IT/OT convergence: the big enabler for Industry 4.0

Back in 2011, Gartner advised CIOs that aligning information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) was the way forward, providing a route to smarter decisions around the optimization of business performance and processes. How right the analyst firm was. Today, IT/OT convergence is a cornerstone and an enabler for Industry 4.0.

Traditionally, IT and OT have existed separately, sitting in silos since the start of modern manufacturing. While IT has typically focused on data, information management and communications, OT has run the operational side, controlling physical devices and processes. The result being that the OT people did not necessarily work with the IT people, often existing separately in silos.

With the arrival of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0, industries are fast seeing the advantages of bringing them closer together and, where possible, converging them.

So what benefits can be achieved from managing IT and OT convergence, alignment and integration? According to Gartner, they include optimized business processes, enhanced information for better decisions, reduced costs, lower risks and shortened project timelines. As an enabler, it also provides manufacturers with a transparent view of their manufacturing estates.

A cultural shift

There is little doubt that asset-intensive organizations can transform themselves from disconnected, or partly connected, IT-OT environments into truly integrated businesses by converging IT and OT. But organizations must remember that IT/OT convergence is a business case first and a technology case second.

IT and OT usually exist as two distinctly separate departments. They must see that there is a real business case to converge. Strategic and organizational challenges also need to be addressed to ensure a smooth transition. Firstly, the strategies of the IT and OT departments need to be firmly aligned. Responsibilities need to be carefully unified, joint governance introduced, and interdisciplinary skills developed, where required.

It is a case of cooperation by both departments. As Bill Keyworth, an Adjunct Advisor with IDC's IT Executive Programs (IEP), points out, true IT/OT convergence can only happen when IT executives can see what is both missing and available from IT to move towards a transformative model. At the same time, IT must understand what is required from it to enhance and deliver on critical OT demands.

On the other side of the fence, line-of-business (LOB) operational executives must understand what's missing and available from OT. They must also have a handle on what OT must achieve to enhance and deliver IT security and governance essentials.

Generating accurate KPIs

With IT and OT data working together on a common platform, the enterprise can generate accurate key performance indicators (KPIs). These KPIs are invaluable to manufacturers in controlling overall costs, improving production schedules and creating a more agile and flexible production model.

Previously, data reports from IT and OT were sporadic, making it difficult to judge and cost out inventories, for example. In an integrated IT/OT environment, big data and analytics can be leveraged as a base for smart, proactive decision making. Management can quickly see how a rise in material costs will impact production and change pricing strategies accordingly, and can better manage supply chains, assets and so forth.

The IT/OT security challenge

IT/OT convergence, however, comes with its challenges, given that every manufacturer is unique in its approach and is often using legacy systems that have had components bolted on over the years.

Security is a major issue. Increased connectivity and interoperability between IT and OT increases the threat surface for cyber attacks. Larger vulnerabilities can allow bad agents to make unauthorized changes to controls and mission-critical infrastructures and industrial operations, such as petrochemical and power generation plants.

According to a recent study by the Ponemon Institute , so-called turf and silo issues are the biggest barriers to convergence. The inability to control security, safety and privacy initiatives is seen as a barrier to IT/OT convergence by 47% of respondents. The study found that a lack of skilled experts and insufficient risk assessments are also complicating the convergence process.

To overcome these issues, organizations need to put in place cross-functional teams to manage cyber risk across IT and OT environments. Furthermore, the Ponemon Institute advises that support from CIOs and the C-suite is required to ensure adequate resources are put in place for IT/OT security.

The Ponemon Institute concludes that to successfully operate in a converged IT/OT ecosystem, organizations must be able to ensure the “successful consolidation and integration of cybersecurity, functional safety and data privacy functions within IT and OT control systems.”

Understanding exactly how IT/OT infrastructures interoperate is essential to holistically manage risks to OT infrastructures, put robust security policies in place and minimize the potential of disruption due to attacks. Most organizations do not have these resources in-house and require expertise from the likes of Orange Cyberdefense, who understands both domains and can put protective, detective and defensive security layers in place.

The road to smart decision making

No one says that IT/OT integration is simple. But it is inevitable in driving the smart factory, Industry 4.0 and innovation. Organizations, however, must remember that putting their IT/OT convergence strategies in place isn’t just about converging the technologies themselves. It is fundamentally a business issue, and for it to be a success, organizations need to make sure that their people, departments and processes are fully integrated.

For more information, watch our presentation on IT/OT convergence at Gartner ITxpo by our Chief Executive Helmut Reisinger, and read about 5G enabling the future factory.

Werner Reuss
Werner Reuss

Werner joined Orange Business in 2017 as Head of the IoT Industrial Vertical, to support the development and deployment of the Orange verticalized business development strategy.

During his more than 20 years' experience, he has developed extensive experience in B2B across Europe, with a focus on Industry 4.0 and digitization. Prior to joining Orange Business, Werner spent more than fifteen years with Microsoft in Germany, gaining strong IoT expertise. He has a solid marketing and business development background, complemented by great management experience.