IT/OT Convergence – How to Connect IT/OT Teams to Power Data Driven Decision Making

  • November 21, 2019
  • Einat Etzioni

OT teams are instrumental in maintaining and scaling lean factory operations. They ensure that all control and automation technologies enable seamless production and operation processes. OT has been intentionally separated from IT; Reporting to the COO, OT departments include different people, goals, policies and projects. This independence drives OT’s agile and efficient management of the shop floor.  

In recent years, The Internet of Things (IoT) has taken the manufacturing sector by storm. IoT represents a new source of data that can be leveraged to increase factory efficiency. This new era of connectivity presents the OT team with many opportunities to further manage, automate and optimize the shop floor and production process. Unfortunately, without IT/OT integration, these opportunities cannot be capitalized on. Consider this: if shop floor data is not integrated with data from IT systems, and this data is then not processed accurately nor displayed to key decision-makers, operational excellence and production optimization are impossible.  

OT teams need to work together with IT, who are usually committed to their systems and protocols, and are often a bottleneck when it comes to creating a connected, modern factory. Connecting OT device networks with traditional IT data networks is a major challenge. Here’s how OT teams can lead the process. 

How OT Teams Can Bridge the Industry 4.0 Gap

Utilizing an IoT Centralized Platform for Data Driven Decisions 

Using traditional IT systems for real time decision making is nearly impossible. In some cases it can take up to 30 days for data generated from IT systems to be retrieved, analyzed, and presented. Traditional and legacy IT systems are not equipped with the technology to support big data analytics. This means there’s no way for them to display the data in a way that gives managers actionable insights.

In contrast, an Industry 4.0 factory has interconnected machines.These machines generate a great deal of data that can be analyzed in real-time to give a full picture of what is happening on the floor or a single machine. For example, in a shoe manufacturing plant, the machine turning out soles can notify the team responsible for sole stitching when there’s an unexpected delay or backlog, allowing them to switch to other tasks while maintenance is carried out. This facility-wide visibility is simply impossible without data connectivity

OT teams can overcome this gap by linking a set of connected machines to cloud-based analytics tools in order to create a centralized IoT network. Once connected to the cloud, this network can be connected with the existing IT network. 

By using a single dashboard, manual assembly processes can be connected to IoT devices and then measured for efficiency and quality. Custom-made applications can manage a series of complex tasks, enabling a holistic mapping of all elements of the factory line.

Integrating OT and IT Data Types

One of the biggest challenges OT teams need to overcome for successful convergence with IT teams is to communicate different data in a coherent way. OT data tends to be raw and unstructured, generated by monitoring devices on machines. IT, however, works with structured data from Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. 

This is where Industry 4.0 comes in. It provides OT teams with the opportunity to use IT’s data together with its own, then leverage it to generate real-time analytics. OT production data generated from machines on the factory floor can be inputted into ERP and analyzed in real-time so issues are dealt with immediately.

Consider the following case: A manufacturer faces a sudden increase in the cost of materials, and production costs. In a non-converged IT/OT environment, managers might not be privy to this very important change until the end of the quarter. The implications of this are far-reaching. The manager’s inability to act on time regarding adjustments to pricing or distribution affects the entire supply chain. With a centralized integration platform, however, IT/OT data convergence notifies managers about any issue that comes up immediately. This empowers managers to take preemptive and corrective steps, deciding to either use a different supplier, use different materials or change the product mix to mitigate pricing.

IT/OT Convergence Is The Key To Industry 4.0

Converging all IT/OT data in one Industry 4.0-friendly platform supports visualization of the factory as a whole. OT and IT decision-makers can get productivity status updates consistently and on time, which enables them to make more accurate business decisions.

Manufacturers looking for IT/OT convergence need a centralized platform that receives data from connected devices in real-time. This will allow the connected system to fully support monitoring and control of processes from a single interface. 

Connected machines form the backbone of Industry 4.0, making IT/OT convergence essential for today’s factories. OT teams who manage PLCs, SCADA and other crucial technologies need to take the lead to form a centralized IoT network that will be connected to the company’s IT network. This IoT network must then be linked to big data or cloud-based analytics to provide C-suite and senior managers with the real-time actionable insights they need to make more informed business decisions.  

Technologies such as FactoryEye are commercially available to support visualization and control of factories as they grow. These smart solutions can make IT/OT convergence a smooth, manageable process, allowing  factories to smoothly transition to Industry 4.0

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