Until recently, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) teams managed different technology on different networks for completely different purposes. Uniting these two groups isn’t as easy as coordinating a task force and having a whiteboard session. As these two worlds collide, there are bound to be a few IT/OT convergence challenges along the way.
However, the time may be upon us when the conflicts of IT and OT will be put to rest for the broader purpose of making businesses more agile, efficient, and ultimately, more profitable.
In conversations with our customers and channel partners, a common thread emerges among IT/OT convergence challenges in manufacturing and industrial environments. We understand the challenges these particular environments bring and are always actively discussing how to address them. For example, you can check out this blog article we released last year on Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for manufacturing using IT/OT convergence.
In these conversations, we often see a lack of understanding about what convergence means. Before you talk IT/OT convergence, it’s important to get everyone on the same page. Although the term is used a lot, different groups may have different views of it. A basic yet thorough explanation of what IT/OT convergence is – and how it will benefit your organization – lays the groundwork for future plans.
Benefits to IT/OT Convergence
Gartner defines IT/OT convergence integration as “the end state sought by organizations where instead of a separation of IT and OT as technology areas with different areas of authority and responsibility, there is integrated process and information flow.” Integrating processes and information flow can bring enhanced benefits to your business.
Benefits convergence brings to your business:
- Convergence isn’t as simple as connecting two existing networks. True convergence will help your organization take advantage of Internet of Things (IoT) and process automation.
- A “converged network” doesn’t mean that everyone will have open access to everything. As a team, you can make decisions about where and how specific data flows (one way, back and forth, etc.).
- IT and OT will be able to pursue common objectives side by side.
- It’s more convenient to have one system to buy, configure, and manage.
Establishing the Common Ground of IT/OT Convergence
Part of understanding what IT/OT convergence actually means involves using common terminology – which can be a challenge when IT and OT interact.
For example, CIP and SIP (both sounding like “sip”) are both commonly used terms. Hold a conversation about CIP (common industrial protocol) with an OT team and you’re talking about a protocol that automates industrial processes: control, safety, motion, configuration, etc.
Hold a conversation about SIP (session initiation protocol) with a group of IT team experts and you’re discussing protocol that initiates, maintains, and terminates real-time voice, video and messaging applications.
Therefore, your initial conversation needs to lay the groundwork of understanding and make sure all teams are speaking the same language. IT focuses on office security and accessibility – it’s been the keeper of ethernet technology for decades. OT focuses on production safety, reliability, quality and uptime/availability. Historically, these two worlds required different skillsets and involved different training, knowledge, and experiences. But IT/OT convergence is changing that.
It is possible for these two groups to come together – despite their differences. Honesty and openness are vital to ensure that valid questions are answered, reasons behind decisions are clear, acronyms and terms are truly understood and the benefits outweigh any potential IT/OT convergence challenges.
Teamwork: The Roadmap to Success in Convergence
It’s easy for teams to work in silos. This is especially true for IT and OT teams.
As IT and OT unite, manufacturing and industrial environments will need someone to step forward to align priorities and encourage work as a single entity. This person should act as a neutral third party, not taking any “side.” The person (or group) who leads IT/OT convergence within your organization needs to be able to communicate with – and relate to – both teams. Understanding how to convey information in a way that encourages cooperation and collaboration helps everyone buy into the concept.
Convergence doesn’t have to happen all at once. By building trust and faith in the process over time, team members will come to naturally support the idea as they learn to work together and see the impacts of their collaborative projects. Until it comes to fruition, it can be hard to believe that IT/OT convergence really offers the benefits that everyone says it does.
Make it clear from the start that it’s okay if trial runs don’t go smoothly – especially in the beginning. Everyone should expect hiccups, mistakes, and questions. Be open about how issues will be handled as they arise and where people can turn if they have concerns. Identify the right leader within your organization and any partner organizations that understands all of this and can guide the teams together towards success.
Future Proof Your Company
Organizations must adapt or risk being left behind. Focus on setting up the right strategic process for your IT/OT convergence. To overcome these challenges, some IT and OT professionals find value in partnering with a third party that understands both perspectives. Not only does this provide an unbiased, go-to resource, but ideas shared by experts outside your organization may be better received.
Vision Technologies prides itself on providing technology agnostic support, understanding your company and goals as a whole to find the best possible solution.
Contact us today to schedule a free assessment.