For decades, information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) teams have operated in silos, with very different objectives and priorities, and little need to collaborate. Thanks to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), that time is coming to an end.
In its 2015 report Driving Unconventional Growth through the Industrial Internet of Things, Accenture characterised IIoT as bringing together two separate technology families: Enterprise IT for resource planning, customer relationship management and decision support systems; and OT that monitors and controls field equipment, manufacturing and production processes.
This integration is an essential pre-requisite to the achievement of industry 4.0, the much-heralded future of manufacturing that “is critical for Australian manufacturing to remain globally competitive”, according to the Australian Government report The Digital Economy: Opening Up The Conversation.
With technologies owned by different business functions, operating under different technical standards and served by different vendors, this won’t be easy.
Uniting the business functions will be a challenge that each business must face and overcome if it is to enjoy the benefits of OT and IT integration. In fact, aligning stakeholders, especially OT and IT, may be one of the biggest challenges organisations face as IIoT evolves, says Danny Elmarji, director of system engineering at Dell EMC Australia and New Zealand.
“Key to overcoming this challenge is understanding the two different cultures: OT being very methodical, risk averse and changing only when absolutely necessary, while IT has been dealing with nothing but rapid change for decades, driven by Moore’s law and other relentless technological progress,” said Elmarji.
“Despite being historically conservative, OT is increasingly looking for new ways to get real-time visibility into their processes and apply analytics to get results. Meanwhile, IT has historically been more progressive but is becoming increasingly commoditised. As such, many IT organisations are looking for ways to transform themselves from cost centres to profit centres.”
When OT and IT don’t work well together within their organisation the result is “shadow IT” practices on behalf of OT and the lines of business. In fact, many CMOs and LOB owners are starting to bypass IT altogether by completely outsourcing CRM, social engagement and even IoT programs.
So, I hear you ask, how can we do a better job of bringing IT and OT together?
“Organisations need to work with a team that understands both OT and IT mindsets, in order to bring them together towards a common goal,” said Elmarji. He suggests Dell EMC’s understanding comes from having domain expertise and an extensive range of partnerships.
Glen Burrows, Vice President and General Manager, APJ OEM & IoT Solutions, Dell EMC, says the company has been in the OT market for 20 years.
“We work with OT vendors, OT OEMs. Operational technology is the centre of what we do in industrial automation. There is no gap between IT and OT in the minds of people in our global OEM business. We have deep experience on both sides.”
Dell Technologies looks to help by better aligning these organisations of OT and IT to maximise collaboration and minimise shadow IT, which is not only inefficient but can also lead to security issues.
There are strong incentives for organisations to successfully navigate this integration. Industry 4.0 will fundamentally reshape the competitive landscape and bring fundamental change to established industries, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 2016 Global Industry 4.0 Survey: Industry 4.0: Building the digital enterprise.
PwC surveyed more than 2000 organisations across 26 countries and found that over the next five years these companies expect to increase annual revenues by an average of 2.9 percent and reduce costs by an average of 3.6 percent each year.
“First movers who combine high investment levels with advanced digitisation are set to achieve even more dramatic gains,” PWC said.
One important requirement for the efficient and widespread integration of IT and OT that no vendor alone can realise is standards. Fortunately very good progress is being made in that direction.
At around the same time as Accenture’s report came out, the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) released the first version of its Industrial Internet Reference Architecture (IIRA). It represented a significant step towards bringing together the worlds of IT and OT.
Dell EMC has recently joined the IIC and is represented by Dr Said Tabet, technology Lead, IoT and AI strategy.
Danny Elmarji says it’s the largest Industrial IoT consortium, and the only one that is truly international in scope and execution, and its foundational documents have become de facto industry guidelines for companies investing in the IoT.
The latest version of the IIRA claims to “enable business decision-makers, plant managers, and IT managers to better understand how to drive IIoT system development from a business perspective.”
Elmarji says the global companies now represented on the IIC steering committee is indicative of the scope of IIC’s ambitions for the convergence of IT and OT.
“The steering committee now includes representatives from ABB, Bosch, Dell EMC, Fujitsu, GE, Huawei, IBM, MITRE, Real-Time Innovations (RTI) and SAP,” he says. “Our view is that success in the IoT requires an ecosystem of partners who can provide broad expertise.”
Elmarji advises that when a business is looking to explore an IoT-led initiative, it’s important to understand that the hardest part is not the tech; it’s establishing a business case that has stakeholder alignment, across IT, OT and the business leaders.
“Once the business case is approved,” said Elmarji, “you can then look to align your project to the current, established IoT landscape of reference architectures and consider how it will allow you to scale from the smallest of projects to the largest. Lastly, it is important to ensure that security and manageability is considered from the get go as the amount of connected things will continue to grow.”