What is an Operational Technology (OT)?
Operational technology (OT) is a technology that primarily monitors and controls physical operations. It can automate and control machines, equipment, sensors, and other assets. OT systems use in manufacturing, health care, and transportation industries.
Operational technology is a broad term encompassing many disciplines, such as engineering, IT, and operations management.
OT systems include:
- Intelligent Process Automation (IPA)– This OT system can control processes such as chemical reactions on a factory floor through computerized algorithms that monitor variables such as temperature or pressure to adjust the process.
- Web-enabled Enterprise Systems (WES)– These OT systems use data from various sources within an organization to provide an integrated view of the organization’s customer base or business processes. For example, customers may be able to check their balances online or make payments through their bank accounts using an automated system.
- Industrial Automation:Industrial automation systems are for maintenance tasks on factory floors, such as oil changes on equipment or repair jobs on machines. OT has been defined as the “technology necessary to manage the production and delivery of goods, services, information, and ideas.” Operational technology can be of two types:
- Physical Infrastructure (PI)– This category refers to all the physical systems involved in a process or operation (such as pumps or conveyors). It also includes various types of sensors that feed information about these systems into the computer system for monitoring purposes.
- Process Control Systems (PCS)– This category refers to the software that runs on servers or PCs behind the scenes. These systems include algorithms for managing processes and automating decisions based on historical data from multiple sensors, smart tags, and RFID tags.
Information Technology (IT)
Information Technology (IT) is primarily used to collect, manipulate, analyze, and generate insights from information (i.e., data). It allows businesses to interact with their customers more efficiently and effectively.
It is the foundation for the modern information age. It has become a vital tool for businesses, governments, non-profit organizations, and consumers.
It is a field of study that deals with how to develop and use software, systems, and networks to support business processes and enable access to information. Information Technology includes:
- Software and hardwareused in computers & networks
- Networked Systems:These include all types of devices that connect to the Internet, including personal computers, printers, mobile phones, laptops, etc.
- Telecommunications:This includes wired or wireless communications using telephone lines, ISDN lines, cable TV connections, etc., as well as emails and instant messaging.
- Database Management:This is organizing and storing data so users can retrieve it. Database management systems (DBMSs) are software programs that store information in databases and can be used for retrieving information from these databases.
Difference Between Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT)
Information Technology is the application of science and engineering to create, store, retrieve, and process information. It includes designing, developing, and implementing computer hardware, software, and networks.
Operational Technology (OT) is the technology supporting information technology systems, including telecommunications, utilities, and mechanical equipment. The two disciplines have similarities but can be distinguished by their focus on different areas of the business lifecycle.
The primary difference between IT and operational technology is that IT refers to computer systems and their components. In contrast, operational technology refers to the functioning of those systems within an organization.
For example, a computer system may use for managing financial data. Still, it does not necessarily mean that the computer system is an information technology component of a company’s operations or vice versa.
IT/OT convergence combines IT systems with OT systems, letting them transmit data to each other. IT/OT convergence aims to use this connectivity to enhance the value these systems deliver.
While there are different reasons organizations connect their IT and OT systems, they all have one thing in common: they want to enhance their business processes.
For example, a company might be trying to streamline its supply chain and thus improve the time it takes for products to get to clients. Or a company might be looking for ways to enhance its customer service operations so that customers can get in touch with it quickly or get a response faster.
IT/OT convergence is more than just integration between different platforms; it also includes data analytics tools that can bring together disparate data sets to create a picture of what’s happening within an organization or industry.
Examples And Use Cases For IT/OT Convergence
The term “IT/OT convergence” is becoming more popular as businesses seek to integrate technologies to improve their business processes, customer experience, and work-life balance.
Here are some of the most common use cases for IT/OT convergence:
- Flexibility: Companies are looking for IT/OT solutions to increase flexibility by providing different ways to monitor and control equipment, improve remote access options, and more.
- Cost savings: Businesses are focused on reducing costs by using technology to track equipment performance and simplify maintenance tasks.
- Improved quality of service (QoS): Businesses want solutions that can effectively ensure QoS for their customers while reducing costs through automation, mobility, and other improvements.
- An automated warehouse system can help companies save money by reducing the labor needed to transport and store materials.
- A fleet management application helps companies track their vehicles and maintain them correctly. That reduces the risk of accidents and extends the life of the vehicle, which can save money in the long run.
- Remote access software allows employees to use their computers from home or other locations, reducing their need to travel for work.
- A project management platform helps companies plan projects more efficiently, saving time and money.
- An internal social network allows employees to stay connected with each other while they’re working at home or on vacation – helping them keep up with what’s happening in the office without having to constantly check in with colleagues daily.
