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How IT Professionals Can Prepare for IT/OT Convergence

by Bobby Salerno on December 24, 2020

Bringing together two disparate ways of working is never easy. It can be an uncomfortable process as people learn to stretch beyond their comfort zones and think in new ways. This especially applies to the merging of IT and OT, which is happening in full force across the industrial, manufacturing and utility industries.

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IT/OT convergence brings a whole new world with it – and we know that world can be intimidating. But after you get over the initial hurdles, convergence can make your work as an IT professional even more powerful and impactful. (Although we won’t get into the benefits of IT/OT convergence in this blog, you can learn more about it here.)

two people walking through a data center

How IT is Changing

For decades, the IT world has focused on Ethernet networks while the production-oriented factory floor has operated independently on fieldbus. These two isolated networks used different protocols and had different purposes – neither aware of (nor impacted by) what the other was doing.

This approach worked well for a while. It allowed IT to focus on office security and accessibility while OT focused on production safety, reliability, quality and availability. But Ethernet has found its way into the industrial world. So what does this mean for an IT leader? Who will oversee and control this new, converged network?

We don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future, but here’s what we do know: The technology and platforms used in OT are becoming more similar to those used in IT. This can only mean one thing: The employees working within these two groups – with different training, experiences, expertise, cultures and priorities – have to come together. In fact, we think convergence will necessitate the creation of an entirely new role to bridge these two departments. Siloed departments and roles will be relics of the past.

As IT and OT unite, industrial plants will need someone they can rely on to align priorities and encourage work as a single entity. Are you up for the challenge? If you step forward to lead the charge, you’ll position yourself as a forward-thinking technology expert who’s willing to do what it takes to confidently assume ownership of converged networks and give your organization a competitive edge. There will be a growing demand for IT professionals who have this mindset.

To be an IT/OT frontrunner, there are four primary skills and responsibilities you’ll need. Armed with these proficiencies, you’ll be able to help OT use the production data they capture to reduce costs, boost efficiency and make smarter decisions.

1. The Ability to Understand Functions and Priorities of IT and OT

Even if you’ve lived in the IT world for decades, it’s important to step out of your box and get to know the demands and characteristics of OT.

To fully integrate OT systems and infrastructure into a centralized platform, you’ll need to understand the ins and outs of things IT doesn’t typically have to think about:

      • Automation technology
      • Environmental factors (temperatures, chemical exposure, etc.)
      • Real-time intelligence systems
      • Redundancy protocols
      • Regulatory requirements
      • Shop-floor setup and infrastructure

By becoming more operationally aware, you’ll also get a better sense of how operations and business issues work – and discover ways IT can help OT determine how and where to deploy new technology to improve operations.

2. A Knack for Processes and Procedures

To get everyone on the same page as early as possible, having the ability to develop clear procedures, processes and protocols will be important. These documents should address concerns and list best practices that work for IT and OT, with the ultimate goal of unifying structures and processes. They can also provide a framework to follow as IT and OT align.

3. Strong People Skills

The person within your organization who leads IT/OT convergence needs to be able to communicate with – and relate to – both groups. Understanding how to convey information in a way that encourages cooperation and collaboration will help everyone buy into the concept.

To do this, it helps to be able to understand the perspectives of and resistance from both sides. When you empathize with them, you can form responses that address their concerns but also point out the advantages of taking this step toward convergence.

Minimizing conflict and discord not only makes the process more pleasant, but also reduces risk and pushback as you start to identify projects for both groups to work on together.

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Topics: Belden IT OT

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