How to achieve IT and OT integration for continued growth and success in digital manufacturing

Organizations within the global manufacturing sector are increasingly harnessing digital technologies – such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced data analytics – to improve their organizational efficiencies and agilities, and to achieve operational excellence. A successful digital transformation is built and sustained by data-driven insights and analysis across the whole organization for end-to-end visibility and functional collaboration. This requires connectivity and interoperability between production processes, people, systems and practices – highlighting the growing urgency for IT and OT integration.


In many traditional manufacturing organizations, the IT and OT departments view each other as distant cousins with distinct functions and deliverables. Operational technology (OT) focuses on real-time observation and control within the manufacturing and production environment. Information technology (IT) is more focused on business information processing platforms to record transactional data. This functional separation has historical roots: In a pre-digital manufacturing environment, OT equipment was fully mechanical without any software smarts. Thus, an organization did not need to apply the same rigorous security and access controls to OT as it did to its IT infrastructure. However, as digitization renders processes more integrated and complex, this siloed approach to IT and OT is simply unsustainable.


Visit our digital operating systems resources page to find out more about the evolution of production systems.


IT and OT integration is crucial

In a digitized manufacturing environment, OT is getting smarter and can enable remote production operations and monitoring. These software enhancements and upgrades are connected to the organization’s IT networking infrastructure as a matter of course. In other words, OT’s underlying platforms, software systems and technologies are increasingly similar to IT (known as IT/OT convergence) – and yet, too many manufacturers embark on their digital transformation journeys without managing their OT with the same precautionary care as they do their IT assets.

By aligning and integrating their digitally enabled IT and OT infrastructures, manufacturers will be able to compose these functions for accelerated agility and sustainable digitization that ensures continuous improvement (CI) and a solid, long-term competitive advantage.

In this short webinar clip, Geoff Schreiner, CCi Products Director, discusses how the traditional wall between IT and OT is breaking down as more and more manufacturing organizations embrace digital technologies. Acknowledging the changing relationship between IT and OT as they increasingly converge – and enabling that convergence – is a crucial component of achieving and maintaining excellence and efficiency through successful digitization.

Watch this short video where Geoff Schreiner, CCi Products Director, explains how the relationship between IT and OT is changing as organizations embrace digital technologies.

The main driver of IT/OT convergence is data. A digitized manufacturing environment is data-driven; it gathers and analyzes volumes of data from across the business to deliver insightful and actionable intelligence in real time. The OT function collects and stores data that is incredibly valuable to the business but without IT, the OT department is unable to unlock that value or share it with key stakeholders. When IT and OT work as one, valuable data insights are made accessible and visible to all internal and external stakeholders across the organization’s value chain. However, IT/OT alignment is a complex process that requires synchronizing business standards and systems architectures to build functional compatibility. This can present a number of different challenges and thwart even the most organized, progressive and digitally determined organizations.


Challenges for IT and OT integration

An organization’s primary challenge to achieving alignment and integration between its IT and OT departments is overcoming their traditionally embedded disparateness. A history of siloed approaches to data management and cybersecurity, for example, makes team collaboration tricky. This is especially problematic given that typical IT threats such as data security and confidentiality are now emerging as OT threats. On top of that, IT has benefitted from investment and upgrades in recent years, whereas OT often resembles what IT looked like 20 years ago with no clear corporate governance structure and many standalone systems, as well as issues with system integration across the value chain.

Organizations at lower levels of digital maturity are especially prone to divided OT departments which can result in a low adherence to operational standards, a lack of proper reporting processes and delayed decision-making. Business leaders will need to review their organization’s OT management structure to ensure that it unites procurement, budgeting, planning and infrastructure under a single authority. However, even in a more digitally mature organization with a consolidated OT department, bridging the differences between IT and OT is not easy.


