Successful partnerships sit at the heart of many aspects of business. In today’s blog we’re exploring one of the more recent – the marriage of IT with OT in order to drive IoT projects.
That’s a lot of acronyms – so let’s take a look at each in turn. IT – easy. Information technology, or data-centric computing, has been an integral part of most modern businesses for decades now. OT – operational technology. Gartner defines this as ‘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’. IT is associated with traditional computers – desktops, laptops and now smartphones and tablets, whereas OT is associated with industrial and manufacturing environments. Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems are part of OT, for example.
IoT, of course, refers to the Internet of Things – the embedding of computing devices in previously unconnected sensors and devices, enabling a far richer network of interconnected devices and data analysis than ever before.
In practice then, one of the most transformative elements of marrying IT and OT is about introducing networked communications technologies to the world of OT. Early OT systems typically run on closed networks – that is, they monitor and make adjustments within clearly defined, separated off areas of an enterprise. Any data on the incidents they record and the actions they undertake remains within those silos.
Adding IT into the OT mix suddenly enables those closed systems to become part of the wider organisational IT infrastructure. Data collected and generated by OT systems can be harnessed, augmented with other Enterprise data and processed by centralised analytics engines. And this opens up a world of possibilities in terms of efficiencies and innovation.
One of the softer benefits of marrying IT with OT to create an IoT ecosystem is simply about bringing OT systems into the same sphere of visibility as an organisation’s digital infrastructure. From there, managers don’t need to rely on physical inspections and manual processes to gain a comprehensive picture of their technology infrastructure. Provided they have a suitable IoT management platform in place, a single set of dashboards will enable them to view all their OT devices and systems centrally, alongside their IT. They can gain a sense of current performance and resource allocation at the touch of a button, without waiting, say, for maintenance staff to complete a physical inspection round.
Comprehensive visibility and connectivity are the driving forces behind increased automation. Imagine, for example, an OT system that controls the speed at which a particular manufacturing plant operates. The visibility generated by an IoT infrastructure can enable managers to rapidly ascertain when an increase in production is going to be required – because machines at other stages in the production chain are operating at particular speeds. This visibility, of course, is generated by data from the OT system being transmitted out to a centralised management platform. But communications technologies work in both directions. Data transmitted back in to the OT system – an instruction to increase speed, for example – can automate previously manual processes and enable a far more rapid response to fluctuations in production demand.
Another aspect of this increased automation is the potential for asset sweating – that is, collecting and analysing data on the performance of different facets of OT and using it to inform the most efficient maintenance schedule possible. Rather than performing hardware maintenance on a fixed schedule and shutting down production unnecessarily, maintenance can be shifted to a proactive timetable, identifying and resolving small issues before they escalate, while not carrying out unnecessary inspections. In turn, the lifespan of key hardware is extended as far as possible, and skilled maintenance resource is maximised.
These are just a handful of the ways in which converging IT with OT can enable organisations to create truly transformative IoT infrastructures. Wozniak and Jobs, Hewlett and Packard, Gates and Allen – the IT world is full of world-changing partnerships. IT and OT has the potential to be another truly transformative duo – are you ready to harness it?