Bridging the divide between operational technology (OT) and enterprise information technology (IT) to support collaboration and enhance overall production efficiency, reliability, visibility, flexibility, and security is vital to digital transformation and the realization of Industry 4.0.
For decades, industries worldwide have invested heavily in information technology (IT) to reduce costs, improve operational efficiency and visibility, and ultimately, boost profits. In doing so, IT professionals have laid a big part of the foundation for what’s known as the Digital Enterprise. But for extractive, manufacturing, and logistics industries, the Digital Enterprise also involves another form of IT on the “plant floor” side of an organization, commonly referred to as Operational Technology.
During the years that gave rise to industrial IT, companies also invested hundreds of billions in OT, much of it for increasingly smart machines and systems to automate discrete production tasks and continuous processes. This included automation control and higher-level OT management platforms to efficiently operate, monitor, and optimize OT performance and maximize the utilization of capital assets. Further, it included numerous industrial communication technologies that keep systems talking to each other and to their human operators.
The benefits have been considerable, including:
- Major cost reductions
- Minimized latency of information
- Faster cycle times
- Fewer data collection errors
The advent of digital industrial communications—often called the Digital Thread—has interconnected what once were problematic islands of activity and information while breaking down operational silos. This has led to greater process transparency, where, for example, organizations can have instant access to quality data or stock levels, as well as be more flexible and faster in responding to volatile market demand.
It’s also led to better integration within the organization, which has improved access to service, the ability to respond to product changes through automated download of new production data, implementation of the Digital Twin (a digital replica of physical assets, processes, and systems that can be used for a range of purposes), and real-time, global data availability.
Consider the differences between manufacturing before and after digitalization:
Yesterday (non-digital manufacturing)
- Manual processes
- Opaque processes
- Separated islands of automation
- Legacy systems
- No central alarms
Today and moving forward (digitalized manufacturing)
- Secured remote access
- Industrial security
- Full automation
- Mobile applications
- Full process transparency
- Interoperability of processes
- Vertical integration
- Central alarm reporting
A look at this snapshot makes it clear that digitalization will change the way that industries work; but, to realize the promise of digitalization, powerful communications networks are required in the industrial space. These will enable the key components of the Digital Enterprise—digital models and condition data, vertical integration within the company, horizontal integration across the supply— but demand strong communications networks to handle the massive amount of data generated by and needed for efficient operation. What do these networks require?
- High speed (real-time communications)
- High data volumes (large bandwidth)
- High security (to protect against spying and attacks)
- Ensured connectivity (for reliable performance)
- Exceptional flexibility (plug and play, on demand, and easy configuration and re-configuration)
It also requires a bridging of the traditional gap between IT and OT.
Reconciling Different Perspectives
Connecting IT and OT for a truly, end-to-end Digital Enterprise is ideally the role of modern industrial communications. However, a number of challenges need to be met to realize this feat:
- Sharing data between IT and OT can be a struggle because their network infrastructures often could be more up-to-date and better connected.
- The perspectives of enterprise IT and OT professionals are typically very different. Although their jobs are interrelated in many ways, they tend to have dissimilar educational and on-the-job backgrounds. IT staff often come from computer science backgrounds, while OT staff have industrial engineering backgrounds. IT professionals tend to focus on cost optimization and security, while OT professionals tend to concentrate on production throughput and machinery availability. These distinct pedigrees can result in sometimes suspicious and occasionally adversarial perspectives toward the work that each group does.
The good news: modern industrial communications can tie the IT and OT sides of the Digital Enterprise together while enabling major transformations in how raw materials are sourced and transported, products are made, and finished goods get to market.
As one of the world’s largest organizations and manufacturers, Siemens has experienced and bridged this IT/OT divide in its own global operations, providing deep insights into how to bridge this gap. The solution has both human and technological dimensions.
