The Rise of OT Automation and the Convergence between IT/OT : What You Need to Know
Industries operate in a highly competitive landscape, due to the different price advantages of certain geographies. As a result, industrial companies, especially in the West, are modernizing significantly in order to have an IT and OT infrastructure that allows them to gain in productivity.
Industries are therefore adopting an increasingly technological approach, as seen in the use of machine tools connected to the internet to monitor the production process.
This approach is known as "smart manufacturing" and is a market valued at $97.6 billion in 2022, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2022 and 2027 of 18.5% . The market is driven by several innovations, including industrial automation. This blog will focus on one of these innovations - operational technology - OT automation.
What is OT ?
OT stands for "operational technologies", here are some interesting definitions :
According to Gartner “Operational technology (OT) is hardware and software that detects or causes a change, through the direct monitoring and/or control of industrial equipment, assets, processes and events.”
Another interesting definition from NIST : OT is “Programmable systems or devices that interact with the physical environment (or manage devices that interact with the physical environment). These systems/devices detect or cause a direct change through the monitoring and/or control of devices, processes, and events. Examples include industrial control systems, building management systems, fire control systems, and physical access control mechanisms.”
Another complementary OT definition of Tech Target: “OT focuses on the management and control of physical devices existing and operating in the physical world. The control of real-world devices is as old as industry and manufacturing itself. The introduction of electronics and digital technologies over time also found plentiful uses in operational control systems, such as computerized numerical control machining systems.”
Thus, operational technologies (OT) encompass technologies related to manufacturing and industrial environments, not to be confused with information technology systems (IT) which encompass all use of storage devices, networked machines, computers and various infrastructures and processes to create, process, store, secure and exchange all forms of electronic data.
What is OT automation ?
OT automation refers to the use of technology to automate industrial processes and operations, machines are integrated into systems governed by automatic controls, thereby eliminating the need for manual labour.
It involves integrating hardware and software systems to monitor and control equipment and processes, with the goal of improving efficiency, reducing downtime, and minimizing errors.
OT automation is becoming increasingly important in plants for several reasons. First, it can improve productivity by reducing manual labor and streamlining processes. This speeds up production times and increases yields. Additionally, OT automation can enhance product quality by reducing the likelihood of errors and inconsistencies in production.
The growing complexity of industrial processes is another reason for the increasing importance of operation technology automation and more broadly of industrial control and automation . As factories become more sophisticated and incorporate more advanced technologies, it becomes more challenging to manage and control operations manually. OT automation can help simplify this complexity by providing real-time process OT monitoring and control, as well as advanced analytics and predictive maintenance capabilities.
Technological advances, such as the development of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cloud computing, and artificial intelligence, have played a significant role in the development of OT automation. These technologies have enabled real-time connectivity and monitoring of equipment and processes, as well as the collection and analysis of large amounts of data to drive efficiency and productivity improvements.
We can therefore consider that OT automation has paved the way for a new combination of factors to drive factory management, what can be called an extended workforce made up of operators, machines and automations.
What is IT/OT convergence ?
The development of OT automation has been possible thanks to the increasing convergence of IT and OT departments within companies.
Traditionally, IT and OT were managed separately by different teams with their own priorities and processes. The idea of converging IT and OT systems comes from the wave of innovation in industry known as Industry 4.0. This wave is driven by increased use of data and connectivity, analytics, human-machine interaction, and advances in robotics.
IT/OT convergence refers to the integration of information technology with operational technology. This means that computer networks and industrial control systems are connected, allowing for closer communication and collaboration between these two areas.
Convergence reduces gaps between OT and IT teams, who can now share their expertise to optimize existing systems. This streamlines operations and reduces redundancies, resulting in greater efficiency and cost savings.
Additionally, IT-OT convergence provides a more complete view of operations, enabling companies to identify and address problems faster and make more informed decisions based on real-time data.
Finally, it improves security by providing better visibility to potential threats, thus enabling more proactive measures to be taken.
However, it's important to note that the implementation of IT/OT convergence is very complex, especially due to the historical fragmentation of different teams, processes, and governance. For a convergence project to work, common governance must be established, process harmonisation designated, common objectives set, and centralised data management put in place.
Types of IT/OT convergence :
Due to IT/OT convergence being very complex, it is important that this convergence take place in different aspects to make the project work. Aspects such as:
Infrastructure convergence involves the integration of computer and telecommunications systems at the network level. This type of convergence allows network infrastructure, such as switches, routers, and firewalls, to be shared between IT and OT systems. By consolidating network infrastructure, organizations can reduce costs, simplify management, and improve security.
