The convergence of Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) is one of the key mantras of smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0. OT typically refers to the control and automation technologies supporting physical equipment and processes, and was once intentionally separated from IT due to different technologies, skillsets, and cultural attributes.

OT/IT and Digital Manufacturing

Now, the world of manufacturing is changing, and to keep up, OT and IT must change with it. Forced OT/IT interactions of the past are giving way to collaborative OT/IT alliances designed to enable the rise of digital manufacturing and the connected factory. Together, company OT and IT teams are playing a key role in their companies’ digital transformation. OT/IT convergence is helping firms gain competitive advantage, to seize new business opportunities and make them more efficient, competitive, and profitable.

A large factor compelling OT and IT to collaborate is the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Thanks to IIoT, manufacturers are collecting more data than ever before. However, that data is only as valuable as the decisions it can support. Successful OT/IT cross-functional teams collaborate to build trust, respect, and synergy between departments. Indeed, 70% of the Best-in-Class say they are implementing OT/IT convergence. This implementation rate is 25% greater than All Others (56%).

Best-in-Class manufacturers are 25% more likely to implement OT/IT convergence than All Others.

Why is OT/IT convergence so hard? Well you might say that “IT is from Venus and OT is from Mars!” In the past, both departments had very 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. Collaboration didn’t need to happen before, because OT and IT were based on different technology, and often, on different networks.

However, in the last few years, OT has started to progressively adopt IT-like technologies. Internet Protocol (IP), for example, is gaining acceptance as an all-purpose networking protocol and Windows is more and more frequently found in a wide range of devices. The convergence of OT and IT bring clear advantages to companies including cost and risk reductions as well as enhanced performance and gains in flexibility.

Change management is required to ensure that the OT/IT convergence implementation process runs smoothly. More and more, Best-in-Class firms are recognizing this (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Effective OT/IT Integration Requires Change Management

For instance, 53% of the Best-in-Class employ a Chief Digital Officer to navigate and successfully resolve issues such as OT/IT integration; they are 27% more likely to do so than All Others. Also, 43% of the Best-in-Class have established a formal organization for change management involved in digital transformation, industrial IoT, and OT/IT convergence; they are 12% more likely to do so than All Others.

The Road Forward

The reason for OT/IT convergence is centered on business impact, that is, the commercial opportunities it creates for industrial companies. The convergence of OT and IT brings clear and tangible advantages to manufacturers, including cost and risk reductions, as well as enhanced performance and operational effectiveness. Not surprisingly, the market is also responding to the impulse for OT/IT convergence. For example, the new business entity “Hitachi Vantara” recently unified three business units specifically to capitalize on the firm’s capability in both operational technologies and information technologies.

OT/IT integration is not easy, but it is inevitable and a key part of smart manufacturing. OT supports physical value creation and manufacturing processes. It comprises the devices, sensors, and software necessary to control and monitor both the plant and equipment. IT, on the other hand, combines all necessary technologies for information processing. IIoT merges the OT and IT domains, creating enormous actionable, strategic insights. These insights are generated through cloud-based big data analytics (IT) fueled by real-time data collection on the factory floor (OT). The road to digital manufacturing is paved by IIoT, and OT/IT integration, tempered by change management, to provide a path to safely arrive at that destination with minimal bumps along the way.

Manufacturing is ripe for business disruption, and business disruption means business opportunity. In this chaotic environment, OT and IT are coming together to achieve the vision of a connected factory, driving innovation and minimizing downtime.

To learn more about operational excellence in the era of industrial IoT, check out The MOM/MES Edge: The MES Performance Kick.