IT And OT Convergence: Finding Common Ground for Innovation and Growth
Manufacturing organizations are realizing that merging teams and systems from information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) will be necessary if they want to digitalize their workflows and improve operational efficiency. While this can be difficult, the benefits can make it worth the effort. If both IT and OT teams are able to embrace modern operations with Industry 4.0 solutions, manufacturers can create a competitive advantage, improve productivity and accuracy, and reduce costs.
Manufacturing challenges with IT/OT convergence
IT systems enable data-centric computing using hardware, software and network connectivity to drive digital transformation and innovation. OT devices utilize programmable systems (hardware or software) to do specific tasks, and they are typically not centrally connected. Merging IT and OT—or IT/OT convergence—is the digital integration and automation of previously manual processes in an OT environment. By converging processes, software and data, and physical devices, manufacturers can use cohesive, digital systems to automate, monitor and create more-efficient outcomes in their operations.
Yet the idea of merging two traditionally separate roles can create apprehension among IT and OT teams because it requires constant collaboration with different measurables and priorities. Ideally, employees from either IT or OT should be able to join forces. However, after decades of performing their traditional responsibilities, well-seasoned, experienced engineers and IT professionals may view converging IT and OT as sailing into uncharted waters.
Some manufacturing operators are concerned that IT-like capabilities of updates and system management could negatively impact the OT systems’ reliability or employees’ safety. Meanwhile, some data scientists and programmers worry or struggle with creating datasets and algorithms specifically in the context of heavy, physical machinery.
Considering each of these challenges, it’s true that breaking organizational norms will be challenging. However, in a recent study of more than 100 senior manufacturing professionals, 96% of companies said that they are using at least one next-generation technology in their organization.1 Implementing this change will require strong, strategic alignment between C-suite and managers as well as new considerations for employee training.
Advancements in AI, edge computing and industrial IoT (IIoT) solutions certainly can empower manufacturers today. Aligning IT and OT teams means creating clarity around the overall business value that their collaboration can generate, thus seeing beyond their initial uncertainty. Fortunately, there are a broad range of business value-driving use cases that benefit from IT and OT convergence—such that every organization can find a meaningful place to start.
Cross-company benefits of IT/OT convergence
- Improve productivity: A recent study found that unplanned downtime costs industrial manufacturers an estimated USD 50 billion annually and 42% of this unplanned downtime was due to equipment failure.2 To prevent excessive spending on unexpected downtime, manufacturers can invest in converged IT/OT systems. These systems provide predictive maintenance, allowing engineers to catch errors, flaws or damaged parts before the issue negatively impacts the machinery or operational workflow. This can also prevent IT and OT teams from experiencing unpredicted downtime, thus increasing overall productivity and improving overall quality.
- Increase flexibility: With software-based solutions, manufacturers can adjust workflows quickly, giving them the flexibility to address production needs when necessary. This kind of operational flexibility also allows IT/OT systems to make autonomous decisions that might otherwise take valuable time away from IT and OT teams. Flexible converged systems can even address the increasing demand of product customizations by manually or automatically adjusting operations around new or different requirements.
- Reduce costs: When manufacturing plants streamline their operations, they can also reduce operational and maintenance costs by catching errors or damaged parts in time. IT and OT teams can also save time and money by consolidating legacy workloads onto higher compute platforms, creating the opportunity to also bring in AI. In addition, when manufacturers automate legacy workloads, employees can focus on other human-centric tasks and worry less about micro-managing every task.
- Boost sustainability: IT/OT convergence can enable a more-sustainable environment through reduced energy costs. Companies can even see a 5% to 15% increase in energy savings, which can translate to millions of dollars saved annually.2 Modern, optimized designs mean IT professionals can have more ways to manage and deploy devices. For example, engineers can utilize a single IT program from a central location to control and oversee numerous machines, which can save time and energy from otherwise traveling to and from remote equipment locations. This results in a smaller energy footprint—which means manufacturers can save money on heating, lighting and cooling systems.
- Efficient operations: IT and OT systems meet at the edge, and edge computing allows IT professionals to process data in near-real-time. Edge computing is a vital aspect of IIoT, allowing companies to digitalize automation, optimization and maintenance processes from the factory floor to the head office. When manufacturers efficiently streamline operations with IIoT, both IT and OT teams can access actionable insights quickly and address them in a timely manner. This data may be shared into the cloud, providing manufacturers with visibility across the operations and the ability to identify correlations across data sets.
- Improve accuracy: Edge computing can also improve and quicken product inspection. While quality assurance practices seek to alleviate substandard quality issues and avoid losing time and money, manual inspection of fast product lines is still challenging. Converged IT/OT systems can use machine vision and AI to inspect product lines quickly and accurately, allowing product line workers to focus on other important tasks.
- Improved compliance: IT/OT convergence can also help ensure greater compliance with industry regulations. For example, converged IT/OT systems can alert workers early if there are breaches or damaged parts of machinery, also preventing potential injury. These systems can even alert workers if machines are up to industry standards, protecting manufacturers from financial and legal risks that could lead to fines, penalties or lost orders.
IT/OT convergence in Industry 4.0
Converging IT/OT systems is not merely a concept that manufacturers anticipate will become popular in the near future; it’s one of the many parts of Industry 4.0. By implementing Industry 4.0 projects that address the challenges manufacturers face, leaders in the industry can address critical business priorities and help their teams embrace change. In addition, building a converged IT/OT culture and environment can provide both IT and OT teams with a strong platform for future growth and innovation.
- “Current state of IT & OT convergence among manufacturers revealed in new report,” The Manufacturer, September 5, 2022, https://www.themanufacturer.com/articles/current-state-of-it-ot-convergence-among-manufacturing-organisations-revealed-in-new-report/.
- “By IndustryWeek in collaboration with Emerson” Wall Street Journal, Emerson, accessed October 10, 2022, https://partners.wsj.com/emerson/unlocking-performance/how-manufacturers-can-achieve-top-quartile-performance/.
You must be a registered user to add a comment. If you've already registered, sign in. Otherwise, register and sign in.