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Operational Efficiency Improves with IT/OT Convergence

Keith Higgins, Vice President of Digital Transformation

Rockwell Automation


As IIoT connects information technologies (IT) and operational technologies (OT), both sides must work together efficiently to gain value from IIoT deployments. However, despite automation being the standard for the past 20 years, communication between factory floor devices and the people and systems that turn their data into valuable insights continues to be a significant challenge.


Gartner predicts that 50% of OT providers will partner with IT-centric providers for IoT offerings over the next year. With IIoT sensors producing 1.44 billion data points per plant, per day, IT/OT integration is critical to improving operational efficiency while accelerating success through digital transformation initiatives.


The first step is to break down walls and foster collaboration.


IIoT and the Benefits of IT and OT Working Together

Traditionally, IT and OT teams are siloed and have different priorities, reporting structures and workplace cultures. This disparity hinders their ability to collaborate on IoT projects. However, successful IIoT projects require convergence between IT and OT data to drive visibility, collaboration and efficiency within plants and facilities, as well as across operations.



The benefits of increased collaboration are that industrial enterprises understand their businesses better, reduce downtime and reach productivity levels that were not possible otherwise. This partnership allows businesses to make data-driven decisions that align with their needs. It also provides instant access to actionable, real-time, data-driven insights that enable workforces to be more effective and innovative.


Integrating OT and IT can have a direct impact on whether enterprises remain or become more competitive in the global manufacturing landscape. By the end of 2020, experts predict that the manufacturing industry will invest more than $70B in IIoT, making participation imperative for continued success and rapid progress.


Introduce enterprise operational intelligence, including floor-wide monitoring, predictive maintenance, and management in real-time. Then, it’s easier to identify opportunities to continuously iterate and improve automation and service delivery methods.


In addition to the hard IIoT benefits enterprises gain from converging IT and OT, it’s worth noting that the cultural shift toward collaboration can signal a new sense of shared purpose between the two groups. When two disparate teams learn to work together, problem-solving and innovative thinking are just around the corner.


The IT/OT Skills Gap and How to Address It

Industrial organizations are starting to recognize the value of converging the plant floor with higher level IT infrastructure. However, this convergence is also highlighting a skills gap between the control engineer and the IT professional.


To manage the skills gap, manufacturers are increasingly turning to auto-discovery tools to remove the complexity and domain expertise previously necessary from factory floor systems. These tools identify assets, collect and integrate data with full OT context and produce models fully shareable with IT systems. By connecting existing OT infrastructure to smart factory networks and IT initiatives, auto-discovery capabilities reduce the technical knowledge and time needed by OT teams to map industrial infrastructure and improve operational efficiency.


Auto-discovery capabilities help IT as well as OT. IT staff may have a sound grasp of the computational architecture of a facility, but to fully participate in IIoT, they must become proficient in understanding the nuts and bolts of the entire operation.


How IT/OT Convergence Increases and Quantifies Productivity

Data gleaned from IoT in manufacturing improves decision making and machine performance. In fact, comprehensive analytics gathered from data transmitted by IIoT components provide enterprises with a complete, 360-degree view of manufacturing operations. The introduction of enterprise operational intelligence, including factory floor-wide monitoring, predictive maintenance, and management in real-time. As a result, it’s easier to identify opportunities to continuously iterate and improve automation and service delivery methods.


Integrated automation and information enable new productivity-enhancing innovations, including self-aware equipment and collaborative robots. Self-aware equipment has deeply embedded sensors broadcasting data that operators can use to predict outages and perform proactive repair. Self-healing robots are a pioneering technology. For example, researchers have created springs out of shape memory alloy that can allow a robot to heal itself, bringing it back online in a fraction of the time.


Turning OT Context into Value for IT teams

The abundance of data produced on the factory floor means nothing without context. Context helps OT teams better understand the insights the data holds and how it impacts the machines and processes they’re responsible for – enabling successful digital transformation efforts.


As for IT, they gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of all enterprise systems, from the top floor to the factory floor. This helps close the gap between IT and OT even further.

Interfaces that showcase an analytical combination of OT and IT data into a single set of insights are becoming increasingly valuable to boost workforce productivity, improve the performance of the enterprise, optimize assets and execute production with predictability.


Conclusion

IT/OT integration is critical to the success of IIoT deployments and overall operational efficiency. This convergence allows IT teams to achieve value from OT insights in real-time to reduce downtime and make better business decisions, achieving the ultimate goal: operational excellence.


Keith Higgins, Vice President of Digital Transformation at Rockwell Automation

Keith Higgins is Vice President of Digital Transformation at Rockwell Automation. He previously served as Vice President at FogHorn and CMO at RiskVision until its acquisition in 2017. Higgins was also an executive at Symphony Teleca Corporation, an IoT and connected services company, where he played an integral role in the doubling the company’s revenue leading to a nearly $1 billion acquisition by Harman.

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