Driving digital transformation with IT and OT convergence

September, 2022

Manufacturers Achieving IT/OT Convergence for Digital Transformation

Manufacturers are under constant pressure to increase automation, lower costs, and leverage smart manufacturing. But, in doing so, they face multiple challenges. These include scaling their digitalization initiatives, bridging data silos, and future-proofing systems. These goals require greater integration of data between what is commonly known as information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Although both IT and OT systems use information technology, there are differences in their objectives. IT is focused on information systems, such as accounting, HR, customer service, and other systems that manage the business. On the other hand, OT refers to those systems that monitor and control the organization’s operational infrastructure, such as factory equipment, electrical grids, pipelines, and other industrial equipment.

This research byte outlines what manufacturers should do to integrate IT and OT to reap the full benefits of digital transformation. We also highlight one services firm, Hitachi Vantara, as an example of a service provider addressing this emerging need.

The Need for IT/OT Convergence and its Benefits

Historically, in most manufacturing companies, IT and OT are two separate groups, and they do not have much to do with each other. The operations side of the business has a dedicated group of OT experts to install and maintain production equipment and its associated software, monitor production, and take corrective action to ensure product quality. This group is usually separate from the IT department, which is focused on managing information and automating business processes. IT/OT convergence in the manufacturing industry means that production equipment and processes leverage business data from IT systems and information systems receive real-time data from OT systems as inputs into decision-making systems.

Figure 1 - Driving digital transformation with IT and OT convergence

Some of the benefits of IT/OT integration include the following:

    • Real-time production visibility: IT/OT convergence enables gathering real-time data from factory equipment. As a result, management has real-time visibility of production operations. This gives managers an instant view of production-order status and notification of machines’ status, including those that are down, for example.
    • Enhanced decision-making and planning: By monitoring equipment temperature, vibrations, and machine tool wear, OT systems can alert personnel to schedule preventative maintenance before equipment starts generating defects. It also helps them anticipate short-term material requirements and schedule production to best utilize available machine capacity.
    • Improved financial performance: Through IT/OT convergence, manufacturers attain higher levels of machine availability and efficiently use resources, including raw materials, energy, and workers. This leads to lowered costs and higher profitability.

Key Challenges in IT/OT Convergence

To ensure proper integration of IT and OT pillars, manufacturers must develop a strategy to close the gap in data sharing, interoperability, security, system integration, and process optimization. The strategy should encompass five key imperatives.

    1. Integrating data seamlessly between IT and OT systems: To derive meaningful insights, manufacturers must ensure data integration between devices and sensors on the shop floor and the information systems that run the business. Data transfer must take place efficiently between the two. For some companies, this may mean retrofitting older equipment with sensors so they can connect with them.
    2. Leveraging modern IoT platforms: Industrial IoT (IIoT) platform bridges provide information systems access to data at the edge. IIOT platforms connect many devices, including machines, equipment on the shop floor, vehicles such as forklifts, and networking elements like sensors, edge applications, and routers. The IT function must provide enterprise-wide data with sufficient bandwidth and network controls to ensure high availability and reliability. One manufacturer that has done so is Marelli, which implemented an IoT Edge platform based on Microsoft Azure to digitalize its plant operations and connect assets on plant shop floors.
    3. Utilizing and integrating next-generation technologies: The latest devices and sensors support advanced technologies such as digital twins, augmented reality, and edge computing. While the manufacturing sector has traditionally been conservative in leveraging emerging technologies, the picture is changing, as leading manufacturers realize the benefits of these new digital technologies.
    4. Driving the convergence of IT and OT skills: IT/OT convergence is not only about implementing the technology stack. It also enables front-line workers such as plant supervisors, operators, and maintenance personnel to broaden their skills. To implement an agile way of working on the shop floor, cross-training should be done regularly. The data collected through IIoT solutions will also help track employee performance metrics, such as changeover time and capacity utilization, for better workforce planning and efficient knowledge transfer.
    5. Addressing IT and OT security vulnerabilities: Connecting legacy OT infrastructure to the internet or integrating with IT technologies may increase vulnerabilities to cyberattacks. For example, in May 2021, Colonial Pipeline Co., the largest fuel pipeline in the US, was hit by a ransomware attack. Although the attack targeted IT systems and did not directly target the computerized equipment managing the pipeline, the company was forced to halt all pipeline operations to prevent the attack from spreading to its OT systems. This led to a gasoline shortage across the East Coast. The need for robust security measures becomes even more essential as IT and OT systems become more integrated.

