IT/OT convergence: greater accuracy, agile responses and happy stakeholders
18 Sep 2019
Novotek’s George Walker explains how, as with smartphones, modern industrial firms’ IT and OT operations are benefiting from the coming together of technologies...
The average smartphone is 5.5 inches in height, weighs 150g and is the product of hundreds of years of technological advancement and convergence. Combining computing, telecommunications, connectivity and content, it exemplifies something now commonplace in the tech sphere: an overlapping of previously unrelated, or loosely related, domains.
Convergence is not something limited to technological design. It’s also influencing the industrial sector, as connected technology becomes more prevalent on the factory floor and blurs the line between operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT).
Historically, IT and OT have operated in silos, with very little direct communication between the two. But with more advanced OT such as SCADA systems and manufacturing execution systems comes the capability of connecting the plant technology with the enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management systems of the IT department.
Individually, these departments contribute to improved business performance, so connecting the two and embracing IT/OT convergence seems like it would be a recipe for greater success. So, what are the benefits of using modern OT systems to bridge the gap?
Better performance management
Ultimately, all departments of a business want to achieve success for the wider company. The only thing that differs between departments is how they measure and view success. By bringing together IT and OT, businesses can simplify the process of setting and measuring key performance indicators (KPIs).
For example, plant managers might measure against a KPI of X number of units produced, while IT teams might measure against business profitability projections.
All departments of a business want to achieve success for the wider company. The only thing that differs is how they measure and view success
The two are interlinked but measured differently. If the MES can provide accurate, real-time production data to the ERP system, it makes projections more accurate and senior executives only need look at one system for a comprehensive overview of performance, thus streamlining reporting to key stakeholders.
It can also be used to provide a link between sales and production, which in turn can make a business more responsive to market demands. if sales data shows that product A is proving less popular — and thereby less profitable — than product B, but larger volumes of product A are being manufactured, then the operation is not viable. Plant managers can use the information to determine the production volumes for different product variants and ranges.
With IT and OT data shared, departments will have the insight to align themselves and focus on achieving the same or complementary goals. As this is done in real-time, they can immediately see the benefits, particularly in terms of cost saving.
If the IT department identifies that production costs have been rising in recent weeks, they can communicate with plant managers and work to find the root cause. In more digitally mature plants that have edge computing systems such as GE Digital’s Predix Machine, the process of identifying the cause becomes simpler as both departments have access to granular data from the plant floor.
IT/OT convergence is the logical next step for industrial business computing, bringing information together in a way that is mutually beneficial and strategically valuable. With the right systems in place and support in ensuring secure and reliable connectivity, industrial businesses around the world can reap the benefits of technological convergence.
George Walker is managing director Novotek UK and Ireland