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Why need to look for OT-IT Convergence?

IT-OT convergence can deliver a number of benefits, including improved customer experience and better operational efficiency. In order to achieve this convergence, a number of challenges need to be overcome. Most of these challenges arise from the siloed functioning of traditional IT and OT departments in most industries. Organizations that are able to bridge the gap between the two will have a major competitive advantage.

Data is the new currency and organizations that are able to gather and process data intelligently will have the ability to quickly outpace the competition. Understood in context and properly conditioned, data is at the heart of every connected system. However, data collection and processing are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of operational efficiency and business opportunities.

Organizations, today, need to be able to use data effectively to respond quickly to consumer demands as well as manage production, resources, and infrastructure. For this to happen, organizations need to converge their information technology (IT) infrastructure with their traditionally isolated operational technology (OT) networks. Easier said than done, right?

Gartner defines OT as: “The hardware and software that detects or causes a change through the direct monitoring and/or control of physical devices, processes, and events in the enterprise.” For OT, the focus is on establishing and maintaining control over processes with physical impact. The importance of OT continues to grow as more machines and their components are connected.

On the other hand, IT infrastructure is responsible for the creation, transmission, storage and security of data.  IT refers to the range of systems that are used to manage and process electronic data in an organization. This includes the computers, infrastructure, network systems and several other physical devices.


IT-OT Convergence Challenges

Despite being aware of the advantages of IT-OT convergence, it would seem surprising that not many businesses are working on integrating the systems. The reason is simple: converging IT and OT is a highly complex and challenging undertaking.

Technical Challenges

    • Compatibility: IT continually updates itself. As a consequence of ever-evolving computing and networking standards, and a rapid rate of innovation, IT places a high value on error-checking, fault-tolerance, and failover capabilities.

OT devices, on the other hand, work as per defined communication parameters. Compatibility is seen as preferable, but 100% compatibility is not possible to achieve in all situations. So, preparedness for mismatched credential exchange is considered a basic cost of doing business.

    • Environmental: OT devices function in all sorts of geographical locations and have evolved with a different set of priorities. They are often subject to extremes in pressure, humidity, and temperature. Also, they are designed to perform highly specific functions; e.g. a temperature sensor is designed to measure temperature only, and with exceedingly high reliability metrics.

IT devices, on the other hand, are usually placed in office spaces which are clean and temperature-and-humidity-controlled, with either failover systems and/or local support staff available to respond quickly to resolve performance issues.

In this context, reliability and integrity are absolutely the primary considerations while discussing OT-IT convergence.

  • Specialized skillset: OT devices are generally older and this leads to the need for engineers with the specific skillset to work with such technologies. IT, on the other hand, need varied and dynamic software skills to keep pace with the continuous advancements in technology. The different skillsets and language specializations among IT and OT professionals add to the complexity in combining these two units.

Organizational Challenges

    • Business Silos: IT infrastructure is owned and managed by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or the Chief Technology Officer (CTO). OT usually falls under the ambit of Chief Analytics Officer, Executive Vice President of Gas/Electric Operations, and Executive Vice President of Utilities.

While the OT team may have IT personnel as a part of the mix to maintain critical IT systems, they still function as a part of OT and do not have much contact with the core IT team. The separation between the OT and IT staff can often pose a major challenge to an organization’s convergence initiatives.

  • Risk Tolerances: In IT, the loss of data confidentiality impacts corporate reputation, loss of data integrity requires expensive recovery procedures, and loss of data or system availability directly cuts off the flow of money. OT performance directly impacts the corporate’s top and bottom lines. When the systems are integrated, all these factors need to be taken into consideration.

OT-System Integration: Expertise is Essential

Many IT providers lack the ability required to address the challenges of OT integration. Hence OT systems integration specialist and an expert on device connection and management will be required for building a complete IoT solution.

Without the expertise of a proven OT systems integrator, many IoT projects stall or fail owing to connectivity challenges or the lack of qualified resources. When you work with an experienced OT integrator, your devices can talk to your automated systems, you gain the scalability to grow, and you can get your project up and running within weeks, instead of months.

With a versatile portal and a robust set of middleware, it is possible to connect a wide variety of new and legacy devices, sensors, and machines, and streamline secure data transmissions to the cloud. The data can be filtered at the gateway, sensor or cloud level, keeping in mind the organization’s specific needs. This can help streamline analytics down the line.

To get started with OT-IT Convergence, it is necessary to create a customized architecture, because IoT demands both OT and IT capabilities and a wide variety of expertise across multiple technologies and systems. Unfortunately, most system integrators are experts in IT integration and often do not have the skills or depth of knowledge required for OT integration.

When you take into consideration the fact that OT provides the majority of data required to drive informed decision-making across an enterprise, you realize how important such skills are. Without this expertise, you are likely to miss project deadlines, run over budget, and fail to deliver high-quality results.

An experienced OT systems integrator delivers solution architecture and design, incorporating high availability, scalability, security, device management, connectivity management, and more.

Use cases of OT-IT convergence:

1. OT-IT integration for Warehouse Management

Integration of supply chain technology with IT boosts efficiency and speed throughout the supply chain. Here are the benefits of this integration:

  • Maximizing equipment up-time & asset life
  • Predictive maintenance – improve after-sales service and enhance customer delight
  • Reduced downtime
  • Improved operational efficiency – reduce the technician’s trips

2. OT-IT integration for Smart Farming

Agriculture has become more industrialized and technology-driven over the past few decades. By using smart agriculture devices and by integrating Dealer Management and Farmer Management, farmers have gained better control over the process of raising livestock and growing crops, making it more predictable and efficient.

