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Decoding IT/OT Convergence: A Guide on Understanding IT and OT

As IoT grows synonymous with digital transformation & advancements in manufacturing, it has also led to a wave of change on the shop floor. This is a significant result of IT/OT Convergence, which led to faster decision-making, better collaboration, and a single source of truth across the organization.

Decoding IT/OT Convergence: A Guide on Understanding IT and OT

As IoT grows synonymous with digital transformation & advancements in manufacturing, it has also led to a wave of change on the shop floor. This is a significant result of IT/OT Convergence, which led to faster decision-making, better collaboration, and a single source of truth across the organization.

But what does the IT/OT Convergence do with IoT, though? How are IoT, Information Technology (IT), and Operational Technology (OT) connected? For starters, they have the same three letters appearing in some sequence in all three abbreviations, but what more do these three have in common?

It’s essential to understand these terms before analyzing the IT/OT convergence.

 

What is Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT)?

Until IoT became a thing, there were two distinct worlds – traditional OT systems, which have machines, devices, and other industrial equipment, and more digital IT systems that handle everything related to computers, servers, storage, networking, and others. It’s been a while since the two worlds crossed over into one – IoT. To put this in simpler terms using an application of IoT, the smart devices in our homes today that are automated are a perfect example. These devices are part of a network that combines the prowess of both IT and OT systems to automate seemingly mundane human tasks like switching on and off lights. Now that we understand how IT/OT convergence happens, let’s look at IT/OT definitions with some jargon. As the name suggests, Information Technology (IT) includes computers, servers, and networking devices to create, process, store, and exchange all forms of electronic data in a secure manner. For a manufacturing environment, it can be hardware like laptops and servers and software for ERPs, inventory management, and other business-related tools.On the other hand, Operational technology focuses on managing and controlling physical devices operating globally. For manufacturing, it can include systems like MES, SCADA, PLCs, and CNCs that monitor & control the processes on the shop floor.

How does IT/OT Convergence help in Manufacturing? Converging various aspects of technology is as old as technology itself. Integrating and interoperating different technologies can increase efficiency, cut down costs, and improve the workflows of multiple applications.

Earlier, the OT teams would handle everything that came under the purview of operations, keeping the plant running smoothly. On the other hand, the IT team runs business applications smoothly from the head office. They would only collaborate for one-off tasks like unplanned downtime, an untoward security incident etc., without any real collaboration.

The data for both teams was available in silos with no single source of truth-giving birth to communications issues, blind spots in processes and delayed decision-making. The OT machines, in particular, were only communicating with the world via niche M2M protocols, with data stored at disparate locations, available only in silos. This is where IT/OT convergence came in.

The IT/ OT convergence aimed to bring physical equipment (OT) into the digital world of IT. This was made possible, thanks to many advances in the tech industry, starting from Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication, not to mention the increasing sophistication of IoT sensors and actuators that can be incorporated into OT equipment. Wireless communication over standard networking protocols allowed the data from each OT system to be communicated to a central server. The IT OT convergence allows for increased autonomy, maintenance, uptime, and accuracy of all the physical systems involved, with instant machine data access to the relevant stakeholders.

This convergence is focused primarily on automatic processes, using connected devices equipped with sensors to gather, send, and receive data. The data then is stored in a central platform, where it can be analyzed, monitored and actioned upon in real-time. This opens up a new realm of possibilities, where anyone with the know-how can develop APIs to analyze different devices and monitor, analyze & control their functioning.
Manufacturers Boon – The IoT Convergence With IoT, IT/OT convergence in manufacturing has become a success story.

The convergence allows businesses and manufacturing entities to be more cost-efficient (or, more precisely, resource-efficient – be it costs, time or supply involved). With the sales and inventory data to optimize manufacturing operations, equipment and energy consumption is more efficient, while maintenance and the quantity of unsold inventory are reduced.

Here are some notable key benefits of switching to an IoT-enabled manufacturing environment.

  1. Real-time decision making:IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) allows manufacturers to collect all the data they would ever need and analyze it in real-time. Sensitive data can be analyzed directly at the source, which significantly reduces the bandwidth required, not to mention the increased levels of security.
  2. Predictive Maintenance: One of the most significant benefits of IIoT is the revolution of predictive maintenance. Unplanned downtime can cause manufacturing entities to lose a substantial amount of money, while the traditional preventive maintenance method proves to be highly costly. The IT/OT convergence makes it possible for manufacturers to predict when the machines need maintenance and plan accordingly without unnecessary downtime or repair costs.
  3. Increased Efficiency: Whether your manufacturing entity is looking to decrease annual energy costs, increase inventory turns, reduce the time to introduce a new PLC, decrease defect rates, or improve the overall effectiveness of the physical machinery involved – IT/OT convergence can help your business do it all.

Phases of IT/OT Convergence

There are three primary phases of IT/OT Convergence.
  1. Process convergence – Deals with the intersection of workflows, ensuring that important projects and data are communicated to relevant stakeholders.
  2. Software and Data Convergence – Deals with procuring the necessary software and data from the front office for the IT/OT needs. This is a technology-based convergence that deals with the network architecture of the enterprise.
  3. Physical Convergence – Deals with the hardware – old hardware is either replaced or retrofitted with new sensors and actuators to accommodate the incorporation of IT into traditional OT.

Final Word

IT/OT convergence has been a significant milestone in the IoT journey and a win-win for both OT & IT Teams.

The OT teams can now access the machine data whenever they need it for proactive decision making to create value in their machines, processes & workforce. They can align better with overall business systems like ERP etc., creating unparalleled insights.

The IT teams can fulfil their smart factory vision with a healthy understanding of the ground reality and collaborate with the operations team to evolve together.

We’ve covered many of such stories in detail in our Case Studies section – where we showcase just how much businesses in your industry can gain through process digitization and using the Internet of Things.

Want to know how IT/OT convergence can revolutionize your manufacturing processes? Please get in touch with us – and our domain experts would be happy to explain over a quick call.

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