Three key problem areas facing IT/OT integration:

  1. Cybersecurity – An integrated IT/OT network is more exposed to intrusion and cybersecurity threats. Older OT assets often weren’t built with software or data security in mind. When integrated with IT, unprotected OT assets present an ideal target for malware attacks against an organization’s entire network.
  2. Data and devices – IT/OT integration requires seamless data synchronicity. Different systems and devices can hinder integration by complicating regular tasks such as data transfers as well as advanced functions like data retention, analysis and interpretation. Many OT edge devices, for example, are not built for two-way communication; they can generate and send data, but they are unable to receive in return. What is more, modern edge devices generate and send enormous volumes of data which can easily overwhelm underprepared IT systems.
  3. Skills and silos – IT and OT teams are separated by different technologies, objectives, concerns and responsibilities that, in a traditional manufacturing organization, rarely overlap. These departmental differences are overt: OT teams focus on manufacturing processes and use systems or hardware built to last, whereas IT teams focus on business data using advanced software and technologies. IT/OT integration (in fact digital transformation as a whole) is disabled by these siloed differences in skills and mandates.

Enabling IT/OT integration is not as simple as instructing the two departments to get along and work together. Achieving integration is a challenging process but manufacturers are encouraged to begin the process sooner rather than later. The digital business reality calls for technology integration in general – with IT and OT interoperability playing a central role in an organization’s digital transformation journey.


How to achieve IT and OT integration

Successful IT/OT alignment and integration requires an internal strategy that focuses on bridging the departments’ traditionally conflicting siloed structures, systems, skills, standards and governance. According to Gartner’s suggested pathway to IT and OT integration, there needs to be a holistic program that manages the necessary changes to IT and OT simultaneously – with an emphasis on improving risk management, improving data integration and access, reducing overall costs for technology support and reducing project timelines.

The pressures of digital transformation tend to focus business leadership on harnessing the latest and greatest technologies without giving enough attention to integrating skills sets, departmental responsibilities, structures, standards and governance towards achieving one united organizational objective. Management and employee buy-in is critical to achieving IT/OT integration.


Three critical focus areas for successful IT/OT integration:

  1. Leadership needs to lead – Business leaders are crucial in enabling and achieving IT/OT integration. IT and OT teams will not collaborate organically; they require clear direction from a united and strategically aligned management structure. An emphasis on technological integration alone will not achieve successful or sustainable IT/OT integration. Leadership needs to help IT and OT teams understand each other’s value by leading by example and embedding best practices in day-to-day processes. Leadership led initiatives, such as collaborative workshops aimed at creating trust, sharing knowledge, building curiosity, identifying common goals and forging strong working relationships to achieve them, help advance IT/OT integration successfully.
  2. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts – A dedicated steering committee made up of cross-functional representatives is necessary to guide a holistic IT/OT integration. This steering committee is responsible for mitigating cybersecurity threats, overseeing communication, evaluating existing systems and interdepartmental synergies, anticipating challenges, tracking progress, assessing technology options, encouraging employee buy-in, delivering cross-training programs to upskill staff across both teams, and recommending new organizational structures, governance frameworks and processes.
  3. Put data at the center – IT/OT integration is led by collaborative teamwork underpinned by secure access to data that is seamlessly shared, analyzed and applied. The IT/OT integration steering committee needs to define a data integration strategy to bridge the differences between IT and OT systems, software and hardware. When IT and OT data is merged for company-wide visibility, both teams can achieve common goals with greater efficiency and improve organizational performance as a whole.


Time to align

There is no doubt that aligning IT and OT departments, technologies, data and functions is a challenge. However, IT/OT integration is a crucial milestone in a manufacturer’s digital transformation journey, supporting the organization’s continuous improvement in productivity and performance. Disconnected technologies and siloed data are definite roadblocks to achieving IT/OT integration but, an emphasis on addressing these challenges alone is unsustainable. Aligning and integrating IT and OT for long-term success depends on leadership unifying the teams to work together better. Only through interdepartmental teamwork and collaboration in pursuit of shared objections can IT/OT integration truly achieve its business potential.


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