In this 2-part blog, we explore the evolving area of systems convergence within the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) landscape and offer some solutions to the many challenges it presents.

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the network of physical objects made “smart” with electronics, sensors, software and network connectivity, allowing these objects to collect and exchange data. Industrial organizations realized the benefits of IoT and coined their taxonomy, characterization of application and use cases: the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

IIoT technology allows organizations to directly access plant, manufacturing and remote industrial device data. As more organizations move to adopt IIoT, Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) are converging.

Operational Technology (OT)

OT consists of machinery, physical plant equipment and remote industrial software and hardware. OT professionals focus on systems used for monitoring and control and are adept with Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), Remote Terminal Units (RTUs), Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs), Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and embedded computing technologies.

Information Technology (IT)

IT includes any use of computers, storage, networking devices and other physical devices, infrastructure and processes to create, process, store, secure and exchange all forms of electronic data.

Towards convergence

OT has started to progressively adopt IT-like technologies, thus the convergence of IT and OT will bring clear advantages to companies including cost and risk reductions, as well as enhanced performance and flexibility. Moreover, increasingly stringent security requirements push the IT/OT collaboration.

Manufacturers and their industrial suppliers recognize that standards-based communication and homogeneous networking are key to optimized services, greater visibility and lower total cost of ownership.

Industrial Ethernet provides a common platform to improve Computer Integrated Manufacturing and offer a seamless cross-transfer of critical data between the plant floor and support offices. Benefits include:

  • Real-time network performance to develop deterministic systems
  • Security
  • Reliability
  • Manageability and ease-of-use features
  • Logical segmentation
  • Ability to add innovative technologies such as IT/OT convergence

Scope

The market for OT/IT convergence goes far beyond the connection of IT applications and physical assets. Digital business is focused specifically on peer exchange and communication between business (including process and information), people and physical things as equal entities. The digitalization of complex value chains is within companies, across companies and sometimes across industries. The digitalization is more than a market, and is a vision for future cross-industry models with a high degree of digital technologies and automation.

This means that different parties need to collaborate efficiently across the whole life cycle of industrial initiatives. In order to stand out and show more value, businesses try to make the best alliances and partnerships in the ecosystem.

For OT technical decision makers, the solution priorities are as follows:

  1. Safety

    The solution must not cause injury or death, and must not put the public or the environment at risk.

  2. Performance

    The solution must support the operational availability of the production facility.

  3. Security

    Often a lower priority since most OT systems are physically separate from IT and other connected systems.

  4. Cost

    Capital comes at a premium, and additional costs must add clear value that is understood by the plant manager.

For IT technical decision makers, the priorities are typically:

  1. Security and Privacy

    Business and personal information must be kept safe at all times.

  2. Performance

    Capability to satisfy the real-time communication requirements of industrial automation and control systems.

  3. Availability

    Both the ability to limit the impact on operations of upgrading or maintaining the solution, and the reliability of the supported base network infrastructure features to handle outages with minimal impact.

  4. Manageability

    Ease of configuring, maintaining, and fixing the solution.

  5. Compatibility

    How the network infrastructure supports various types of industrial communications and the devices, controllers, human-machine interfaces (HMIs), and applications already in use.

  6. Ease of integration

    Not just with enterprise applications, but ease of integrating remote or vendor expertise in a secure manner.

  7. Flexibility

    The ability to rely on common off-the-shelf equipment provided by a number of vendors and supported from a common expertise (often found in the IT department).

Stay tuned for Part II of this post, as we look at solutions to the above challenges and the outlook for IT/OT convergence.