‘Sparks will fly’ in IIoT integration culture clash

“IT is moving onto OT’s patch, and that will not be universally welcome.”
6 June 2019

Will there be friction as IT enters OT’s turf? Source: Shutterstock

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will drive the global industrial economy into a new era of operation driven by ‘intelligent machines’.

A combination of smart sensors and actuators will enhance manufacturing and industrial processes. Machines will become ‘smart’, feeding data between one another to make decisions in real-time. The result will be faster and more accurate business decisions at a lower cost.

It is a phase dubbed ‘Industry 4.0’, and it represents an estimated US$145 billion market by 2023.

At current, however, IIoT uptake is at risk of slowing, according to a new report by GlobalData. It’s a result of challenges with integration, part of which requires overcoming the relationship (or lack of it) between those responsible for IT and OT (operational technology).

The integration of these two functions is crucial for IIoT implementation, but getting these could see many organizations across industries navigate a “spiky culture clash” as IT’s white-collar influence grows on the shop floor, according to the company’s Industrial Internet – Thematic Research report.

“The Industrial Internet will be characterized by the growing influence of IT teams, happier working in squeaky-clean, air-conditioned data centers but now having to collaborate with OT [operational technology] colleagues more used to working in dirty, shop-floor, industrial settings,” it reads.

Sometimes described as “IT for the non-carpeted areas”, OT’s typical environment is the edge, comprising, for example, robots on the manufacturing floor, a control system for a power plant, or the control networks for rail systems.

At present, OT tends to be the remit of engineers and operations teams— but confusion over responsibility abounds. Highlighting the “disconnect” between OT and IT teams, a recent survey by NTT Security found that respondents across industries were split between whether responsibility for OT security fell to the Engineering Director (42 percent) or the CTO (38 percent).

“IT is moving onto OT’s patch, and that will not be universally welcome,” GlobalData’s report continued. “Unsurprisingly in an industrial environment, sparks will fly. Not everyone in the OT world will accept IT having a bigger role.

“There is potential friction between the two areas, with each owning— and protecting— its own area of domain expertise.”

Beyond cultural integration, however, bringing IIoT into the fray relies on a complex process of technology integration.

Existing OT processes and hardware— including heavy machinery, industrial robots, equipment based on computer numerical control (CNC) technology and sophisticated sensors— need integrating with IT infrastructure that includes dedicated storage, compute hardware and cloud-based applications.

GlobalData’s report is echoed by another recent study by Opsview, which found that more than half of CIO-led innovation efforts across a range of industries were stifled by an organizational reluctance to move away from old processes. 

IIoT predictive maintenance

For those organizations that are able to navigate this integration challenge, one of the most significant and game-changing advantages of IIoT will be in predictive maintenance.

Sensors can feed back data on system performance, flagging anomalies or trends which could indicate the need for upcoming maintenance. Repairs can be made before serious damage occurs as a result, mitigating its cost and extent.

This capability is particularly beneficial to organizations with systems and components that are largely inaccessible, remote or hazardous— across sectors such as agriculture, construction and engineering, energy, manufacturing, mining, and utilities.

In the UK, for example, telecoms firm BT is running a pilot for Northumbrian Water, whereby sensors are used to monitor its water network. The water company will be able to track sensor-delivered data such as water, flow, pressure, and quality to help spot leakages and allow for predictive maintenance.

While integration challenges could lead to a slowdown of IIoT uptake, GlobalData also reported that security was also proving a worry.

Manufacturers cited concerns over cybersecurity, with more connected endpoints and reliance on digital, as well as frets over the integrity of cloud computing which would hold sensitive operational data.

“Factory floor legacy systems were never intended to be externally linked, and operations managers tend to think about site safety before cyber safety,” read the report.