This blog discusses an issue within industrial automation which I am increasingly being asked to write about.
Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) convergence has become an important next step for companies on the IoT journey. But many companies are still playing catch-up.
- OT refers to control and automation technologies which support operations – so shop floor equipment such as factory automation convey systems
- IT refers to computer systems based in finance, HR and sales – so payroll, office computing etc
Historically these activities have been separate because of security and compliance issues however manufacturing companies are now playing catch-up and being tasked with completely changing their business structures.
These changes are happening because of the following;
- The increased use of Microsoft technology with the adoption of databases to collect and analyse production and process data
- The adoption of Ethernet-based communication protocols at machine level
- The dispersal of web-based user interfaces
- The increased popularity of mobile solutions to access data and perform tasks requiring Wi-Fi networks at the factory floor level
Companies that still have separate departments for OT and IT have a huge challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. Making sure company goals are aligned and undergoing training programmes which bring OT and IT together to share different skillsets, will help to move these changes forward. In terms of implementation, there are organisations we work directly with that are pioneering the technology and have become pioneers in this new technology. These include Industrial Automation specialist Yokogawa, a company that has positioned itself as a visionary and early adopter of this technology.
So, is this convergence a good thing or is it potentially dangerous? Opinion is split with some industry spokespeople suggesting this new business model is introducing significant new risks, many of which are catching organisations entirely unprepared. For example, nearly 90% of organisations have now experienced a security breach within their Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition and Industrial Control Systems (SCADA/ICS) architectures, with more than half of those breaches occurring in just the last 12 months! And even more alarming, most of those breaches have resulted in a high or critical impact on their business, from compromising their ability to meet compliance requirements, to decreased functionality and financial stability, and even affecting employee safety.
For those OT organisations responsible for critical infrastructure, any sort of compromise needs to be taken extremely seriously.
This evolution isn’t going away. Time will tell how many companies embrace the change and effectively merge these two vitally essential functions and how many will ignore it, perhaps at their peril.