As manufacturers adopt Industry 4.0 and take steps to further digitalise, one area of focus that has emerged is the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), or IT/OT convergence.
Traditionally, IT and OT systems worked in silos as they governed different domains. OT is heavily involved in the physical world, such as manufacturing systems and industrial equipment. IT, on the other hand, relates to the digital world of servers, networking, data and other digital domains. As a result, IT and OT systems in most organisations were viewed as essentially disparate.
Leveraging effective IT/OT convergence to maximise the benefits of Industry 4.0
Rapid digitalisation and Industry 4.0 have opened doors to help improve current manufacturing processes via IT/OT convergence. Here are some examples of how new technologies are being harnessed in the manufacturing context with the support of better digital infrastructure:
- Digital twins have allowed manufacturers to proactively assess how environmental factors, adverse events, workflow changes or labour fluctuations will impact product quality or production.
- Data collection and data analytics is enabling easier aggregation and analysis of data from all sources, including sensor-laden devices. This helps identify risks and opportunities more easily.
- Comprehensive and coordinated approach to cybersecurity; as outdated OT surfaces are more vulnerable to attacks from cybercriminals.
- Cloud services and edge computing has enabled enhanced analytical and data storage capabilities.
- Augmented reality in a connected system helps maintain operations remotely, enhance training simulations and guide people through complex processes and repairs.
- Predictive maintenance analysis has allowed manufacturers to minimise potential downtime caused by malfunctioning machines.
These are just a few of the many benefits that can be achieved through effective IT/OT convergence.
Case study: Smart factories of today and how they have adapted with technology
Smart factories have highly digitised, reconfigurable manufacturing systems. This allows for on-demand manufacturing, where manufacturing processes adapt in response to product orders.
A smart factory can change its operations based on what the deliverables are, and can account for orders which were entered then subsequently edited. Such smart systems and processes are a huge upgrade in the manufacturing world, but rest heavily on the successful merger and synchronisation between IT and OT processes and infrastructure.
This is because smart factories depend on IoT devices to monitor and transmit information about the whole manufacturing environment, from equipment status to products. Smart factories can thus flag potential and existing issues to technicians.
With IT/OT convergence, manufacturers have leveraged automation to increase efficiency and production, decrease costs and scale up their operations.
Challenges to effective IT/OT convergence
There are many tangible benefits of IT/OT convergence, and many manufacturers are striving to achieve a smooth integration. Yet, what are the obstacles?
Every manufacturer is at a different stage of their digitalisation journey, and each faces unique challenges depending on the nature of their business operations. However, here are some common problems that most manufacturers will encounter:
- Siloed processes and expertise. It may take some time to break down the traditional walls separating IT and OT systems and processes, to bring together the teams, processes and systems into a coherent whole.
- IoT security. IoT devices have been historically vulnerable to attacks, which means that the OT attack surface expands when it is integrated with IT. Cybersecurity should therefore be a major concern to the business, as OT is responsible for smooth facility operations.
- Integrating the tech stack. Existing IT and OT systems may use different programming languages, portals and/or platforms. To ensure smooth IT/OT convergence, the business may need to manually develop integrations.
How can we overcome challenges and seize opportunities with IT/OT convergence?
While IT/OT convergence is the path to the future, it needs to be executed in an organised and strategic manner. Business leaders need to build a holistic roadmap to integrate IT and OT systems that aligns with overall business strategy. On top of that, like any type of change management, business leaders must ensure organisation-wide alignment to maximise the chances of success.
A continued focus on workforce readiness by upskilling and reskilling employees is also needed to prime workers for ongoing and continuous improvement across the organisation, as well as to equip them with the tools necessary to thrive in today’s digital-first world.
Here at INCIT, we champion manufacturing transformation, and provide both the tools and the reach to support manufacturers who are bringing together IT and OT as they ramp up digitalisation to build nimble, flexible and future-ready organisations. To learn more about how you can position your business for success in this fast-evolving business landscape, contact us.