Navigating the IT/OT Convergence in Pursuit of a Smart Factory 

Making data available from different systems offers even more valuable insights. 

IT/OT Convergence

There’s a saying that in the world of data, every answer provokes more questions. It’s also something that happens along a Digitalization Journey. Once a manufacturer embraces data-driven decision-making, it wants even more insights into operational behavior. Deeper answers require more data but accessing different kinds of data in different systems has not always been easy. Traditionally, these systems and their data have been managed and maintained by two separate groups: Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT). 

Much improvement has been made in converging IT and OT domains into one functional business group. However, the IT/OT Convergence remains a challenge that must be met before factories can retrieve more advanced insights from different kinds of data. 

What Is the IT/OT Gap?

The IT/OT Gap is the divide between IT and OT domains in a manufacturing organization. This gap encompasses differences in objectives, operations, technology, and culture. The IT domain includes systems that often require more computing power and internet access, and frequently are not on the factory floor. These are software applications, databases, servers, and networks. In the other domain, OT systems monitor and control physical devices that are used in industry. They also collect and store information on processes and events in the manufacturing environment. 

Systems typically managed by IT include: 

  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Systems 
  • IoT platforms and data lakes 
  • Maintenance management systems 
  • SQL servers and databases 
  • Business Intelligence (BI) platforms 
  • Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) 

Meanwhile, those systems managed by OT teams typically include: 

  • Historians and time-series data stores 
  • Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) 
  • Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Systems 
  • Distributed Control Systems (DCS) 
  • Industrial Control Systems (ICS) 
  • Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) 

The IT/OT Gap creates challenges in data integration, communication, and overall operational efficiency. It also is an important gap to bridge along a Digitalization Journey. 

The IT/OT Convergence

Like much of the Digitalization Journey, the challenges presented by the IT/OT Gap require changes in organizational behavior in addition to new technologies. The IT/OT convergence requires the development of cross-functional teams from both domains to help to bridge the previous divide and facilitate open discussions about shared resources. They also ensure that the use and management of shared resources aligns with operational and business goals. 

Over the years, the two domains developed systems that used different standards and protocols for data access, transfer, and storage. Developing a unified data architecture ensures accessibility to data from different sources. This includes industrial time-series, contextual, and asset data that is traditionally stored on site, but in different places. 

There are several ways to achieve interoperability today. They include the use of a modern historian, data lakes on the industrial cloud for storing contextual and asset data, and an advanced industrial analytics platform that offers many possibilities for connections and integrations with IT and OT systems. These are scalable and flexible solutions that can evolve to meet future challenges and opportunities. 

The Benefits of Closing the Gap

As the IT/OT Gap closes, more data becomes available for deeper insights that would not have been otherwise obtainable. Some examples are: 

  • Fast overview of running processes: When time-series and contextual data are combined, operational experts can create a Gantt chart that shows an overview of the process along with its known events in real time. This helps them prepare for upcoming known anomalies, such as scheduling maintenance to prevent a failure. 
  • More informative visualizations: Having event records, such as inspection reports, available with time-series data helps operational experts understand deviations in normal process behavior so they can make better decisions. 
  • Better criteria for building batch profiles: Over time, the performance and quality of batch profiles can decline. When performance degrades, then energy consumption also rises. Comparing batches leads to the creation of the ideal batch profile, which improves quality and helps meet energy efficiency goals.  

In reality, the IT/OT convergence is not just a technical upgrade but a strategic enabler. It facilitates a more innovative, efficient, and adaptable manufacturing environment that is poised to thrive in a digital transformation. Closing this gap along the journey also helps manufacturers move from a Data-Driven Factory to a Connected Factory phase, where they begin to add contextual insights to operational events. The ability to rapidly adapt to these technological and organizational changes keeps manufacturers competitive in a developing global market. 

IT/OT Convergence

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