Organizations worldwide will spend $2.1 trillion a year on digital transformation projects by 2021. Considering this is double the 2017 levels, this clearly shows that digital transformation hardware, software and services is serious business.
And few business functions are hit harder by digital transformation than Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT). Traditionally, these departments have operated in isolation, but digital transformation forces them to align.
This convergence is often met with resistance, so the big question is how can manufacturers successfully align IT and OT?
By showing IT and OT employees exactly how their departments benefit from aligning their processes, manufacturers can start embracing Industry 4.0.
The silo challenge
A factory is like a living organism with many different parts to it; there’s the materials, the machines, the people and the systems that they use to make high quality products.
IT and OT are key parts of that living organism. However, the challenge for manufacturers is that IT and OT often work in silos with little interaction, even when it concerns critical production data. This results in a lack of visibility into how each department’s role fits in the manufacturing organism. Consider the IT decision maker. Their chief concerns are around privacy and security; that’s what keeps them up at night. While the Operations team is more interested in uptime and safety.
So it’s no surprise that as digital transformation forces these two departments to align, conflict will arise. Many manufacturers have discussed the convergence of IT and OT for some time, and many fear the change. Marc Andreessen, inventor of the first widely-used Web browser, famously said that “software is eating the world,” and he’s right. Business is becoming software-defined, and manufacturing is not the exception to this trend.
The benefits of IT/OT convergence
Aligning IT and OT presents a comprehensive view of the operational challenges and opportunities factories face in their manufacturing processes. It brings transparency and a new clarity of purpose for both IT and OT teams, and may even redefine their roles. I’ve seen instances where IT and OT employees have rotated responsibilities to better understand how the other works. This can be an effective way to build understanding and empower two previously non-aligned departments.
Imagine IT and OT sharing real-time data to make better business decisions, predict customer trends, and remain ahead of the competition. This would result in an increase in improved manufacturing processes, leading to higher production performance and reduced costs.
How can managers ensure that both IT and OT are given equal focus and attention? By encouraging them to understand each other’s challenges, roles and objectives, and by breaking down internal silos, so the two departments can start working together to solve the factory’s toughest challenges.
Culture is key to successful IT/OT convergence
I often observe that the very notion of IT/OT convergence is rejected because of a change-resisting culture, and this certainly holds true for manufacturers. No doubt convergence is a major undertaking; you have two different teams with separate objectives.
However, strong leadership from key stakeholders is necessary to ensure that both IT and OT collaborate, and use best practices and tools to help the company make better products. In fact, some of the most successful organizations have created specific roles, such as a Chief Digital Transformation Officer, to oversee their convergence.
Enterprises often overestimate the complexity of convergence. Leadership needs to set the priorities for what the company stands for and what it wants to achieve. It then needs to empower the two departments to pull in the same direction with the right technology and access to the data they need. If either party is hamstringing the process then the company won’t survive.
IT has often been seen by enterprises as a cost center, but in Industry 4.0, management should see IT as one of their biggest assets to achieving their business goals. Leaders need to understand how to optimize the entire manufacturing process to achieve their goals.
Language is key to building trust to make sure that both IT and OT are sitting on the right side of the table. The key to success is never to lose sight of the bigger picture. Don’t look at it as IT or OT, but more about how we can use best practices from a security perspective and how can we use the best tools to make better products.
The debate around the convergence of IT and OT is no longer a “yes or no” question for manufacturers, it’s a “yes or not yet” question. The successful convergence of IT and OT is the only way to survive in the revolution of smart manufacturing.