The Role of Service Providers in IT/OT Convergence

To tackle the challenges, manufacturers can partner with service providers with experience with other clients in IT/OT convergence. One example is Hitachi Vantara, which specializes in addressing the need for IT/OT convergence. Our recent visit to Hitachi Vantara’s Application Reliability Center (HARC) in Hyderabad is a testament to how this provider is streamlining cloud operations for better IT and OT process integration. These centers opened in June 2022 and are an interesting addition to Hitachi Vantara’s portfolio. They integrate site reliability engineering principles and intelligent automation technology to help design and build cloud-native products and services, improve reliability and cost for cloud applications, and manage hybrid and multicloud operations. They also expedite the modernization and scaling-up efforts of industrial clients. The HARCs provide cloud management services through a managed services model. They are driven by real-time monitoring of KPIs defined by the client and focus on real business outcomes.

Hitachi Vantara is well equipped to enable IT and OT convergence. It has a set of products and services specifically around data modernization. These include its systems, such as Lumada DataOps Software, Lumada Industrial DataOps, and pre-built Lumada solutions that run on its IIoT platform. Its Lumada Industrial DataOps services leverage Hitachi’s data and industrial operations expertise to integrate OT data from any industrial system and combine it with IT data from the edge to the cloud. This improves predictions delivered to the shop floor. It enables the integration of OT data sources with applications like manufacturing execution systems (MES), customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise asset management (EAM), application performance monitoring (APM), and computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to deliver real-time insights using analytics and pre-configured ML models.

Hitachi Vantara also has expertise in modernizing IT infrastructure, leveraging its Hitachi Unified Compute Platform, which provides a unified platform for software and hardware. With cloud migration and application modernization professional services, Hitachi Vantara can help customers migrate to hybrid cloud and multicloud environments and modernize their infrastructure, application, and data workloads leveraging Azure, Google Cloud, AWS, VMware, and other public cloud infrastructure providers.

Finally, Hitachi Vantara’s solution portfolio is part of the larger Hitachi ecosystem. These solutions offer operational outcome-oriented solutions for specific OT applications such as asset performance management, field service management, video/Lidar/image-based visual inspections and analytics, enterprise asset management, measuring and assessing manufacturing quality, production, and safety-related applications.

There are real-world results. For example, an Australian coal mining company wanted to expand production from 10 million tons to its full production limit of 15 million tons without expanding its plant and equipment. A key element of achieving that was implementing a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system connected to 12,500 data points spread across machinery and equipment within its Coal Handling and Preparation Plant (CHPP) facility. However, just connecting all this equipment did not go far enough. It lacked a way to analyze all the connected data. So, it partnered with Hitachi Vantara and leveraged the latter’s Lumada Maintenance Insights, Lumada Manufacturing Insights, Pentaho Data Integration, and Hitachi Unified Compute Platform Hyperconverged offerings to develop a solution that augmented its existing capabilities to predict and overcome issues that were constraints to increasing production. This allowed the mining company to respond more quickly in the event of equipment failure. As a result, the company increased its production by 100,000 tons in the first 12 months of deployment.

Hitachi Vantara’swork to migrate its clients’ operations to the cloud extends to other functions. These include engineering and R&D functions like design, new product development, and prototyping. Hitachi also includes maintenance and repair operations and aftermarket services. As a result, these functions are also brought into the cloud along with IT and OT systems for better integration.

How to Achieve IT/OT Convergence

As manufacturers realize the importance of IT/OT convergence, they constantly deal with a lack of in-house skills in digital technologies such as cloud, data science, and AI/ML. Another big hurdle is the lack of cross-trained employees who combine strong functional knowledge with digital expertise. Therefore, IT and OT integration in manufacturing will not occur overnight. Manufacturers must develop a step-by-step approach to mitigate these challenges and facilitate integration. Here are three recommendations to keep in mind.

    • Create a baseline of your current IT and OT environments and perform a gap analysis to determine requirements for convergence. Use a maturity model to understand how far along you are in the journey to smart and connected manufacturing. The maturity model should facilitate the adoption of new technologies like AI/ML, IoT, and advanced analytics across the value chain. The maturity model should also assess the maturity of your current industrial environment in terms of machine connectivity, levels of automation, data integration and interoperability, and network security.
    • Build a road map and a blueprint to enable IT/ OT convergence. The road map should address skills shortages, maintenance costs, and infrastructure improvements, such as in the corporate network. The blueprint should include an end-to-end IT/OT reference architecture that covers key components, including devices, industrial and IT systems, and other assets from the edge to the cloud. The road map will allow you to identify the application and potential use cases to bring IT and OT together. The final stage of the road map will be to define KPIs and leverage unified data models to monitor the performance of both IT and OT systems. Use these as inputs to streamline and standardize processes.
    • Build a joint governance framework with clear roles and responsibilities to enable collaboration between IT and OT groups. This will help to drive cost, resource efficiency, and risk mitigation. Additionally, deploying the right change management systems can help expedite the implementation of a common governance framework between the IT and OT teams.

Specific skills will be needed to conduct the assessment. Most manufacturers lack these skills in-house to accelerate the convergence of IT and OT. Therefore, they will need help from external partners, who are rising to address these needs.

By Shwetank Saini, Research Leader, Avasant, and Taniya Chandra, Senior Analyst, Avasant