Find out how OT-IT integration is helping manufacturing organizations maximize the potential of new technologies.

by Geoff Schreiner

Operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) have historically been systemized as disparate organizational functions, and have progressed along separate – even divergent – paths.  

The respective requirements of OT and IT are different. OT enables the factory floor to operate, and is focused on real-time monitoring and control of manufacturing equipment and assets; IT optimizes processing and transactional efficiencies, and the gathering of data and information for strategic or management purposes.

However, the last decade has seen a convergence trend, nudged by ubiquitous, enterprise-wide digitization and the connectivity of the Industrial Internet-of-Things (II-o-T). Increasingly, platforms are shared, systems can interface, and interoperability is feasible.

CIOs and COOs are realizing that digitization has created not only the opportunity for OT-IT integration, but also its necessity towards maximizing the potential of new and emerging technologies.

Hurdling alignment and integration challenges

Careful consideration is required to bring these two parallel assets, systems and data streams closer to compatibility – the alignment of the two technologies – and then to strategize a path toward full integration. Obvious challenges may relate to technology differentials, but they may also be rooted in culture or capabilities. These are some:

Legacy. Different paces of change, upgrades and innovations may have led to a staggered status between OT and IT adoption. It’s not uncommon, within one organization, for OT to be nearing obsolescence but IT to be state-of-the-art. Required action: Conduct a thorough technology audit. The integration path cannot be determined without knowing the starting point.   

Organizational design. Generally, despite similarities in roles and functional responsibilities, OT and IT employees report within different divisions. Alignment and integration may involve a change management process including review of reporting lines, budgets, and streamlining talent. Required action: Reconfigure enterprise architecture. OT-IT alignment is a critical aspect of a manufacturer’s digital strategy, and the vision of a mature, next-generation digital operating system and value network should dictate the appropriate shift away from siloed structures.

Culture and the nature of transformation. OT specialists are technicians and engineers; IT experts are network architects and program designers. Forging a common lexicon, and fusing these skills, will be key to synchronising technology adoption and digital progression. Required action: Lead and manage the transition towards a renewed, common OT-IT vision.

Risk management: Unified governance and standardized protocols are important, not least because cybersecurity threats, previously a concern only for IT, are now an enterprise-wide concern. Required action: Review and document technology risks. Assess these holistically: OT assets are now hyper-connected, and may be vulnerable. Pay special attention to scenario impacts: OT regulates high-value equipment and enterprise-wide operations, with huge financial costs in the case of severe disruption or breakdown.

Roadmapping effective OT-IT integration

The route to integration hinges upon the organization’s existing level of cultural alignment, resources, and strategic priorities. Leadership must evaluate the tradeoff between risks, processes, ecosystem restructuring, and agility towards the overall vision of full integration within a mature digital operating system.

Attempting to integrate through a plug-and-play approach will unlikely to work. An orchestrated process starts with researching what OT-IT integration will look like in the organization, defining how the alignment will be managed, leveraging the required data across platforms and systems, and phasing the transformation. Manufacturers should map the path to integration around three key areas:

  1. Business strategy. Integration creates opportunities to drive improvements in defined areas of the business. OT-IT synergies can enhance output efficiencies, or seed data for R&D research, or heighten agility to deliver improved customer outcomes. The options and possibilities are often complex, and the potential volume of data should not cloud the strategy. Ultimately, OT-IT alignment and then integration must focus on optimizing the digital operations and overall supply network. Ask: What are the mission-critical outcomes? Which areas are to be prioritized for deeper data or sharpened insights? 
  2. Technology investments. These may need to be prioritized according to proximity to obsolescence, or based on projected comparative gains, or payback periods. Ask: Where should accelerated investments occur, and where can the organization afford to phase upgrades more slowly? 
  3. Workforce upskilling for digital. Whether OT or IT, alignment and integration imply, and require, digitally skilled talent. Ask: Is enterprise-wide digital capability keeping pace with the planned progression towards digital maturity?

Integration as part of digital operating system transformation

OT-IT integration is one of the characteristics of digital progression and a mature digital operating system (or DOS). Complexity is growing, and digital not only manages this complexity, but leverages it for new insights and new capabilities.

But achieving integration, like most business progressions, requires an orchestrated approach.

The objective is clear: Digitally mature manufacturers are significantly more likely to achieve better revenue growth and higher net profit margins than industry averages. Technology alignment, gearing towards comprehensive integration, is a key aspect of digital progression.

CCi is a privately held global company that enables organizations to deliver sustainable results across the value chain through TRACC, a solution for continuous, integrated improvement.

Geoff Schreiner Cci, Industry Today
Geoff Schreiner

About Geoff Schreiner
Geoff Schreiner is Product Director at Competitive Capabilities International (CCi), a global management consulting firm that helps leading manufacturing and supply chain organisations achieve world-class performance through best practice and work process improvement. Geoff’s areas of expertise include operations and supply chain best practices, digital platform development, Industry 4.0 and machine learning, large-scale project implementation, change management, coaching, and learning and development technologies. Geoff holds a master’s degree in Comparative Industrial Relations and CSCP accreditation with APICs.

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