A Venn Diagram is Forming Through IT/OT Convergence

Victoria D. Doty

Over the past two decades, digital transformation has become a buzzworthy trend for companies across industries, offering increased productivity and responsiveness as well as enhanced customer engagement and resource management. Despite the excitement surrounding digital transformation, some organizations struggle to develop thorough strategies and capitalize on these benefits.

As software and hardware have rapidly developed, enterprises have particularly grappled with a fundamental element of digital transformation — IT/OT convergence. In the past, many organizations viewed information technology and operational technology as separate silos with distinct functions, but the lines have become increasingly blurred. Thanks in part to the introduction of connected technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) and digital twins that require a seamless flow of data between physical and digital products, companies are erasing the gaps between their IT and OT systems.

In fact, IT and OT are converging at a rapid pace to overcome an array of disruptions — and enterprises across the world are taking note. Companies that have led the way are seeing many benefits, including streamlined processes, aligned IT and OT best practices, and improved asset management. Now more than ever, as enterprises increasingly adopt aggressive convergence strategies, IT and OT departments are blending — and like a “Venn diagram,” certain processes and tools fall within the shared IT and OT domain.

To better understand how leading organizations develop these “Venn diagram” approaches to align IT and OT departments and propel digital transformation agendas, let’s take a closer look at the crossover uniting these two spheres.

OT’s Role in IT

With the introduction of the Industry 4.0 era and new waves of connected technologies, OT has begun merging into IT’s domain. More and more, OT’s physical and digital assets that control industrial operations have truly “come online” thanks to the widespread adoption of internet connectivity. This has allowed machinery and central servers across organizations to communicate and thus provide IT teams with a wealth of knowledge — or more specifically, data. IT departments are utilizing these key data sets from connected tech, like IoT sensors and product lifecycle management capabilities, to further inform analyses and ultimately drive more meaningful business outcomes.

In fact, in many ways, OT is actually “teaching” IT to achieve these aligned business outcomes. By nature, OT tends to prioritize organization-wide efforts and identify use cases that will drive tangible business results — something that IT has historically struggled to do. Now, as OT increasingly shares data sets, inching into IT systems more and more, IT teams are learning to blend their techniques with their new OT partners.

IT’s Role in OT

The other half of this symbiotic relationship is IT’s growing role within OT. As connected technologies have flooded the market, IT has been tasked with providing external data to OT systems to ensure that smart manufacturing operations are continually learning and improving. Arguably, IT’s greatest role within OT’s domain is upskilling OT teams and revamping practices and protocols. For instance, IT is now training OT to rely on metrics to track progress and performance across OT capabilities. Many enterprises are also calling on their IT departments, with more homogenized systems and cross-functional approaches, to share best practices and tools, such as AIOps, No-Ops, and visual management dashboards, with OT departments. In doing so, IT is helping OT unite its disjointed networks of capabilities and standardize protocols to adjust and find greater efficiencies.

Potential Oversight Within the Overlap

Understandably, when converging IT and OT and creating an overlap across teams, technologies, and protocols, companies are bound to run into challenges. Aside from the inherent challenges of developing an enterprise-wide strategy and orchestrating a massive shift in roles and responsibilities, organizations must also deal with increased vulnerability for cybersecurity attacks. Although companies will always have to contend with the possibility of security threats, enterprises that undergo IT/OT convergence leave themselves particularly vulnerable to data breaches across their interconnected networks, resulting in stifled operations and potential financial losses, and even physical threats to employees and communities working within facilities like factories or power plants.

Among companies with merged IT and OT systems, most vulnerabilities share a common denominator –miscommunication. For example, if IT teams are not properly integrated into OT projects, namely projects involving IoT devices, then they cannot fully protect these connected devices online. Another potential source for cybersecurity breaches is outdated legacy OT systems. Oftentimes enterprises choose to keep their OT systems to reduce overhead, but many of these systems lack modern security features, leaving sizeable gaps for cyberattacks. To avoid these common pitfalls, enterprises can look to a few tactics, including detailed integration strategies and upskilling and reskilling across teams, to ensure that IT/OT convergences are both seamless and secure.

Embrace the Inevitable

Despite potential issues and cyber threats, IT/OT convergence is growing in popularity, and necessity, across sectors. As more connected technologies enter the market, and more disruptions shake up the business world, organizations will increasingly embrace smart technology and alter their infrastructures to adapt — including IT and OT systems.

Recognizing and adopting a Venn diagram approach, in which roles and responsibilities are shared across IT and OT teams where the overlap takes place, will help prepare organizations for the inevitable convergence, allowing enterprises to gradually establish processes and protocols. In doing so, organizations can withstand this market-defining movement and reap the rewards of IT/OT convergence for years to come.

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