OT, IT collaboration helps IIoT

Recent research indicates more operational technology and information technology collaboration, and 40% are spending more to do it. See a dozen bits of OT/IT collaboration advice.

By Mark T. Hoske January 27, 2021

Operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) personnel are collaborating more, according to a CFE Media and Technology survey discussed in a Jan. 27 webcast, “Marketing to Engineers: Engineer-Vendor Interaction, Virtual Events, and IT/OT Collaboration.”

See M2E events.

Respondents numbered 202 for an error of +/- 6.9% at 95% confidence level.

The survey asked how the relationship between the OT function and the IT function has evolved in recent years. Respondents could check all that applied.

  • 55% said it’s become more collaborative.
  • 39% OT better understands the priorities of IT
  • 34% IT better understands the priorities of 24/7 production environment
  • Only 23% have established hybrid IT/OT departments that have helped with the relationship.

Control systems, productivity, budgets

In your facility, what system is considered the single voice of truth?

38% said control systems; the next four answers were 15% or less: manufacturing executions systems (MES), enterprise resources planning (ERP) systems, enterprise asset management (EAM) systems or “We don’t have one.”

What are the primary goals of your facility’s IT/OT integration efforts?

63% said increase productivity. The next three answers all were 50% or less: Optimize production processes, increase equipment reliability and increase product quality.

To reach your company’s goals related to IT/OT integration, do you expect budget increases to cover additional use of third-party services of, for example, system integrators or contractors?

Four in ten said yes; undecided/we’re considering and “No” were about 3 in 10 each.

How do you feel about where your organization is on your IT and OT collaboration journey?

42% said they were ahead of competitors. About one in four said they were losing ground to competitors and an equal number said IT/OT collaboration provides no competitive advantage.

Advice about IT/OT collaboration

Respondents also were given the chance to give advice to others starting their IT/OT journeys. Below, think again, about a dozen pieces of more than 80 bits of advice:

  1. Be realistic when collecting data and take the right decision before concluding the outcome.
  2. Communication is key, and both groups MUST cooperate and understand that each must compromise.
  3. Constant communications and understanding of expectations. At the end of the day, it’s all just ones and zeros; how well you get there and manage is the advantage.
  4. Getting help from outside third parties that understand both IT and OT systems made a huge difference in our journey. Hiring contractors with this blend of knowledge to conduct security training events (both in person and remote) for our IT and OT staff greatly helped to build consensus and removed the previous cultural differences. Training and awareness has made the largest difference within our organization.
  5. Have the talk. Most companies (I was an integrator before joining a CPM) dread the divide and never get down to actually talking about it. In my experience, it seemed more complicated than it actually was.
  6. I have seen better results splitting IT into Enterprise and Factory/automation departments.
  7. IT and OT collaboration is hard because it is not a technical but rather a cultural problem. There remains a significant disconnect between IT and OT groups in terms of operational priorities, asset management strategies, end-user engagement, acknowledgement of each party’s skills and mutual respect. Have seen many instances of the OT group becoming part of an IT organization and failing. Have not seen many instances of IT becoming part of the OT organization.
  8. It’s a must do. Start with small projects – make them succeed.
  9. Lots of training for everyone, so all employees have the same overall idea and concept of the goals we set to achieve.
  10. Management needs to require and support IT and OT collaboration.
  11. OT needs to understand security is non-negotiable your equipment and line can and will be hacked. The dangers increase with Internet of Things (IoT) when it is more than data stolen but equipment damaged. For IT, it is understanding 100% 24/7/365 uptime with instant fail over back-ups and need for instant issue response is a minimum in operations.
  12. With increasing IT security threats, there’s a demand for increased IT security requirements and increased levels of security controls. IT and OT systems need to be designed, maintained, and managed in collaboration to ensure security shortcomings in one do not compromise the other.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS: IIoT, IT/OT collaboration

Operational technology and information technology personnel are collaborating more.

Advice about IT/OT collaboration includes training and getting outside experts to help.


Are you getting the IT/OT collaborative advantages expected? If not, how can you help?

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.