- The use of IoT sensors to help people with disabilities. For example, an IoT sensor can monitor their blood pressure, heart rate, and more. This data is then sent to a healthcare provider via an app or website that they can access. The person can also set up alerts if they experience any changes in their health that could indicate a problem.
- An IoT sensor in the workplace can help track employee productivity levels, saving time and money for companies that want to become more efficient.
The use of IT/OT convergence is an area that is rapidly evolving and has the potential to improve a variety of physical operations.
It includes providing better monitoring, control, and automation for machinery, enhancing equipment performance, reducing downtime, and improving safety and health.
The following are just some of the possible uses:
- IT/OT can automate various tasks, including safety-critical activities such as manufacturing, construction, testing, and maintenance.
- IT/OT can detect issues in real-time or near real-time, allowing corrective action to be taken before an unsafe condition occurs.
- IT/OT can reduce manual labor at the point of operation using technology that can monitor and control equipment remotely.
- IT support professionals can also use IT/OT convergence techniques to help employees be more productive and efficient.
- In healthcare, IT/OT convergence can help reduce medical errors, improve patient safety, and lower costs by reducing readmissions to the hospital.
- In manufacturing, IT/OT convergence can help increase worker productivity by automating manual processes like welding or painting on machines that have been out of production for months at a time.
Industrial IoT Enable the Convergence of IT And OT
The industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a term that describes the network of devices that connect, either by wired or wireless communication, to communicate or exchange information.
IIoT technologies are the “bridge” connecting IT to OT (and vice versa). It can do so through software applications, embedded devices, and sensors connected directly to the manufacturing process.
IIoT technologies such as advanced sensors, wearables, actuators, robotics, and artificial intelligence software enable this convergence of IT and OT.
Having all these interconnected devices communicating with each other allows for greater visibility into the manufacturing environment and more efficient operation, which results in significant cost savings for manufacturers.
IIoT technologies enable new applications that were not possible before. For example, IIoT technology can monitor and optimize the performance of manufacturing processes like 3D printing and additive manufacturing (a process that uses subtractive processes rather than traditional ones).
They enable companies to automate their industrial processes using existing resources – such as sensors — and allow them to optimize their operations in real-time.
Benefits of IT/OT convergence
Here are some of the main benefits:
KPIs aid in increasing productivity and performance throughout the company, assisting both teams in pursuing and accomplishing shared objectives. It improves both departments’ corporate visibility, allowing the rest of the organization to see how technology contributes to achieving shared goals. Organizations can create more precise and useful KPIs by combining OT and IT data.
Converged OT/IT solutions can help firms with centralized monitoring systems and technologies close the gap between cybersecurity and physical security.
OT and IT systems have unique security requirements and capabilities that are typically incompatible with a single approach or equipment.
Projects that combine IT and OT visibility improve OT security awareness throughout the company and assist IT teams in integrating current technologies into a broader cybersecurity plan.
Reduce Costs and Save Time
In the past, organizations have separate IT and OT departments. It led to a lot of wasted resources, as IT and OT departments often worked on different projects simultaneously.
Without IT/OT convergence, companies needed separate teams to work on these projects. It meant they would have to hire more people to meet their objectives. But with IT/OT convergence, all the necessary information is gathered by one team, resulting in fewer costs and better results.
Challenges And their Solutions for IT/OT convergence
Challenges with cybersecurity
Defending an integrated IT/OT network can be extremely difficult, especially when employing outdated OT equipment.
These devices were frequently made with little thought given to security, making them a prime target for hackers attempting to penetrate the entire network.
A unified cybersecurity strategy might not be sufficient for a fleet of devices.
Because OT devices frequently generate data packets with consistent patterns, IT architecture can be configured with intelligent filtering to find and remove unusual packets that might be signs of a cyberattack.
The systems are set up with zero-trust authentication to safeguard their connections.
Massive vast amounts of information are produced by edge devices nowadays.
The number of gadgets could overload the infrastructure if the IT systems are not ready.
Due to OT asset monitoring restrictions, IT teams could not clearly see the fleet’s edge device count and might be unready for the exact amount.
You can control the data flow from OT devices to the IT network using different intermediate architecture or cloud services.
The convergence group can ensure that all use cases address by a written convergence strategy that contains a scalability part with current and future stages.
With the use of digital twins, it is possible to detect possible failure points without disrupting the production system by mirroring resources and processes.
Various Team Perspectives:
Convincing IT and OT teams to collaborate on a convergence project can be challenging since they have distinct viewpoints, duties, and focus areas.
IT teams are accustomed to working with corporate data, executives, and the newest techniques.
However, the OT job is all about creating and utilizing long-lasting physical or mechanical systems.
Initial cross-training between IT and OT groups can aid in fostering the cooperative environment required to provide each visibility and build confidence between them.
They will have a greater understanding of each perspective’s contributions and how they must cooperate to preserve them.