3. OT-IT integration for Smart Home

Smart homes make it possible for users to connect with devices and appliances in their home. OT-IT integration allows the devices to communicate with each other and with the user. The benefits of OT-IT integration for smart home are as below:

  • Improved customer service with automated alerts on system component failure, power disruption, connectivity loss, failure of sensors, security breaches, and with proactive alerts on low backup battery.
  • Cost savings with alerts on energy consumption dashboards from thermostats, lights and other devices
  • Improved security by integrating alarm systems and video monitoring devices into one personalized platform to monitor and protect the home
  • Increases operational efficiency for businesses providing services to homes, which saves significant expenditure.

To create a truly seamless connected IoT system that maximizes business value, there is an impending need to build a strong nexus between OT and IT data. However, harmonizing OT and IT systems come with significant challenges due to differences in business functions, technology stack, and the inherent culture of the departments. 

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The Business Bandwagon You Should Never Miss

Digital Transformation is here and that means everyone—IT and non-IT alike—must embrace the disruptions. Automation and modernization is a bandwagon and just letting it pass by is missing a great business opportunity.

Digital Transformation means a wave of technology disruptions taking over vertical and horizontal industries. Disruptive technologies are considered to challenge the status quo and beat the conventional all for the sake of better business efficiency, credibility, sustainability and most importantly, higher chances at succeeding in an ever progressing era where information technology has become Midas—everything it touches turns into gold.

Digital Transformation for the most part promises to make data driven business decisions more accurate, predictive, and extremely reliable compared to traditional tools and processes. This phenomenon in the IT landscape pushes business processes to deliver results at an impressive speed and become more efficient and unified. With the right tools and solutions, and with the proper migration, design, and implementation, Digital Transformation can lead an enterprise towards success.

It is no wonder that most organizations, startups, and high-performing enterprises are taking firmer steps in treading the path towards this phenomenon in high technology. And who wouldn’t take this leap? Apart from providing more informed decisions that aim to get valuable and productive outcomes, Digital Transformation also enables sustainability and agility in most business aspects. It positively affects key areas including customer engagement, finance, unified communications and collaboration, networking, and many others.

The disruptions in IT is not an unknown domain to a good number of people. In the recent Accenture Technology Vision 2016 Survey, it was revealed that there are 58% who say that the pace of technology will change in their industry rapidly. This says a lot about proving that the Digital Transformation is not anymore a mere setting for sci-fi or IT fiction films but is the present reality.

Digital Transformation calls for everyone to beef up IT know how

As back office processes gradually but surely begin to become automated, other roles in an organization such as recruiters, finance officers, and human resources managers are highly encouraged (if not compelled) to add in their skillset some IT know-how. Apparently, in this age of automation, setting up and doing some minor software troubleshooting is no longer the sole responsibility of an IT officer. Though it may not be required for a non-IT professional to have some IT skills among their competencies, it surely is a great advantage to be knowledgeable and capable in IT.

A great example is the demand on expanding the role of a chief finance officer. In an article titled Great Expectations: How the CFO’s Role is Growing, authored by the General Manager for Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) of Oracle ANZ Thomas Fikentscher, it was revealed that there has become a need for the chief financial officer’s (CFO’s) role to expand and this particularly means that they need to gain some IT capabilities. This is due to the uptake of data analytics in making the processes of finance more efficient and reliable by enhancing it with improved forecasting and decision making.

Meanwhile, the emergence of HCM software and tools also proves that there is a demand from non-ITs to gain skills on automated processes and data analytics. In an annual study titled Sierra-Cedar 2014–2015 HR Systems Survey White Paper, 17th Annual Edition, it was revealed that the adoption of cloud-based SaaS Human Capital Management (HCM) is expected to rise to 58%.

IT Demands

As most non-IT members of an enterprise are encouraged to become adept in various areas of IT concerns, IT professionals become even more vital in many key areas in a company and must always sharpen their skillset themselves. These individuals are not only responsible in making sure that IT tools are working and rolled out. Most importantly, IT decision-makers and leaders are expected to spark knowledge on the latest business software advancements and guide the teams in embracing the disruptions in technology.

Accenture Technology Vision 2016 also confirms such trend when it revealed that 37% of the business and IT executives surveyed reported that “the need to train workforce is significantly more important today compared to three years ago.”

The exceptional talent and brains of IT professionals are much sought-after now than ever as their role becomes challenging in this day and age where office mobility, online banking, business process management tools, and the Internet of Things are further becoming everyday essentials. Due to automation and massive connectivity, much focus and attention are placed upon IT security, applications development, servers, and data center housekeeping (virtually or physically).

The reality that must be embraced now, however, is that IT knowledge and skills even to non-IT pros are highly beneficial in a thriving and progressing enterprise. This will be true as long as companies are becoming more open to modernizing their offices and are willing to cope with the impressive disruptions in information technology.

As long as Digital Transformation is dominating in vertical and horizontal industries, non-IT roles in a company will also have to add some IT professional skills in their competencies.

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