Understanding IT From an Operational Technology Perspective

Executive Summary

  • There is a fundamental misalignment of goals between IT and OT that needs to be resolved to make Industry 4.0 a success.
  • IT refers to technologies that generate data for enterprise use.
  • As OT technologies become more integrated with enterprise networks, both IT & OT need to work together to keep systems stable, secure & efficient.


IT and Operational Technology don’t always see eye to eye, and it’s starting to become a problem

There are several reasons you could cite to give insight into this problem, but at the heart of this conflict lies a fundamental misalignment of goals. IT, on one hand, is designed to keep enterprise systems communicating and secure. Operational Technology’s (OT) prerogative, on the other hand, is to keep machinery running as effectively as possible, at a low cost, with near to no downtime. As an example, IT departments often patch software on a weekly basis; whereas patches on OT systems happen rarely, as this effects uptime. An IT department requesting to shut down a production line for a few hours to patch a security issue will rarely make any friends in the Operations team.

In the past, this hasn’t been too much of an issue. These two departments had little to do with each other, and each could get on with their work without too much disruption from the other. In fact, IT often had so little to do with Operations, that they would rarely go near any machinery or production lines of any sort.  

Today, digitisation technologies have changed the industrial landscape, and there are immense gains to be made for those who dare to embrace it, in both Operations and IT.

Moving forward, it’s of immense importance that OT understands exactly what IT is all about, and why both departments need to work in harmony and embrace the incoming digital factory. 


Understanding Enterprise IT

Technology has become an essential component of every business, but IT’s remit extends far beyond simply supporting the PCs sitting underneath everyone’s desks.

Starting with definitions, IT can be described as the following;

The common term for the entire spectrum of technologies for information processing, including software, hardware, communications technologies and related services. In general, IT does not include embedded technologies that do not generate data for enterprise use.Gartner 2018

As you might imagine, this covers a lot. From servers, IoT devices and phone systems, to disaster recovery procedures, network security, data storage and software; the Enterprise IT remit is vast and often complex. However, as IT doesn’t generally include data not gathered for enterprise use, this has not traditionally included OT data.

Much like Operational machinery keeps production lines running, without IT, the modern business would come to a standstill.


Converging IT and OT is Essential

The benefits of digitising industry, or Industry 4.0, have been well documented over the past few years, with cost savings, automated decision making, safety improvements and preventative maintenance to name but a few. The tricky part, however, is actually implementing these complex technologies.

The IT systems that run on factory floors are rarely fully integrated with the IT that runs the enterprise side of the business, with both sides generally operating in a multi-siloed manner. Both are highly intricate, require specialist support, and are likely entirely separate departments. The gap between the two as it stands is huge.

There’s been a lot of discussion from the big names about IT/OT convergence in recent years; namely from Gartner, Cisco, Intel, Atos and many others. As technology’s presence has grown in industrial environments, OT departments have gradually been adopting IT-like technologies to help drive efficiency and bring costs down. Now, more than ever, OT requires full IT functionality and capabilities.

 Bringing the two together is essential to drive change and digitise the factory, but it’s not going to be easy.


IT/OT convergence is about much more than individual production lines, machines, or even facilities. It’s about providing an effective data-driven bird’s eye view of the entire business that can be used to drive intelligent decision making at enterprise level.


The Solution That’s Needed

We’ve acknowledged the gap that exists between the two departments, so how do we solve the problem? Whilst this isn’t going to be an overnight change, the answer is to take the time to learn about and understand one another, and make moves to align departmental objectives.

The first step will be to deliver a change of mindset that realigns the departments to shoot for the same goal, and work together to support overall business objectives. The process of bringing the two in line is definitely challenging. There are protocols to be agreed, data to be collected and shared, and procedures to be co-written.

IT and OT can no longer afford to operate in silos. Organisations will require staff and teams that can understand the needs and drivers of both areas of the business.


Take the Lead

There will be major ramifications for OT departments that soldier on ahead without proper understanding of IT systems. For companies to win moving forward with digitisation projects, IT and OT strategies must be harmonised.

It’s no longer going to be okay for technical engineers to never communicate with the IT department; and likewise, it’s no longer okay for IT departments to ignore the potential that lies in the operations department. IT and OT working together is an essential facet of industrial digitisation, and the skills that lie on both sides of the fence are too important to ignore and try to go at it alone.


Here at Exmos we have experience helping both IT and OT gather quality and actionable data from production systems, helping customers get on the road to Industry 4.0.

Get in touch to find out how we could help digitise your operations.


Posted by Jordan Maciver on Thursday, May 10, 2018



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