IT and OT Convergence is required for Digital Transformation
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IT and OT Convergence is required for Digital Transformation

By John Graham, Sr. Director of Manufacturing and Energy Industry Solutions, Cisco

Numerous factors drive a company’s focus and initiatives when it comes to running their business. Improving shareholder return, maximizing profits, lowering costs, providing a great place to work, and a focus on customer satisfaction are a few of the main areas that we see when talking to our clients. One consistent priority for every company is that leveraging technology is one of the fundamental levers to execution.

Businesses in the industrial environment are focused on digital transformation and will continue to make it a priority. The returns are too great for companies to ignore.

The benefits are:

• Increasing revenue with quicker new product introductions and less downtime

• Improving operations by reducing defects in the manufacturing process

• Reducing costs through requiring less inventory and reducing energy used

• Providing improved safety and security for employees

Some examples of we have seen recently with clients are:

• In utilities,an increasing number of companies are embracing Distribution Automation (DA) over Field Area Networks (FAN) to enhance energy delivery (See DA video description at Cisco)

• Discrete manufacturing customers are using wireless to improve how they operate and track parts. See Daimler Trucks North America on Youtube

• Remote process monitoring is happening by leveraging video technology from a central location which can result in less loss and improved worker safety. See Noosa yoghurt on Youtube

One of the biggest concerns around the trend of digital transformation is that it also increases the risk factor from an IT security standpoint. The connection of more systems, devices and sensors inherently increases the attack vector where an enterprise can be attacked. The collection, transmission and storage of the available data from these newly connected “things” in the IoT world is also at risk. Companies need to carefully design their infrastructure to enable this digital transformation to happen. Just like the design of any system, they need to balance cost and complexity against the business benefits that will be realized.

One of the by-products of security considerations is the increasing trend of IT and OT personnel needing to work together. Security has traditionally been handled by the IT operations of a company and the CISO. As more systems and devices are connected in the OT side, the responsibility to make sure these systems and the data are safe is increasingly falling more to the IT organization.

This organizational convergence of IT and OT is required. In fact,most successful projects we see with our clients happen when these groups are working together. Both teams possess unique knowledge that they have built up from years of experience in each of their domains of expertise, and when working together with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, the results can be amazing. Security is one of the areas where monitoring, management and tools are being designed to work together to cross these converged areas. We are seeing tools that allow IT to manage the policies at a corporate level, link to the cloud for security analysis and provide a GUI-based, easy-to-use interface for OT personnel to monitor and make changes as defined by policy.

At the same time, one of the most basic security precautions that an organization can take is segmentation in the network. Industrial networks have been designed to be segmented from the earliest days because they operated in their own cell or area.In the past, they were just not connected. But now, those networks are being connected. Network segmentation and access control must be applied to ensure that only allowed traffic paths and permitted device-to-device communication can happen. Segmentation is a concept that has been a part of IT network designs for many years leveraging Virtual LANs (VLAN), packet tagging, Access Control Lists (ACL) and other techniques. IT network designers are very familiar with how to segment and architect Local Area and IP networks and their knowledge can be leveraged on the OT networks.

Beyond network segmentation and security, the next phase of networking developments will be the bridging of IT and OT when it comes to managing the network environment. Already, intent-based networking is gaining momentum into IT. Intent based networking is based on the premise that it should be easy to translate business intent into network configuration across all devices. It will monitor the conditions and state of the network, while reducing manual operation to a minimum. This is based on a closed-loop system that is watching the network devices, applying policy based on the conditions that are observed, and leveraging machine learning/analytics in the cloud to inform the decisions made. This same concept will begin to move into the OT networks and will require that IT and OT teams work together. Today, we see certifications like Cisco’s Certified Network Associate Industrial (CCNA-I) bridge the two worlds when it comes to training and recognition of the convergence of these skill sets.

One final organizational observation we have seen in working with our clients is that the culture MUST drive these teams to work together. For the projects to be successful and for the company to drive the outcomes they are looking for, it always starts at the top. This is done well when CIOs and OT business leaders make it a priority and foster a culture of working together while taking an active role themselves.

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