Editor's Choice

You can’t have your silos and converge them

September 2022 Editor's Choice

Significant strides have been made over the last six years since I decided to write about the required convergence of OT and IT. Firstly, vendors and multinational companies widely use the term operations technology (OT). Furthermore, whole departments now exist in these large companies where manufacturing IT is defined, which is lightyears ahead of where we were a decade ago. So why is the distrust, or at least the appearance of doubt, still a prominent feature between the OT and IT fraternities?

New beginning, old problems

I have been in a new role for over a year now, ‘looking after’ the entire infrastructure, with cloud competency as my main focus area. Even here, I have still faced an ‘us and them’ mentality; however, it’s more in the open now. In my previous position, looking after manufacturing IT only, it was a hidden ‘feature’ that would be enabled once someone stepped on someone else’s toes.

Unfortunately, the sense of yours and mine remains deeply entrenched in the foundations of large multinational companies. IT and OT just cannot seem to hold hands for long enough. There are many benefits to IT and OT convergence, but it seems the culture and change management has a firm grip on both disciplines.

However, I have learned of the symbiotic nature of IT and OT, surviving and evolving through economic downturns, near-zero oil prices, chip shortages and global pandemics. During these unforeseen and devastating scenarios, the saying ‘each man for himself’ rings true. It tells the tale of IT and OT existing side-by-side, mutually and respectfully agreeing to disagree and only coordinating when situations require, such as a security breach, a mutually beneficial supplier contracting arrangement, or other shared interests.

Finding comfort in listening to others’ problems

While attending conferences and seminars, both online and in person, I find reprieve that I am not alone in this dream of OT and IT convergence. Although, at these events, I talked to IT professionals from large manufacturing companies and they still use the ugly words ‘shadow IT’ – I was surprised.

While we are working hard to break barriers and build bridges from IT to OT and vice versa, a new challenge is creeping into the manufacturing IT space: old versus young. Non-manufacturing companies have a different convergence they yearn for; a holding of hands between the old guard and the new kids on the block. IoT and digitalisation are being pushed by the new kids while die-hard analog, one-way communication is being held onto by the old guard. The two seem to fight hard for the ‘Convergence of IT and OT’ title.

I have more respect than I can say for the generation nearing retirement age. I also respect the new digitalisation age, which has singlehandedly pushed technology forward through a decade’s worth of evolutionary technological leaps. But coming to grips with companies still struggling with an ageism problem, and learning how it impacts digitalisation and modernisation efforts, sent shivers down my spine when an IT professional from a prominent bank told his story. I suddenly felt like my job and challenges were child’s play compared to my industry peers.

Shared interests

In some cases, IT and OT come together and agree to work in harmony. For example, shared infrastructure, shared backups and storage, shared data centres, shared cloud platforms, shared networks (logically separated, of course), shared master agreement contracts and shared security. We can also add shared skills, shared experiences and shared resources on digitalisation and modernisation projects. These are the shared interests that both IT and OT are interested in.

And that is what I’ve learned: that IT and OT convergence may just be a dream. At least until my mind is changed, or I continue learning more about IT and OT and their individual rights to exist without interference from each other. Or without being impacted by decisions from the other and without a forced convergence that might not be required.

Maybe a side-by-side existence with shared interests is the definition of convergence?

About Lance Turner

Lance Turner.

Lance Turner is an MES/IIT/OT specialist employed at Sasol’s Secunda plant. He has an honours degree in Information Systems and an Adv. Diploma in Industrial Data Communications, Networks and IT. A certified MESA MES/MOM student, his passion is amalgamating general IT across the manufacturing spectrum. Lance’s vision is for a converged IT and manufacturing discipline that will become the reality of Industry 4.0. His team motto is MES services that are always available, always stable, and always dependable.

For more information contact Lance Turner, lancegta007@gmail.com, www.lanceturner.co.za

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