How to Bridge the IT/OT Gap
In the past, operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) have preferred to remain in separate worlds within the plant/enterprise. However, system integrators have a great opportunity to bridge the IT/OT gap and help accelerate Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) adoption. Dan Malyszko, director of operations and lead engineer at Malisko Engineering Inc., Colorado location, discusses IT/OT convergence, IIoT and digital transformation.
In an industrial manufacturing environment how are the complexities of industrial IT infrastructure best managed?
Dan: Increasingly, we are seeing customers move toward centralized management of industrial IT infrastructure as engineering/maintenance departments are typically the first line of defense when issues arise. Enterprise IT may be a part of that solution, but the industrial control system (ICS) infrastructure is often the responsibility of OT. Whether it’s managing virtual hosts, network switches or security appliances, there are software packages from the various infrastructure vendors designed to configure, diagnose and manage their products. These software suites are gaining acceptance as part of the typical OT toolbox complementing the typical ICS hardware and software packages.
What are the specific “pain points” of industrial IT infrastructure that must be dealt with to ensure connected factory health?
Dan: Asset visibility is still a huge pain point in factory floor environments. Couple that with having different software tools for different device types, what we have are more complex infrastructures to manage. These challenges can be viewed as foundational IIoT use cases, however. Software tools that discover assets and map network topologies are becoming more common, but there still is the need to aggregate the many disparate sources of diagnostic data and viewing in a single pane of glass for a true picture of plantwide industrial IT infrastructure health. For the IIoT to work, you need to have visibility to devices and data sources, but more importantly you need a means to tie it all together into meaningful information. This is the essence of the IIoT, and infrastructure health is the perfect use case to go after with an IIoT approach.
How do you recommend accelerating digital transformation and IIoT adoption while maintaining unified OT monitoring?
Dan: Historically, OT has preferred to keep IT at bay when it comes to involvement in their systems to avoid production downtime arising from disruptions due to a lack of understanding the automation system’s reliance on continuous operation and communications. System integrators have a great opportunity to bridge the IT/OT gap and, hence, help accelerate IIoT adoption. Integrators should strive to develop great relationships with IT departments. We’ve even tailored workshops specifically targeted toward IT professionals to help them better understand the OT world. We also find we gain credibility by having our top-tier network and security specialists alongside process and data experts to make sure to not only plan a path for convergence, but also show what it will do for their business. Helping bridge that gap between IT and OT professionals is the biggest area where a system Integrator can help ease anxieties when it comes to IT/OT convergence. It’s more about the people than the technology.
Some end users are “getting it” when you talk about why IT and OT convergence is vital now and in the future. It makes sense when we focus on the destination at the end of the client’s journey. What we see being more of a challenge is grasping the how, like, “How do you get to a point where you are ready for what’s coming?” We advise clients they need specialists involved who understand both the IT and the OT sides.
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