Just because they share the word tech in their titles, does not mean OT (Operational Technology) and IT (Informational Technology) people share similar traits—or even come from the same planet! It’s one of the most challenging relationships to navigate in today’s manufacturing industry. The Industry 4.0 progression of plant floor to an Ethernet network, inevitably involves IT, after all it’s been their responsibility in office spaces for decades. Although these two groups functioned completely in silos prior to Industry 4.0, the time has now come for a meet and greet.
While the tension may be palpable between the two, both patience and understanding go a long way in foraging a new partnership. To understand how to be better together you must first acknowledge your differences. That’s true of anyone trying to make a relationship work; from a marriage, to a plant floor, to the world’s next start-up—teamwork makes the dream work.
Time is a construct
IT professionals operate in a 9-5 world, while OT is a 24/7 operation. IT functions with standard help desk tickets and your network troubles are addressed in a relatively timely fashion in the order they’re received. Not so in OT’s world. Downtime means lost production and that translates into lost revenue by the minute. It’s all hands-on deck until the issue is resolved, or at least until a temporary fix is determined.
A matter of priority
The priorities amongst IT and OT teams are relatively polar. While IT operations revolve around the AIC triad (availability, integrity, and confidentiality), OT professionals value uptime and safety as their top priorities. When machines are down, every minute counts to mitigate the loss on a plant floor. Availability of equipment is not an emergency to IT where alternate printers or devices are readily available. By the same token, safety measures in a low-voltage environment are not relevant to someone in IT, but confidentiality becomes a major pain point in the event of a security breach. Real threats and vulnerabilities exist in both worlds they just have different consequences.
Early vs. late adopters
To an OT professional, reliability is key which means new technology is adopted once it’s matured and debugged. While this practice drives stability it also means equipment is older. Skill sets also vary given system gaps and may be a generation apart. To further widen the gap, OT professionals generally have engineering backgrounds and similarities in how they problem solve. An IT professional’s education is not rooted in an engineering perspective. Although both may share the engineer moniker in their respective titles, they don’t speak the same language.
With a healthy dose of patience, understanding, and a desire to leave ego aside, an organization only stands to benefit from an OT/IT convergence. With support from the top down, a blend of the two teams will set an organization up for success with maximized connectivity and efficiency. The growing pains are inevitable, but the rewards are manifold.
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