The convergence of IT and OT is happening since many years now but when is it really going to be a fact and what is needed to do so?

Leadership roles are critical to IoT success from the start (Jason Mann, SAS, IT and OT debate IOTSWC17)

It’s certainly not just a matter of technology as we’ll see. IT and OT integration was also on the agenda of the second day of the IoT Solutions World Congress 2017 in Barcelona in the form of an IT and OT debate.

In one corner: Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), in the other one analytics leader SAS. Did they convergence (well, for that a company with an OT background would have been nice but it’s not really an IT versus OT thing or is it)?

The topic of the IT and OT debate: “learn how to break down the silos to unlock value from processes, data, and analytics”, exactly what we’re trying in Industry 4.0, the IoT, the convergence of IT and OT, information management and anything data-related really indeed!

The IT and OT debate in perspective - breaking down silos to unlock value from processes data and analytics at IoT solutions world congress

The evolution of the IT and OT debate 

We start with a bit of background information on the state and challenges of IT and OT integration and spice the bigger picture of the IT and OT debate with some statements from the IT and OT debate at IoT Solutions World Congress.

The key companies in saying why the convergence of IT and OT needed to happen many years ago and actually started to make it happen are mainly found on the OT (Operational Technology) side, with a few exceptions, but times do change. After having nicely operated separately, also with the occasional exceptions for specific tasks, and having used different networks and systems to fulfil their duties, IT and OT teams and executives started to see the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the increasing importance of data across all operations as such and in an Industrial IoT (IIoT) and actionable intelligence context.

Many of the big Operational Technology players made the case to leverage IIoT as a means to overcome the technological silos separating IT and OT. And by technologies we of course also mean the connection of myriad protocols and standards. IIoT is not just seen as a driver in the merging of IT and OT, it is also driven by it. The convergence of IT and OT is essential for IIoT and Industry 4.0 – and is pretty much even at the very center of the evolutions with regards to the interconnection of data without which there is little digital transformation, let alone actionable intelligence to achieve whatever purpose.

The mix of IT and OT – a security perspective

However, the IT and OT debate needs to be conducted as the convergence of IT and OT is far from a fact yet.

In several areas where OT is highly present, such as building management, the evolution towards IP has been an important driver. Martin Feder of Schneider Electric (one of the main partners and exhibitors at IoT Solutions World 2017), who is responsible for the building management systems certification of EcoXpert (the partner program of Schneider Electric) explained this evolution in depth in our interview on building management evolutions and drivers in the age of IP and IoT. As Martin Feder says, the BMS is even becoming the digital hub of connectivity in the building.

The mixed environment of IT and OT in today’s building management continues to move IP and IoT. This has also been an enabler of smart metering at scale. IoT has a major impact on pervasive metering in a critical power building and power management context as another EcoXpert expert, Kevin Morin explained. In the world of IoT, Kevin stated, silos of infrastructure will even become a thing of the past – and in critical power too IoT is changing the ecosystem.

However, there is still work, not in the least because today IT is rarely involved in the security of networks which are built for critical power management.

These networks are indeed separate and while there has been more than one reason to look at the convergence of the networks, to quote Martin, IT executives aren’t really keen to have a building management system on the same bandwidth as the office network.

This has brought us to three major aspects: 1) the role of IT executives in the IT and OT debate, 2) the network dimension and 3) the security aspects. At the IT and OT debate in Barcelona, HPE’s Olivier Frank emphasized it too: 70 percent of projects are OT-driven but IT needs to be involved.

Among the reasons: security indeed. And a second reason: to drive standards. Truisms with an extra note: OT vendors are seriously taking their channel partners on an educational journey with regards to standards in the IT world as well and faster than you might imagine with thanks to the profound impact of IoT.

Nevertheless, we all indeed know IT needs to be involved for security. As a matter of fact, not involving IT and security in is not just an issue of IT and OT. Ample digital transformation initiatives are slowed down because of bringing in IT and security too late as we covered previously.

The cyber security dimension: a complex given

When it boils down to industrial IoT and the IT and OT convergence debate it’s not just about networks of course, there are loads of components, including things like sensors and actuators (transducers) and ‘smart things’, fog nodes,(industrial and intelligent) IoT gateways, IoT platforms (both crucial for the integration of IT and OT) and so forth. And for IT some of these components are “different” from the cyber security perspective they are used to by the way.

