What is IT/OT convergence? Everything you need to know.
Information technology (IT) is the use of any computers, storage, networking and other physical devices and processes to create, process, store, secure and exchange all forms of electronic data. Typically, IT is used in the context of business operations, as opposed to technology used for personal or entertainment purposes. The commercial use of IT encompasses both computer technology and telecommunications.
IT/OT convergence is the integration of information technology (IT) systems with operationl technology. (OT) systems. IT systems are used for data-centric computing; OT systems monitor events, processes and devices, and make adjustments in enterprise and industrial operations.
What is OT?
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.
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.
Most control systems employed across industrial and manufacturing installations weren’t networked, resulting in silos of specialized devices — each electronic at some level, but not able to communicate or share information. This means human operators were tasked with programming or managing the physical operations of each piece of equipment. Even equipment that provided centralized control used closed or proprietary protocols.
Consider a traditional automobile. Although a modern vehicle contains a wide array of electronic devices, it remains an unintegrated and singular system. The vehicle might record data but doesn’t share data and doesn’t allow any overarching management or control. It functions in all real-world conditions but relies solely on the capabilities and experience of a human operator for successful operation.
Types of IT/OT convergence.
The IT OT convergence means that real-world events can communicate with a digital network. Operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) both transmit information, store data, and serve as the backbone of many business processes. By combining these two systems, organizations can transmit information gathered from OT processes to their digital IT networks, for a unified approach to systems monitoring.
Convergence isn’t a single initiative or effort. Convergence initiatives can take a variety of directions depending on the needs and goals of the particular organization. There are three main categories of IT/OT convergence:
Process convergence covers the convergence of workflows. IT and OT departments must reform their processes to accommodate each other and make sure important projects are communicated. This is an organizational convergence, dealing with the structure of the internal business. For example, a business might follow specific processes for storing and protecting IT data, but this process might be adapted or extended for converging OT systems.
Software and data convergence deals with getting the software and data in the front office to work to address OT needs. This is a technical convergence involving the network architecture of the business. For example, IT might need to implement new tools to gather OT data and combine OT and IT data for analysis.
Physical convergence includes physical devices being converged or retrofitted with newer hardware to accommodate the addition of IT to traditional OT. This is an operational convergence, where the hardware itself is updated and maintained over time. This might include the purchase of new OT systems or the addition of aftermarket devices to facilitate data communication and control.