Manufacturers have traditionally generated, used, and stored information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) data separately. Avoiding IT/OT convergence wasn’t necessarily intentional. With distinct IT and OT departments staffed by personnel with different skill sets, not to mention different, proprietary technologies that weren’t easily integrated, managing the data separately was probably the path of least resistance. So, IT data from business applications, hardware, infrastructure, and networks, remained siloed from OT data from manufacturing equipment, controllers, and SCADA and other operational systems.
Why You Can’t Advance with Siloed Data
The problem, especially in the current climate of rapid innovation and customer demands for instant fulfillment and delivery, is that to operate at maximum efficiency and productivity, you need to use all types of data to drive smart decisions and optimize operations. Achieving an agile and profitable Industry 4.0 operation requires building a connected environment in which all data can flow freely to wherever it’s needed. Moreover, analyzing all types of data will give you the visibility you need to make informed decisions about how to lead your business through digital transformation and into the future.
The Advantages of IT/OT Convergence
When IT and OT systems are integrated, your operation will have new capabilities:
- Remotely monitor equipment and perform proactive maintenance to avoid downtime
- Control equipment and use edge IoT technology to enable computing right at the source of the data
- Use sensors to monitor the operational environment
- Centralize data management to establish “one version of the truth” and to provide an accurate real-time view of production
Ultimately, IT/OT convergence means you will have the visibility and control to optimize your operation, increase production, improve quality, and provide better customer service. Moreover, you set the stage to use advanced analytics and technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning that can unlock new paths to innovation and productivity.
Obstacles to Connecting Systems
The benefits are clear, but IT/OT convergence — as well as building a totally connected manufacturing environment — presents a variety of challenges:
The Solution: The Data River
- Equipment vital to your operation may lack an interface.
- Equipment from different manufacturers may have proprietary systems, so source code is unavailable.
- There may be objections from staff that altering code could mean less efficient operation.
- Integration costs can be prohibitive.
- You not only need to enable “north-to-south” communication from your operation to the cloud but also “east-to-west” data sharing between machines and networks in order to gain deeper insight .
- Securing data and networks can be complicated by integrating a wide variety of devices and applications.
Fortunately, there is technology that overcomes these challenges and facilitates IT/OT convergence as well as a totally connected manufacturing operation. Implementing a data river allows you to collect and analyze both IT and OT data. Internet of Things (IoT) devices can extract data from equipment, even if it has proprietary source code, enabling you to connect it to the network without costly integration. Also, the technology that powers a data river is designed with open architecture, which allows you to scale more easily, maintaining a connected environment even when you add new types of equipment or technologies to your operation.
A data river differs from a data lake, which is merely a repository. A data river, conversely, is dynamic and omni-directional (can move in any direction, e.g., device to device, to cloud, back from the cloud again but one version of the truth), allowing equipment, edge devices, networks and systems to send and receive data, continuously communicating with the digital ecosystem. A data river also eliminates the problem — and the expense — of having to send all data to the cloud for processing. Computation can take place at the edge, and then data can flow where it needs to. This feature is especially vital for mission-critical tasks where latency is not acceptable. This integrated system, encompassing both IT and OT, is also more secure, requiring verification for a user or device to access any component.
IT/OT Convergence is the Future
The concept of IT/OT convergence isn’t new, but achieving it has been a challenge for manufacturers. It’s also been a major stumbling block on the way to digital transformation. The technology to achieve a totally connected manufacturing ecosystem is readily available today — and it’s the first step toward using leading-edge technologies that will transform your business and make a tangible difference in operations and your bottom line.
Don’t take another step forward without taking advantage of the visibility and insights IT/OT convergence will mean to product quality, productivity, and profitability. It’s time for your entire operation to work as one. Learn more
about how ADLINK can help.