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5 Ways IT Can Support OT to Accelerate Digital Transformation

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December 15, 2020

This blog post is excerpted from our new eBook, “The Convergence Imperative: The Critical Need for IT to Come Together with OT Around Data.” Download the full eBook here.

While IT teams at non-industrial companies have made tremendous strides moving transactional work packages to the cloud, such as integrating and exploiting enterprise-wide data from CRMs, ERPs, and other data platforms, industrial enterprises continue to struggle to fully leverage the operations data they collect. This is far from a knock against IT leaders! The challenge of adopting new edge-to-cloud and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions is indeed steep, with significant technological and cultural barriers.

Operational technology has been traditionally siloed from IT – literally and figuratively.Operational assets typically operate disparately. Their time-series data is unintegrated and lacking critical context for meaningful, timely analysis and action. Equipment-generated data is stored locally, mostly in process historians, with spreadsheets as the go-to analytical tool. And that data and those spreadsheets live separately from each other, from one facility to the next, proliferating data silos and compounding IT’s job.

At the same time, and perhaps even more critically, OT and IT professionals have functioned in parallel work streams with conflicting mandates. OT has focused on delivering and maintaining optimal performance, protecting its equipment and people. IT has been charged with managing and safeguarding technologies and intellectual property. Their technologies, processes, aims and professional world views are sometimes at odds, even if they share ultimate goals for business efficiency, continuity and profitability.

Understanding the technological and cultural divides between IT and OT, what steps can IT leaders take to help unlock convergence and digital transformation? They certainly can’t just take the wheel; transformation takes time and requires mutual trust. That said there are steps that IT can take to help simplify and accelerate the traditionally long and arduous process of integrating and makingOT data actionable.

Here’s how you can support OT to accelerate digital transformation

  1. Solve: Work more closely with OT to solve OT’s age-old data silo problem by owning data integration and data engineering, removing the overly burdensome data wrangling challenges from engineers at the plant. Free them to utilize their engineering training and experience to focus on what’s most important to them and the business: safely maintaining plant uptime and productivity.
  2. Collaborate: Collaborate with OT to understand their unique needs and build a future-ready, adaptive and sustainable data foundation based on that understanding, including understanding that the business does not want to rip out systems that have worked well for years. Help OT build on what they’ve established and fully leverage their existing systems. At the same time, collaborate with OT to develop a roadmap for the next five to ten years, upgrading and replacing technologies at a pace that leverages your existing investments but captures the benefits of new technologies that can ride on your current data infrastructure.
  3. Standardize: Team with OT to establish and drive data quality standards to reduce high semantic variation across OT data, so it can be more easily contextualized with IT data, making projects more sustainable.
  4. Deliver: Deliver the converged, multi-modal architecture required for IT/OT convergence and encourage cloud adoption – and help OT understand which packages are best in the cloud and best at the edge.
  5. Govern: Make data governance easier to track lineage across proliferating data and analytics. And do so by making it more aligned with the way systems are managed in the OT environment and deliver improved explainability as AI is deployed. As Bharat Mistry, Principal Security Strategist at global cybersecurity specialist Trend Micro, shared in a recent article,“The biggest mistake I see is a business taking their IT security strategy and applying it to the OT world, it just doesn’t work. You need to identify what’s important in OT, look at your business processes and then take a risk-based approach to say where your critical assets sit.”