• By Bill Lydon
  • InTech

By Bill Lydon, InTech, Chief Editor

Information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) convergence is being discussed at virtually all the numerous industry conferences and symposiums I attend. The goal of IT and OT convergence is the orchestration of all aspects of manufacturing\, including customer requirements, supply chain, production, and logistics, to achieve efficient manufacturing in all industries, including discrete, process, and utilities. Industrial automation and control systems are an integral part of OT. Manufacturing organizations have a history of separate IT and OT departments with each focusing on their respective functions. Many companies have come to the realization that to be more responsive to their customers and achieve competitive manufacturing, there needs to be a convergence of IT and OT.

There are technical challenges to integrating IT and OT and fortunately new technical solutions to help this happen. Bridging communications from the world of automation and control with IT systems without impacting the operations of automation and control systems can be a challenge. Automation and control systems must function in real time without fail. IT interfaces must be nonintrusive for production operations to continuously run smoothly and efficiently. The contrast between cybersecurity in the IT world and requirements for automation and control systems is a serious topic, because there are major differences in requirements. ISA-99 cybersecurity standards are certainly valuable in architecting and protecting industrial automation systems, recognizing the difference relative to IT.

OT and IT place different emphasis on avoiding failures, because the impacts and damage from disruption are so radically different. Operationally, OT in most cases runs 24x7, and planned outages are seldom. Systems are expected to run for many months or years without interruption. Unplanned outages are a crisis that require emergency procedures and responses to restore normal operations. A controlled shutdown is preferable to the risk of an OT system crash, which may put lives on the line, as well as equipment and facilities that could cost tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to replace.

There are technical challenges, but many users I meet discuss the organizational issues related to IT and OT silos in organizations. People on both sides are essential for successfully managing and executing the transition to converged, aligned, and integrated IT and OT systems. There needs to be shared goals for IT and OT convergence to optimize business processes and enhanced information for better decisions, reduced costs, lower risks, increased quality, improved productivity, and achieving high total system availability and reliability.

The common denominator in companies I have talked with that are successful in converging IT and OT is at the people level. IT and OT people have developed a rapport and mutual respect so they can focus on common goals. These relationships avoid the "us versus them" standoff to protect the IT and OT silos.

The world is a highly competitive place, and I believe successful IT and OT convergence will be essential for companies to survive and thrive relative to competitors in the future.

Have you had coffee with your IT people and taken them on a plant tour lately?

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About The Authors

Bill Lydon is an InTech contributing editor with more than 25 years of industry experience. He regularly provides news reports, observations, and insights here and on Automation.com