In addition, it is often associated with the creation of digital twins that allow for real-time modeling and simulation of physical device behavior. This modeling allows for a better understanding of the interactions between equipment and processes, prediction of failures and testing of optimization scenarios before deploying them in the real world.
Data convergence involves integrating IT and technical data to provide a unified view of an organization's operations. IT systems generate data that is typically stored in databases, while OT systems generate data that is stored in specialized systems such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. By integrating IT and OT data, organizations can gain insights into their operations that were not previously available.
Process convergence involves integrating IT and OT processes to streamline operations and improve efficiency. This convergence includes automating manual processes and integrating disparate systems to create a seamless workflow. By optimizing processes, organizations can reduce costs, improve quality, and increase productivity.
For example, in a production plant, manufacturing processes could be integrated with sensor-based monitoring systems to create a digital twin of the production line. This digital twin could be used to monitor production in real time, predict equipment failures, adjust production parameters, and optimize processes on an ongoing basis
Organizational convergence involves integrating IT and technical teams to foster collaboration and improve communication. Historically, these teams have operated independently with little interaction. By breaking down silos and encouraging collaboration, organizations can improve decision-making, reduce errors, and accelerate innovation.
This also requires the establishment of a common governance for the whole IT/OT department.
Security convergence involves integrating IT and computer security to improve an organization's overall security level. A variety of security technologies, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, anti-virus software, and data encryption tools, can be used to protect computer and OT systems. These technologies should be integrated and centrally managed to ensure consistency and effectiveness.
Centralizing these systems allows companies to establish and enforce security policies and procedures that cover both IT and OT systems. These policies should include guidelines for access control, data protection, incident response and other security-related activities.
How can Trout Software help you increase the efficiency of your OT automation ?
Data residency and data access
One of the biggest risks associated with fully connected plants and devices is the potential for cyberattacks. The more devices and systems connected, the more entry points there are for hackers to access sensitive information or disrupt operations.
According to Deloitte and MAPI Smart Factory Study, when asked what risk(s) are you concerned about in your OT environment , respondents ranked Unauthorized access first.
To address these risks, it is important to implement robust security measures. One of the main challenges in implementing security measures is balancing the need for security with the need for accessibility. On the one hand, you want to ensure that only authorized personnel can access the system and its signals. On the other hand, you want to ensure that authorized personnel can access the system and its signals easily and efficiently.
One way to address this challenge is to implement a role-based access control system. Trout Software allows you to set up different levels of access for different roles within your organization.
You can establish your access policy in a notebook and automate the controls via the notebook scheduler. That approach allows you to ensure that only people with the appropriate permissions can access sensitive information or control critical systems, and it notifies you if an access policy is violated.
Knowledge collaboration onsite and offsite
As mentioned earlier, successful IT/OT convergence and OT automation requires collaboration and communication between IT and OT teams.
However, due to the nature of their missions, OT teams are often in the field while IT teams may be based in another city or even another country. To facilitate collaboration, Trout Software has created a shared space in these notebooks.
As shown below, this exchange space allows OT and IT teams to communicate about tasks they have completed and tag team members to notify them about a subject.
This also allows remote maintenance teams to easily communicate with all their colleagues.
All exchanges are stored and indexed over time, allowing teams to capitalize on their collective knowledge.
Opportunity in data
There is a potential to read and use logs for troubleshooting encouraging it to go further than visual signals. In many situations, relying solely on visual cues can be limiting when trying to troubleshoot a problem, as they may not reveal the full picture of what's happening.
By contrast, logs can provide a detailed record of what's been happening and can help pinpoint the root cause of an issue.
Trout Software makes log analysis simple and fast. Our tool allows you to easily connect to all types of systems and environments without ingesting data, thanks to the new generation of programming languages : Web Assembly .
If you have a CSV file, you can also drag and drop it into the platform and start your analysis. As shown below, you can perform a quick analysis by double-clicking on the value you wish to pivot on.
Finally, you can search for words or key variables using our search bar.
All of these tools enable efficient troubleshooting of a system by searching through its logs, all in a secure, collaborative interface.
Operational technology automation is a powerful lever that allows industries to improve efficiency and productivity. It becomes even more powerful as industries increasingly converge IT and OT systems, enabling more powerful OT automation and a holistic view of data to make better decisions. However, it is important to note that IT/OT convergence projects are complex and require the convergence of many aspects of a business.
To address these challenges, Trout Software facilitates convergence around three key points: team communication, data exploitation, and reduction of cyber risks related to the hyperconnectivity of the industry.
Want to learn more about cybersecurity ?
You can read our other blog posts such as :