Data can be disruptive. For a long time the management of industrial technology was split across two camps: information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). IT worked from the top down, deploying and maintaining data-driven infrastructure largely to the management side of business. OT built from the ground up, starting with machinery, equipment, and assets and moving up to monitoring and control systems. For a long time, these two divisions kept to their own turf and found their own effective solutions to problems. Then came smart machines, big data, and the Industrial Internet, and the worlds of IT and OT suddenly collided. Data, once the purview of IT, is now ubiquitous on the operations floor. Using data to enhance productivity is central to the Industrial Internet. In order for that purpose to be fulfilled, IT and OT, developed separately with independent systems architectures, need to come together and find common ground to develop a new information-driven infrastructure.

No small task

Many cultural and technological impediments make IT/OT convergence challenging. From the perspective of culture, IT and OT have traditionally been well-separated domains. When smart assets and infrastructure are introduced, it becomes necessary to figure out new ways to divide ownership and responsibility for the management and maintenance of that infrastructure. This can potentially lead to turf wars and blame games. On top of that, OT standards have generally been proprietary and vendor specific, optimized exclusively for specialized tasks. Unifying IT and OT requires implementing well-defined standards that scale all the way from assets to data centers and back. These standards also need to account for enhanced security, since operational assets that were previously disconnected from widespread communication networks could now be vulnerable.

It's all about the enterprise

All that daunting work can be made easier, however, by the concept of "enterprise architecture." Enterprise architecture is a top-down methodology for developing architecture by focusing first on organizational goals, strategy, vision, and business before delving into the technological specifics. This approach could keep IT/OT deployment aligned with achieving Industrial Internet goals. Going through the process of integrating IT and OT might require some initial effort, but the payoffs are worth it. Take electric utilities, for example. IT/OT convergence allows for possibilities never seen before, such as having live dashboards for an entire organization that report relevant information across many scales; detecting unbalanced load flows and outages; having systems that identify faults and automatically switch to different assets to restore service; and having integrated control, outage management, and distribution management systems that integrate with other IT data systems.

Growth opportunities

According to Gartner, IT/OT convergence is not only happening, it's inevitable. The trend is toward greater and greater data penetration into the world of operational assets, and CIOs need to become adept at looking at all aspects of their business before architecting solutions that affect what were once exclusively IT and OT domains. Some growing pains are inevitable, but IT/OT convergence is vital to advancing the Industrial Internet, and there's a great opportunity to embrace it and maximize its value.

About the author

GE Digital

Driving Digital Transformation

GE Digital connects streams of machine data to powerful analytics and people, providing industrial companies with valuable insights to manage assets and operations more efficiently. World-class talent and software capabilities help drive digital industrial transformation for big gains in productivity, availability and longevity. We do this by leveraging Predix, our cloud-based operating system, purpose built for the unique needs of industry.