Collaboration Is Key
Only through an active IT/OT collaboration based on the mutual understanding of the respective roles and backgrounds can data flows be optimized over a company’s networks, the backbone of the Digital Enterprise. Ultimately, by understanding the full potential of modern industrial communications, IT and OT can work together to ensure more operational efficiency, visibility, flexibility, and security in production. This collaboration can help companies fully realize the promise of the Digital Enterprise to gain greater competitiveness and profitability, both today and tomorrow.
More companies the world over are moving toward greater integration that will help make them truly end-to-end Digital Enterprises. They’re bridging the divide separating IT and OT, in part by purposefully bringing both teams together to facilitate greater understanding and cooperation. They’re also facilitating a vibrant Digital Thread of data throughout their businesses by modernizing their network communications with advanced technologies while incorporating OT’s precision requirements for production networks and data functionality into a strategic plan for their overall enterprises.
By aligning the different perspectives of IT and OT functions, these companies are helping to eliminate legacy information islands and silos that can slow down the speed of production and business, limit operational visibility, and delay time to market. They are leaving data synchronization and transcoding issues in the past, so they no longer experience time-consuming, error-ridden data handoffs and cycle-time latencies. Quality has risen; rework has dropped. Operational visibility has improved, too. What’s more, they have gained greater operational flexibility and new business agility that enables them to respond faster to dynamic customer demands and new opportunities.
The major result is that they’re gaining advantages over less innovative competitors that might be overlooking or ignoring issues spawned by the IT/OT divide. For those latter companies taking a wait-and-see attitude toward end-to-end digitalizing and modernizing their network communications, competitive disadvantage isn’t the only risk. They also face a burgeoning world of internal and external cyber threats waiting to exploit the vulnerabilities inherent in a fragmented digital landscape.
Realizing the Digital Thread
Today and in years to come, Digital Enterprises supported by advanced industrial communications and backed by fully aligned IT and OT teams will enjoy distinct competitive advantages over those without. With a vibrant, coherent thread of data running end-to-end through their operations, companies can execute their business strategies faster, gain performance feedback and insights sooner, respond to market changes and opportunities more quickly, and improve their time to market with new products and services.
Another benefit is simplification. This shift can help lower both capital costs and the management overhead and expenses required for operating highly integrated networks spanning both IT and OT environments. It can also vastly improve the reliability, visibility, and security of dynamic OT landscapes to boost availability and asset utilization.
Siemens has strong legacy roots in providing IT and OT solutions as well as bridging their differences to ensure our products and services offer customers the best of both worlds. Included among its offerings:
- World-class communications components. While building on existing standards, Siemens components also fulfill industry-specific requirements. All products are based on international standards (e.g., Ethernet, TCP/IP) and industry specifications (e.g., ATEX, IECEx, UL, EN 50155, IEEE 1613, IEC 61850) to ensure a perfect fit for industrial usage.
- Expertise in industrial networks, meeting both back-office and factory-floor requirements. Siemens solutions ensure critical availability, providing a reliable topology based on redundancy, including redundant network concepts, C-PLUG for immediate device exchange by untrained staff, fanless design to avoid downtimes, and redundant power supply. All components are robust (e.g., corrosion-resistant, EMC/shock resistant, temperature resistant -40°C to +85°C) and provide protection levels up to IP65/87. Moreover, Siemens builds in flexibility to ensure easy adaptability of communication to support ongoing optimization and change. Siemens Network Security captures all levels of security, while safety is assured through PROFINET.
- Interface to office IT. A structured network concept connects Ethernet-based automation systems into your office network.
- Consulting services. Comprehensive services and support related to network design, detailed site analyses, implementation services to ensure fast commissioning and training courses that ensure performance.
- Training and certification. Programs on switching and routing, security, all the way to wireless networks to equip automation personnel to work with industrial communication networks and become the interface between automation technology and IT.
A fully Digital Enterprise needs the expertise of both IT and OT teams to make it happen, enabled with the connectivity that advanced industrial communications technologies can offer. The sooner companies with such aspirations move forward to modernize their industrial data networks, the faster they will realize the benefits of being a true Digital Enterprise.Have an Inquiry for Siemens about this article? Click Here >>