Thursday, 9 January 2020

Bridging the divide: Getting IT and OT to work together for industrial IoT

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Industrial IoT has the potential to transform business processes in manufacturing, oil and gas, utilities, and more. However, organizations must first overcome numerous challenges, one of which is bridging the divide between IT and operational technology (OT). Having the right people involved and working together toward an IoT initiative is critical for achieving a seamless, secure and successful end-to-end design.

We often hear customers describe what it is they want out of an IoT deployment: a dashboard with buttons that allows them to see data or analytics of that data to understand what is happening in the operating environment. It’s obvious they have a clear vision of the outcome they want, but they don’t know how to get there. And they can’t — at least, not by themselves.  One of the biggest reasons why IoT projects fail is because line of business expectations aren’t managed correctly, or because IT and OT didn’t work together to validate if a solution is feasible with current technology and skill sets.

The IoT tech stack is complex and fragmented. Organizations have to pick the right sensors, select the machines to be connected, choose a connectivity method, and then build the networking, application, and business intelligence layers (often incorporating cloud and multiple applications) on top. To further complicate matters, companies are looking to connect many different (often legacy) machines that have never before been connected. Different protocols must be parsed and cleaned up so that technologies further up the stack can ingest and understand the data.

No single department is capable of navigating all the different technical options and making the best decisions for a seamless, secure IoT deployment. While OT may be able to choose sensors and machines to connect, and IT may be able to build the remainder of the tech stack, these decisions can’t be made in silos. The digitalization of machine data creates a technical convergence, and both sides must work together to make IoT work. IoT is a team sport.

When the right people come together to solve a business problem with IoT, it becomes much easier to build a successful solution. Four primary groups or individuals include:

The line of business:


Representatives from lines of business can articulate the business need. These people are experts in higher level business strategy, sales, marketing, how to go to market, etc. For the line of business, IoT is a means to an end to achieve a business objective. These people can envision the dashboard and contribute to process and organizational design. While they may or may not own the budget, the line of business defines and creates the demand for a business improvement.

IT department:


The IT department is responsible for the enterprise IT infrastructure. The department’s main concerns are security, scalability, and manageability. They work in a fast, dynamic environment. IT is always under pressure to get things done—and to do more with less. When it comes to an IoT deployment, the IT department is concerned with the tech stack from the network out to the edge.

OT department:


The OT department is generally responsible for the equipment on the shop floor. They are concerned about quality, uptime and maintenance of machinery that is typically two to three decades old. Often times, the machines produce data that doesn’t go anywhere. There’s a human/machine interface where operator receives data and makes decisions. The OT department plays a key role in connecting machinery on the shop floor for an IoT deployment.

Procurement:


Procurement is responsible for finding products and services at the best cost. Sometimes this means breaking up solutions and buying components piecemeal. It’s best to bring procurement on board sooner than later so that they understand that the broad spectrum of components in an IoT deployment come from one ecosystem of integration. If a solution is broken up into bits and pieces, none of the solution providers will feel motivated to deliver the best possible service.

Even with these parties at the decision-making table, there are likely to be gray areas. Organizations often have to experiment or partner with a provider for technology that they don’t have the skills to work with internally. Of course, it’s important to get the right skills at the right time for the right cost.

At Cisco, we work hard to pull together the key technologies and partners required to deliver seamless, secure solutions that span the manufacturing floor to the cloud. Our partner ecosystem consists of large systems integrators, service providers, OT partners, distributors, and a variety of others. We span and bring together both the IT and OT worlds to create harmony and cohesion across our customer’s organization, our Cisco partner ecosystem and through the solution itself via Cisco Validated designs to ensure a successful IoT initiative.

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