Industrial data and many other pieces of the puzzle need security too. It’s as BT’s Bryan K. Fite wrote a while back on the need for IT (which he calls systems for computing) and OT (which he calls systems for monitoring events, processes and devices) to collaborate in order to create stronger security (BT recently started putting its first more serious steps in Industrial IoT and announced a partnership with Hitachi Vantara which is also at IoT Solutions World Congress 2017 and food for another post).

Once either IT or OT understand the perspective of their counterpart, they can start to develop a common nomenclature and align priorities (Bryan K. Fite)

Fite also emphasizes the human element and states that IT is concerned with cyber security while OT is more concerned with safety and quality. Truisms in a manufacturing context although we need to emphasize that security is key in the Industry 4.0 vision and related reference architecture models and that in many OT-intensive areas security ranks pretty high on the operational agenda too (just think about the full impact of the word critical in critical power buildings such as airports and hospitals).

Bryan’s blog is a good read as it tackles the challenges in an easy way, also emphasizing the privacy aspect (and the inevitable GDPR) and illustrating the ‘divide’ with the example of ‘white listing’, practical examples of security concerns and a focus on the need to have full visibility across all operations, which as mentioned results in the need for closer collaboration and, indeed, more ‘human’ IT and OT integration so to speak. Yet, as Bryan also says: it won’t be easy – and indeed isn’t.

The human elements in the IT and OT debate

Talking about manufacturing, the focus of Bryan’s post, also in the digital transformation of manufacturing things have changed and are changing ever fast with IoT.

There is a reason why Intel launched its Intel SDO for zero-touch and secure IoT device onboarding at scale at IoT Solutions World Congress Barcelona 2017. There is also a reason why HPE used the same event to do the EMEA launch of its “Express App Platform – Manufacturing” for factory transformation. While for several manufacturers IoT, let alone Industry 4.0, might still be looked upon with some distrust, others are going full boost and increase Industrial IoT implementations fast. And what else than the integration of IT and OT are we really talking about here?

With the rapid growth of IoT in the mentioned examples of building management, critical power and manufacturing (where there are obviously several different standards and protocols) the question most probably is not if but when and how the true convergence of IT and OT will happen. Yet, as mentioned is not just a matter of Industrial IoT, let alone technologies, whether they’re information technologies or operational technologies.

The IT and OT debate is, among others, a matter of culture and of people. IT and OT teams need to learn the best ways to work together where applicable. And manufacturers need to drop resistance against converging both if they want to remain relevant in a rapidly changing context of overall convergence (and there is quite some resistance).

Kevin Morin wrote a blog post on the several aspects of the convergence of information technology and operational technology beyond technology early 2017.

Developing efficient solutions, that often combine new technology with legacy infrastructure, requires highly-skilled people working within a network of integration companies (Kevin Morin)

“Not enough is being said about the human relationships required to successfully implement changes that span organizational departments, differing geographies and ultimately impact various stakeholder groups” Kevin, who comes from the OT vendor ‘side’, rightfully states when referring to the convergence of IT and OT, emphasizing that the technologies are available. They are indeed. In the age of IoT; IoT gateways and IoT platforms are just two ‘bridging’ examples on the data level. And when we speak about people we inevitable also need to think about user experience – and since we’re all customers of eachother – and customer experience, crucial in both IT and OT and in these days enhanced by analytics, the speciality of SAS and stressed by the company’s Jason Mann in the IT and OT debate at IoT Solutions World Conference.

The IoT and OT debate is over at IOTSWC17 but it’s far from over in the real world – the role of leadership

Technologies, people, relationships, management, culture, reluctance, security concerns, user experience, network concerns, it is quite a lot indeed and even if things move fast IT and OT convergence is not truly there yet.

The IT and OT debate might be over at IoT Solutions World Congress 2017 but it’s certainly far from over in the real world although, as you can read in the mentioned interviews and see if you look at the fast growth of large scale IoT projects and how the usage of IoT in industrial markets things is speeding up, it’s time to get things done as we’re transitioning from a debate about the art of the possible to the real IoT business impacts to quote Jason Mann from the IT and OT debate at the event once more. And it simply doesn’t happen without a bigger and profound IT and OT debate and without leadership, another human element that was stressed in the debate.

Obviously, the participants at the IOTSWC17 debate also have solutions to further enable it. HPE’s Olivier Frank showed how the company’s Edgeline IoT Systems helps and SAS stressed the importance of the analytics part which, as we all know, is key. However, leadership is probably the key takeaway.

Top image: Shutterstock – Copyright: Tero Vesalainen – all other images belong to their mentioned owners.