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3 ways to optimise the convergence of IT and operations

3 ways to optimise the convergence of IT and operations

Past experience tells us that too often it was a problem, not an opportunity, that brought IT and operations together. Whether it was a security incident, a system failure, or unplanned downtime, those encounters did little to breed mutual trust and collaboration between the two teams. But the world of manufacturing is changing. And to keep up, the relationship between IT and operations must change with it.

Historically, operational technologies were typically stand-alone devices, disconnected from IT systems, with proprietary software and hardware. These technologies fell under the responsibility of engineering, were task-specific systems, and were highly customised depending on the industry. But now, IT and OT are being unified as part of the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0).

If you’re a visionary operations leader, you’ll recognise that the reams of data you use to support real-time decision-making could unlock additional value for your company. But then you need the support of your IT colleagues to make this data meaningful and accessible for use across the organisation.

The IT function can also help operations to better align with business systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES). At the same time, IT teams most likely want to achieve the vision and potential of a connected factory – from improving the supply chain to driving innovation and reducing downtime. To get there, they need the knowledge and support of the operations professionals who understand and control the equipment.

Changing mindsets

IT and engineers speak different languages. This isn’t really that surprising, because the two functions traditionally had different goals and objectives. IT was running the business applications, while OT was focused on the manufacturing process and whatever technologies were needed to implement and support it.

Depending on the industry, transforming the relationship between IT and operations may therefore be tricky, even difficult. So it’s imperative to agree on a common approach and strategy before any change can be made to technology.

The following three steps will help you overcome these challenges:

1. Collapse organisational silos

Despite some existing synergies, OT and IT are generally housed under separate departments, often with duplication. To rectify this situation, the strategies of the IT and OT functions need to be aligned. Responsibilities need to be integrated, or at least the IT and operations leaders need to have partly common and overlapping goals and targets, which would compel them to work cooperatively. Allow the two functions to also share data so that teams can understand how each function is performing, what the customer or external stakeholder complaints are, and where there is room for improvement.

(READ the article Becoming boundaryless: Leveraging untapped potential for competitive advantage for some guidelines on how to eliminate organisational silos.)

2. Integrate employee skills

IT personnel and OT teams bring different primary skill sets and motivations. OT employees have engineering or manufacturing backgrounds, and a lateral-minded practicality that keeps machinery operational. IT professionals are passionate about software innovation and the power and process of programming, and are less concerned with how these can be applied on the factory floor.

Before Industry 4.0, there was little need for a common lexicon between an engineering technician and a software or network programmer. But now it is key. Smart factories need a hybrid OT-IT department, manned by engineers who can build hardware; programmers to configure robotics; technicians to maintain this new generation of equipment; and – most importantly – software architects capable of synchronising entire operations and supply chains.

3. Lock in technical interoperability

Instances abound where basic IT applications caused crashes in machinery or operational systems. OT systems themselves suffer from interoperability shortcomings: operations hardware is often linked, suboptimally, with numerous components specifically created for singular, isolated functions. Designers of digital systems must therefore strive for greater interoperability, both within legacy operations technology and in its embrace of IT.

The difficulty in developing an effective ascendancy for IT/OT convergence should not be underestimated. IT typically has stronger models than operations for managing projects; they cannot just be taken as they are and applied to OT. The cooperation between IT and OT needs to extend to adapting those models for use in operations, considering the different impact of projects and the different cultures of the stakeholders involved. However, the benefits of bringing IT and OT together are simply too great to ignore.

READ the article The connected factory: how IT and OT convergence will prepare you for Industry 4.0 to find out more about the key actions you need to take for effective convergence.

Being smart in manufacturing is the only option. That’s not new, but you must adapt quickly to stay smart in such a rapidly changing environment. Effectively solving the IT/OT convergence challenge is therefore a necessity. It’s not a short journey, so get it started as soon as possible.

 

About TRACC
The TRACC framework helps organisations build standardised and integrated good practice and performance capacity across their Plan, Source, Make and Deliver functions. Simultaneously it accelerates their collaboration and alignment capacity to build world class end-to-end value chains, enabling the organisation itself to become the ultimate source of sustainable competitive advantage.

 

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