Bridging the IT-OT convergence gap

September 5th, 2016, Published in Articles: EngineerIT


The convergence of information technology (IT) and operation technology (OT) is no longer news, and yet many business opportunities in industrial digitisation is not capitalised upon said Barry Elliott, Rockwell Automation’s operations manager, at a presentation to clients at the company’s Randburg offices.

According to Elliot, many benefits of this integration are within the connected enterprise, i.e. the digitisation of operations and the industry internet of things”, and include the reduction of capital expenditure, improved time to market and improved productivity. Furthermore, there’s an indication that many executives believe the internet of things will bring new revenue streams.

Ashley Jacobs, Graham Stead and Barry Elliott at Rockwell Automation 2016

Ashley Jacobs, Graham Stead and Barry Elliott.

Such an integrated approach achieves increased performance and cost savings because it can bring new levels of visibility, collaboration and efficiency. On the one hand many plants and automation equipment are reaching the end of their lifespans or are far outdated, making it a good time for new users to adopt a more integrated IT-OT approach to their operations. On the other hand, Elliot believes many companies overlook their existing technologies which can better be leveraged without additional big costs.

Obtaining data is also no longer the issue it used to be – instead it is a matter of finding and processing the correct data and contextualising it for meaningful decision-making. Plant security associated with the tighter integration, which bears directly on operations, has been another obstacle to wider adoption, but as Cisco Systems’ Ashley Jacobs explained, is something which can be managed and should be properly planned upfront. Well-planned network segmentation is one means towards greater security, as is the physical security of networks and infrastructure (especially in light of internal attacks which are increasingly common). Determining where data processing takes place also limits risks, as Jacobs explained with “fog computing” – i.e. moving computation to the edge, processing some data locally, some in the cloud, and bringing these two realms closer.

The complexity of this all could itself be an obstacle, which is why both Elliot and Jacobs recommended a phased roll-out approach. To illustrate the process, Rockwell’s Graham Stead also highlighted examples in the mining, food and beverage, and petroleum industries.

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