What is IT/OT convergence?
One of the key pillars of digital transformation is IT/OT convergence. Companies use information technology (IT) for the data, insights and communication they need to succeed in their business environment. Especially in manufacturing, they also use operational technology (OT) to monitor and control machines and physical processes. Traditionally, IT and OT have been separate worlds. The main reason for this has been the need to protect physical operations from external manipulation, but organizational and technological limitations have also played a role. The IT/OT gap has offered security for mission-critical systems, but also puts serious limits on companies’ efficiency, agility and access to information.
IT/OT convergence refers to “connecting” OT with company IT systems and integrating it directly into core operations. Industry 4.0 technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), smart sensors and edge computing have already provided a strong foundation. New possibilities of convergence include subscription services, XaaS and real-time collaboration. IT/OT convergence also paves the way for the digital enterprise of tomorrow, where digitalization and automation empower every human at every level.
OT vs. IT—What are the differences?
Information technology is mostly used to collect, structure, and analyze data. It also serves as the basis for communications and central decision making. IT systems include software (operating systems, ERP, SCM, analytics) as well as hardware like servers, laptops and routers. IT stakeholders tend to focus on data availability and integrity.
Operational technology also involves hardware and software. Examples include SCADA systems for modeling and managing entire industrial systems or devices like PLCs, actuators and smart sensors that enable smart device monitoring and control. While IT requires regular updates, reliability, stability and seamless operations are core OT needs.
The industrial internet of things (IIoT) is the use of smart sensors and actuators to optimize manufacturing and industrial processes. Also known as the industrial internet or Industry 4.0, IIoT uses the power of smart machines and real-time analytics to take advantage of the data that industrial assets produce.
Edge computing is done at or near the data source instead of relying on the cloud/data center to do all the work. The edge controller is often the secure end point for all plant floor systems.
It places emphasis on bringing computation and data storage closer to the sensor with a subset of the data sent to the cloud for centralized analysis.
What are the challenges of IT/OT convergence?
There are many benefits of convergence—especially for first movers. However, bridging the IT/OT gap presents several key challenges:
Technology silos: IT and OT systems operate based on different protocols and standards. OT systems are often highly splintered, sometimes involving a wide range of niche applications and protocols at a single site. Legacy systems are also common in OT. Organizations need to provide a digital infrastructure that can model these diverse sources within a common technological framework. Emerging technologies are already offering powerful help. For example, digital twins of physical systems make it possible to safely test changes or analyze the potential impact of events.
Separate skill sets: One of the reasons for the IT/OT gap is the generally low level of cross-skilling between IT and OT staff. IT and OT teams also have different methods and cultures—and often conflicting priorities. The lack of common ground between them also makes it hard for management to address overall IT/OT operations. Several options are available for integrating the IT-OT-management triangle. Depending on their specific needs, companies have a wide range of options here. This may mean embedded experts or cross-functional IT/OT teams. The best solutions offer tailored approaches for enabling IT, OT and management to work as a unit.
Security: As IT and OT converge, open architecture, new APIs and masses of interconnected devices are vastly expanding the risk landscape. Connecting physical devices and processes makes them vulnerable to abuse by attackers. The security of the converged system also needs to be addressed holistically. These demands mean organizations need to train staff and reassess their processes.
Organizational readiness: OT/IT convergence demands alignment throughout the entire organization. This involves not only strategy and culture, but also the seamless integration of complex technologies and processes. Companies need excellent insights into their business and a reliable understanding of how convergence will affect their organizations. Because convergence opens an entire new world of possibilities, companies that do not build their strategies on robust vision will miss out.
Despite these difficulties, IT/OT convergence offers great benefit even today. Smart manufacturing harnesses extensive integration between all systems and provides 100% data collection with full transparency. This enables machine learning and AI to pave the way for the next evolution. In autonomous manufacturing, IT/OT systems will use human-level intelligence to work, learn and adapt without human intervention.
Whitepaper: "Bringing two worlds together"
Blog article: The Mechanisms for IT/OT Convergence — Yokogawa Digital Solutions
Related Wiki Article: IT/OT Infrastructure
Explore how the Collaborative Information Sever converges IT and OT: Collaborative Information Server | Yokogawa Europe
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