IoT Bridges the IT-OT Divide
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY (IT) and operational technology (OT) have historically worked in separate spheres that rarely intersected. Today, however, TCP/IP is quickly replacing proprietary networking equipment and communications schemes used by older generations of OT hardware, and vendors are creating the needed APIs to allow IT systems to communicate with OT—all thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). By bridging the IT-OT divide, the IoT is enabling collaboration that will help businesses fully embrace digital transformation and build information-rich organizations.
Traditionally, OT professionals focused on the physical aspects of the supply chain—deploying, maintaining, and managing industrial control systems for product delivery, warehouse automation, and manufacturing. IT departments typically focused on the data processing aspects of an organization, providing knowledge workers with the systems and productivity tools to perform their respective duties.
Modern businesses, however, now recognize the value of the data gathered by IoT solutions that can be leveraged by IT and OT alike. Industrial IoT (IIoT) in particular has changed the very nature of operational processing and data gathering by enriching what can be realized by OT devices. Take an industrial alarm system, for example. The IoT brings data access activity, security monitoring, and alerts—previously constrained to the security system—into the IT space, allowing businesses to embrace advanced analytics. Much the same can be said about environmental control systems, such as thermostats and refrigeration units, as well as production line equipment and delivery systems.
Integrating OT and IT benefits both business units. IT gets the ability to gather more data and OT gains access to predictive analytics. The organization overall achieves better security, meanwhile, along with the ability to protect intellectual property and other assets more effectively.
“The rapid introduction of new tools, data, and business and operating models increases the threat surface of an organization, meaning that holistic and integrated security strategies … should be used, which is more effective than siloed and reactive ones,” says Robert Fitzgerald, risk and security practice lead at GreenPages, a systems integration firm headquartered in Kittery, Maine.
Customer service is another driver for IT-OT integration. Today’s customers expect real-time updates and status information, plus more granular control of the delivery process. OT devices using IoT technologies expose the intricacies of the supply chain or order fulfillment process, allowing businesses to meet those expectations.
There are still significant barriers to integrating IT and OT into a common management infrastructure, however, the largest of which is resistance to change. “One of the biggest challenges faced in industrial digital transformation is the people. It is critical to understand the people and their processes and how they execute their daily jobs," says Alex Glaser, vice president of Harbor Research. “It is also necessary to align the business model with the technology architecture. That requires starting with the challenge, or the pain point of the customer, and bring[ing] the technology in to enable that.”
Bridging the IT and OT divide, despite the hurdles, and embracing digital transformation will bring numerous benefits to businesses and their respective internal terms.
“Digital transformation,” sums up Fitzgerald, “often requires significant changes in business and operating models.” The ability to introduce new software and tools such as AI and analytics; make better use of data; and enhance collaboration among employees, customers, partners, and the supply chain all make those changes worthwhile.
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