operational Technology.

But, like so many other aspects of the IoT, the convergence of IT and OT is not new. Companies like Atos in 2012 wrote this white paper. A couple of years later, in May 2014, a keynote at Cisco Live titled “The Internet of Everything Ecosystem – Bringing IT and OT Together with the Internet of Things,” industry leaders discussed how to take advantage of the business opportunities created by the IoT.The key is to ensure your infrastructure is capable of supporting and managing the flood of data generated by IoT so this data can be used to produce business value. This value comes from real-time information that enables improved processes, faster time to market, faster response to customer demands, the creation of new revenue streams, global visibility and more efficient operations”.

Rockwell Automation chairman and CEO, Keith Nosbusch, remarked at the 2014 Internet of Things World Forum in Chicago that “IT/OT convergence still is in its infancy, and it holds great promise for the future.  We are just beginning the journey, driven by the convergence of IT and OT. Historically these are two different worlds. Both IT and OT are essential, but true convergence remains a challenge. Over past several years, we’ve been working to bridge this gap, to bring a robust IP-based infrastructure with hardware and software products and services. Only a few of the most progressive manufacturers have truly been able to bridge the IT/OT gap”.

Recently the company Advantech B & B SmartWorx explained in this post the reasons to invest heavily in IT / OT integration and Industrial IoT. This company has been evangelizing about the merging OT and IT on the Internet of Things.

The investment of companies like GE, PTC, Bosch, Siemens, Schneider or Cisco in Industrial Internet have begun to force the two areas closer together.

“The hype around the IoT have created some common ground between IT and OT, but there has been a lack of discussion with regards to how both sides can meet in the middle to address IoT and simultaneously preserve their unique responsibilities”.

We have seen how the convergence of networks – both industrial (OT) and enterprise (IT) are enabling applications such as video surveillance, smart meters, asset/package tracking, fleet management, digital health monitors and a host of other next-generation connected services.

The days of discussing the convergence of information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) are over.

With billions of devices already connected through the Internet of Things (IoT) and billions more to still bring on line, that convergence now is a reality.

So as we look at what it means when the world of Operational Technology and the Information Technology converge we need to assess it from two angles.

The IT angle of Industrial Internet

IT systems and professionals have the responsibility for setting up information technology infrastructures supporting industry businesses.

The IT in Industrial Internet enable interactions with the physical world of products, be it on the shop floor or on the field, and the challenges associated with managing this new world.

The OT angle of Industrial Internet

The OT angle or the business angle is where business heads imagine new products for the industrial internet that are IOT-enabled at birth.

The business side is now designing a new era of products that assume interactions with corporate IT systems whether they are within the managed corporate IT networks or not.

IT and OT convergence will drive Industrial Internet of Things adoption

As interest in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) gains greater traction across industries, engineers are realizing that it’s very possible—and not all that complicated—to monitor production parameters and detect deviation from required quality standards, predict future events and trends, continuously optimize product quality, and reduce overall production time. This ability to control every step in the product lifecycle will enable new business opportunities and significantly change the concept of manufacturing through instant access to real-time process information and feedback.

To achieve this, however, companies’ information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) departments will need to change how they work together. To adapt, OT will need to improve skills in the areas of security, teamwork and communication.  In this interesting article, “IT and OT Must Adapt for the IoT – 13 Experts Share How” we can read how OT will need to improve skills in the areas of security, teamwork and communication.

Business Drivers for IT/OT convergence          

Main business drivers for the IT/OT convergence are

  • Increase operational efficiency utilizing machine data is the typical starting point for most of these Industrial Internet initiatives.
  • Advancing Consumer Insight with predictive algorithms for better customer service offerings and forecasting demand.

Hurdles for IT/OT convergence          

There are certain challenges for IT/OT convergence. First and foremost, these solutions dabble in a very diverse set of equipment that have a myriad set of protocols. Over time they generate humungous amounts of data that need to be stored in some cases forever. Building solutions which cater to these diverse interfacing requirements and unstructured data storage and processing needs is non-trivial. All of this unstructured data needs to be made available for processing in real time as well as scheduled processing.

