Jul 05 2023

IT/OT Convergence: How Your Manufacturing Firm Stays Competitive

As businesses refine their digital strategies, experts recommend integrating IT with operational tech.

Research shows that the manufacturing sector lags significantly behind other industries in its digital transformation journey due to legacy infrastructure. In order to reap the benefits of digitalization, including artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics, manufacturers will need to modernize their legacy technology and remove silos within their organizations. That’s where IT/OT convergence comes in. By integrating IT with operational tech, the right data can be delivered across organizations.

Businesses that adopt this approach will find greater efficiency, scalability and functionality as well as some challenges. In a recent talk hosted by Frost & Sullivan, a panel of industry experts discussed the complexities of IT/OT convergence and how companies can leverage hybrid cloud infrastructure to integrate IT and OT systems.

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A Growing Trend Towards IoT Convergence

According to Lynda Stadtmueller, research vice president and global practice area leader at Frost & Sullivan, “14 billion industrial automation devices will be connected to the internet by 2027. That's about 20 percent of all IoT devices.

Industrial firms are also 11 percent more likely than those in other industries to have stand-alone legacy, nonconnected, non-cloud-native apps deployed at the edge.”

Stadtmueller also noted that this year, manufacturers are expected to spend roughly “12 percent of their total IT budget on IoT solutions.” Here’s everything you need to know about the crucial points where IT and OT must connect to create a successful integration.

DIG DEEPER: Find out why it's important for IT and OT to be connected for digital transformation.

The Benefits of IT/OT Convergence: What Manufacturers Should Know

For manufacturers that may be reluctant to embrace IT/OT convergence, experts on the panel shared a few core benefits:

  1. Automation offers “a baseline around the effectiveness and efficiency of the environments that we’re monitoring,” said Jill Klein, head of emerging technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) at CDW. Analytics can be mined continually from the cloud, and this process can be improved through AI.
  2. Information sharing provides better predictions and insights for decision-makers as they plan ahead. David Rapini, industrial technology strategist at Red Hat, said information sharing facilitates a two-way exchange between IT and OT teams. “There’s sometimes an inherent distrust between IT and the OT departments,” Klein said. “Or they have different priorities, so it’s hard to unify them together.”  
  3. Digital transformation — embracing digital processes, IoT connectivity and automation — is the best way toward a forward-looking mindset. “We are at the edge of transforming who we are and how we work as an organization,” Klein said. “We are quite literally discovering the art of the possible.”

Experts on the panel agreed that now is the time to embrace IT/OT convergence. “There’s a gap between IT and OT, and it’s time we mind it. Until we do, there’s no way to understand how those assets are performing,” said Klein. She added that aligning IT and OT teams also will make incident and change management easier down the road.

EXPLORE: Learn how to avoid 4 common AI mistakes.

Jill Klein Headshot
There’s a gap between IT and OT, and it’s time we mind it. Until we do, there’s no way to understand how assets are performing.”

Jill Klein Head of Emerging Technology and the Internet of Things, CDW

How to Avoid Challenges in IT/OT Convergence

“Despite hybrid clouds, APIs and automation tools, it’s difficult for businesses to connect the dots,” Stadtmueller said. So, what are the challenges of IT/OT convergence, and how can businesses overcome them?

For one, “system integrators are IT-focused, not IoT-focused,” Klein said. It can be tricky to bring these two groups together because they have different ways of working and are not accustomed to sharing a joint perspective.

The second challenge is that many manufacturers’ legacy systems “don’t necessarily follow industry standards. They follow vendor standards,” Rapini said.

READ ON: Learn why digital transformation consulting helps align IT and business objectives.

14 billion

The number of industrial automation devices that will be connected to the internet by 2027

Source: Frost & Sullivan

And if manufacturers are able to connect their IT and OT teams, the final challenge is collecting data intelligently using AI, machine learning and IoT technologies. The key is “having all of the data in the right place at the right time,” Rapini said. Then, consider how you plan to govern it, Klein said.

Once those questions are answered, “IT leaders must encourage their teams to adopt a bigger, enterprisewide view of things, rather than just a local, onsite solution,” Rapini said.

It can be a tough mental shift to make, and experts predict that the process will mean growing pains for manufacturers of all sizes.

DISCOVER: Learn why people as much as technology are critical to digital transformation.

How to Optimize Your ROI on IT/OT Convergence

If done strategically, embracing digital transformation can quickly pay off in dividends. “ROI on IoT projects is often more than projected because the other departments and teams want to use it and have value in that data,” Klein said. That’s why making this transition can modernize and revitalize the overall health of your business.

Every business is also different, so use cases for IT/OT convergence will vary. But the best place to start is automating your IT tools.

“We’re seeing a splintering of network options that people use,” Klein said. “Some people are moving toward the edge, while others are opting for 5G.”

David Rapini Headshot
IT leaders must encourage their teams to adopt a bigger, enterprisewide view of things, rather than a local, onsite solution.”

David Rapini Industrial Automation Strategist, Red Hat

As hybrid clouds become the new normal, Klein and Rapini agreed that information that must be processed quickly should be pushed to the cloud. And as long as the entire enterprise has an interconnected digital infrastructure, there can be “different layers of industrial automation,” Rapini said.

Once you digitize something, you also must secure those assets. IoT can pose its own security risks if not well managed. That’s why modernizing your manufacturing business is as much about access management of those edge devices as it is about change management, said Klein.

It’s also worth remembering the daily impact that IT/OT convergence will have on your workforce and employees. That’s precisely why IT leaders should, as Klein recommended, “put the business first, technology second, and build from there.”

metamorworks / getty images
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