Better Together: IT and Operations Technology in Advanced Manufacturing


Office-bound IT teams and operational technology (OT) personnel on the factory floor have generally moved in different spaces, engaging when confronted by a problem. But as the Industrial Internet of things (IIoT) sparks new opportunities in advanced manufacturing, it’s blurring the lines between these two traditionally disparate functions.

The benefits of this convergence can go both ways. Today’s industrial engineers are fielding more data than ever, as device sensors and robotic machines proliferate on factory floors. The IT team can provide tools to aggregate and analyze of all that data so OT team can prevent avoid costly downtime and automate workflows. IT knows Big Data, while OT knows the critical production systems in the ‘non-carpeted areas.’

Working together, IT and OT can thwart expensive downtime, improve network security, and improve floor safety, too.

With better understanding of their counterparts’ expertise, IT/OT collaboration can become a powerhouse in terms of increasing manufacturing productivity. Working together, IT and OT can thwart expensive downtime, improve network security, and improve floor safety, too.

Paving the way for successful IT/OT collaboration

Collaboration may not come quickly or easily for teams that have worked apart for so long. Both sides of the table will have opportunities to learn.

IT teams, for example, don’t usually have to address physical safety—their own or that of their internal customers. But when you’re working with robots on the manufacturing floor, safety is a major issue.

OT teams are also highly sensitive to any potential production disruptions. So, when the IT team wants to update the network, OT wants a say in when the update will happen and provide windows of availability for the update.      

Following are some suggestions on how organizations can get ahead of the IT/OT convergence curve:

Engage a business relationship manager to facilitate. It’s easy to forget about the human element when we’re talking about machines and smart factories. But, human insights are still key in achieving the “factory of the future.” A thoughtful people-process-technology framework is critical to successful collaboration.

Encourage teams to share their expertise, particularly around security. When IT understands OT control system needs, including terminology and business value, they can better support those needs. And when OT understands the dangers of shadow IT and the value of more robust security, they can better support security priorities.

Together, prevent set-and-forget syndrome. As we’ve explored in a recent blog post, network and data security in the advanced manufacturing setting depends on proactive management and monitoring. But, according to a recent Deloitte survey, half of organizations conduct vulnerability testing for industrial control systems less than once a month. Another 31 percent have never even completed an assessment. In addition, more than a third—37 percent—say their cyber-response strategies do not cover connected products at all.

By teaming up to catalog switches, systems, applications and connections, IT and OT can work together to identify vulnerabilities and strategies for securing them.

Leverage new platforms that support the IT/OT convergence. New solutions are cropping up to help pave the way for a more unified approach to the IIoT. Cisco, for example, has several solutions that directly support digital manufacturing transformation. Working with a third-party partner you trust can help navigate the growing marketplace.

So, what’s next? Some speculate that IT and OT may merge altogether, as still-evolving technology continues to blur the lines between both functions. While that remains to be seen, one thing is becoming clear: by bringing together information and operational tech expertise, IT and OT teams can help each other create safer and more effective manufacturing floors.  


August 27, 2018