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Technews Industry Guide - IIoT 2018

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OT-IT convergence in a legacy world
August 2018, IT in Manufacturing

The increasing convergence of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) across industry and infrastructure was a recurring theme at the recent ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida. ARC Advisory Group vice president Craig Resnick led a well-attended session that focused on the ramifications of OT-IT convergence in today’s industrial plants.

The challenges and benefits of convergence

Resnick opened this session by providing a brief overview of the benefits and challenges involved, including the need to integrate the new approaches with the large installed base of legacy automation assets. Several interesting case history presentations followed. Dale Malony from Honda of America, discussed how the process of digitisation to drive machine reliability forces OT-IT integration. Chris Hemric from R.J. Reynolds, discussed that company’s journey to operational excellence through digital transformation. John Davenport from EnovaPremier discussed how the promise of OT-IT convergence for that company is to enable it to figure out how to get all its systems to work together, and then easily implement new features as needed. Finally, Melanie Bladow from Tern Consulting discussed the critical human side of the equation and how to make this work to an organisation’s advantage.

As Resnick pointed out in his introductory presentation, the increasing convergence between OT and IT in today’s industrial plants has led to a rapid learning curve for both groups. In general, IT groups are just starting to learn what ‘real-time’ means, and OT groups are starting to learn how they can best leverage IT-enabled technologies in operations. Also, while IT groups have traditionally focused on preserving data integrity and data flows, OT groups are typically more concerned about non-stop system availability to help ensure 24/7 plant operations and plant and employee safety.

OT-IT convergence requires both groups to work together to figure out how to connect the large installed base of legacy OT assets (control systems, instrumentation, etc.) with today’s powerful IT-enabled solutions to improve business performance without compromising system availability. “The reality is that we still have 30-year-old legacy assets in our plants and we simply cannot afford to do a wholesale ‘rip and replace’,” explained Resnick. “This makes it necessary to figure out how to connect our legacy control systems to an IIoT world.”

Furthermore, he pointed out, as automation systems become more complex, the probability of human-influenced errors increases: “Anything that can be done to reduce complexity should be considered and implemented, as this will help minimise the probability of human error.”

One of the major challenges involves the dramatically different lifecycles between OT and IT. While process control systems and field networks typically remain in service for 20 to 30 years or more, most IT is updated or replaced every several years to avoid technological obsolescence in this rapidly evolving space.

Another significant challenge that has emerged in recent years involves ownership and responsibility. As Resnick explained, “In this case, the convergence of real-time operations technology with transactional information technology, is just one element of change to which organisations must adapt. To prevent declining performance, it is critical for an organisation to assess both its maturity and its ability to evolve and change. Whatever the cause (technology, economics, geopolitical, etc.), organisations need to refresh their thinking periodically and modify their organisational design to adapt and survive.”


As the needs of OT and IT are beginning to converge, so does the obvious focus on cybersecurity. OT’s focus on non-stop operations and eliminating unscheduled downtime is raising the cybersecurity issue on the IT side, and increased data from IT is raising the same issue on the OT side.

“Each organisation’s behaviour is driven by what they value, how they think, and how they are rewarded. OT professionals prioritise availability over everything else. This includes system-wide integrity and security. Unless the few-and-far-between upgrades are going on, system access is generally limited and the environment is stable,” Resnick explained. “IT thinks differently. Their priorities are characterised by access security – ensuring that only the right people have access to the right systems, and that malicious actors cannot gain access.” IT systems typically require frequent – often daily – software patches and updates, which can be more difficult to accommodate in a non-stop, 24/7 production environment, especially if OT system downtime is required to perform the patch or update.

Despite these and other challenges, OT-IT convergence offers significant potential benefits. Many that are already well-proven in industrial plants and factories around the world include:

• Reduced process variability and energy consumption.

• Improved product quality.

• Improved asset health and reliability.

• Improved incident prediction to avoid upsets.

• Improved responsiveness to customers.

• Streamlined work processes.

• Better ability to take advantage of emerging technologies.

• Improved ability to attract a modern workforce.

Whither the IIoT

While many in the industry have assumed that the IIoT will play a key role in digital transformation and OT-IT convergence, it is interesting to note that while Big Data, analytics and Internet technologies played an important role in each of the three end user case studies, none appeared to highlight the use of IIoT-connected smart devices.

One likely explanation for this is that all three are examples of discrete manufacturing operations (auto assembly, cigarette manufacturing, and auto component assembly, respectively) that do not involve geographically dispersed assets, such as those that would be found in oil and gas production, renewable energy generation, electricity transmission and distribution, etc. The other likely explanation is that, while they certainly have not shied away from taking advantage of IT, these manufacturers already get adequate asset data through their industrial networks, lessening the value and potential risk that would be associated with implementing non-industrial, IIoT-connected devices. In other words, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

For more information contact Paul Miller, ARC Advisory Group, +1 781 471 1141,,

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