Typical corporate IT teams need support with skills and infrastructure for building these data infrastructures. Particular attention needs to be paid to the security and compliance risks for this new infrastructure. Unlike the past you now need to know whether the industrial equipment out there on the field has been authenticated, is securely transmitting data and whether there is threat vulnerability from the asset. Again all these need to be assessed in real time and a continual basis. As you look at the physical world there are situations where your solutions need to cater for the diversity of networks that maybe involved.

The need of IoT platforms for the IT/OT convergence          

When I wrote “It is an IoT Platform, stupid !.” I emphasize the importance of select the right IoT platform because it will affect your IoT strategy?. In Industrial Internet, the selection process it is, if anything, more important.

Sensors, Machines, devices, gateways, PLCs, IT systems will need to provide and process the information your business processes need when its need them. Industrial networks and IT networks need to interoperate; your solutions need to also function in an environment where some of this data is available partially.

Thus with the increasing number of connected devices & data, IT/OT convergence is of paramount importance for developing with the right IoT platform which will help drive insights & efficiency into your hyper connected enterprise.

Should IT and OT merge to accelerate the pace of change in Industrial Internet of Things

No doubt that the Internet of Things technology will accelerate the integration of OT and IT systems, but the fact is as today and according with several of the global cellular providers the growth curve in data plans for IoT M2M devices hadn’t turned out to be as explosive as their companies had expected it to be.

Some engineers have expressed the fear that all of their existing infrastructure would soon become hopelessly obsolete, while another engineers, have assured that it would be a long time before even wired Ethernet was well established enough to be trusted in Industrial Internet, and that the advent of Industrial IoT must surely be a long way down the road.

“There appears to be a rather wide expectation gap between the engineers who think that IoT technology is ready for to apply in industrial Internet, and those who believe that IoT tech isn’t ready for prime time yet”.

Until now, industrial networking professionals have been quite conservatives. They argued that industrial networks can’t be allowed to fail and many industrial companies were committed to single-vendor, proprietary technologies that make change prohibitively expensive.

But while the OT world was still busy getting different kinds of machines to communicate at all, the IT world was making incredible progress. Ethernet networking standards were developed and adopted. Cost points fell to amazingly low levels. New Ethernet technologies continued to appear, and we’ve now reached the point where the so-called “Internet of Things” is becoming a reality.

This will mean that OT can’t ignore IT anymore. The opportunities are too great. When attaching a remote sensor to a battery powered node on a wireless mesh network can make the sensor data available to an analytics application on another continent, it’s time to stand up and take notice. That remote sensor has just become a node on the Internet of Things, and the value of both the sensor and the data it collects have suddenly increased exponentially. Rather than eliminating that sensor, IoT tech has improved it.

Note: That doesn’t mean that remote devices can’t continue to speak languages like Modbus, or that they’ll suddenly have to perform tasks that they weren’t designed to handle. For legacy devices, industrial IoT will simply provide a connectivity stack that carries their data to modern networks and modern applications. It’s true that the cellular providers will see rapid growth in their data communications businesses, as more and more remote devices take advantage of the flexibility provided by cellular data networking, but it won’t be the overnight explosion that some carriers had anticipated. Industrial equipment will still have access to other connectivity options, and there will be plenty of “things” that don’t require cellular providers data plans.

Key Takeaway

The Internet of Things is an evolution, and in the case of Industrial Internet (IIOT) we’ll watch OT and IT converge. This convergence will drive new industry solutions. We’ll see exciting new industry applications emerge, but we’ll also watch plenty of existing tech keep chugging before shut down. Data networking has been evolving for decades, and it will continue to do so. Industrial Internet of Things technology isn’t a break with the past; it’s merely a pathway to the future.

We could only imagine a world where public services are able to feed disaster or emergency data into enterprise IT/OT systems and vice versa, or where connected vehicle systems providing immense value to both customers and vehicle manufacturers and the smart cities, or where smart grids of tomorrow work in a safer and more economic manner, with the convergence of IT/OT systems.

And so IT and OT are sentenced to terms.

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  1. Pingback: IT and OT, Friends or Foes in the Industrial Internet of Things? | TechBuzz360

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