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The need for alignment between IT and OT

Industrial environments are historically complex, mixed environments with the corporate system residing on the information technology (IT) infrastructure while the industrial systems that keep the manufacturing process functioning resides within operational technology (OT).

This physical or logical separation has led to friction between the two parties. OT is often viewed as a black box environment where industrial control systems (ICS) and data interact in a siloed architecture with an unknown level of security and governance. IT organizations commonly refer to their OT counterparts as the Wild West. At the same time, corporate IT is viewed as inflexible and unreliable, without the knowledge or understanding of what is important to the business which OT services.

This misalignment has led to decades of mistrust; however, with the emergence of production digitization (manufacturing environments) which are being seen as a business differentiator, it is time for IT and OT to closely collaborate on a digitization strategy that promotes standardization, operational resiliency and security of the industrial assets and intellectual property.

The emergence of digital technologies, including IIoT

Industry 4.0 has the potential to revolutionize the production environment, providing real-time actionable data points to allow for smart decisions. Industrial IoT (IIoT) provides a level of connectivity to the control processes fundamental to production or manufacturing environments turning them into digital assets.

Further use cases of digital technologies which will drive positive business outcomes in the manufacturing environment include:

A growing number of industries, such as life sciences, energy and automotive, have already begun the integration of IIoT devices such as smart meters, automated distribution systems and self-monitoring transformers. This can be used by AI to automate and tailor solutions to each process, supporting the existing experience and expertise found at the plants.

The benefits of incorporating this data with the vast experience of the business owners at the plant level will allow the business to make smarter decisions. But, as the environment becomes more connected, this in turn increases the risk of cybersecurity attacks on the business with far-reaching consequences.

The impact of industrial cybersecurity

The impact of a security breach to any part of a business can be disastrous. Within the OT environment where you are connecting SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) Systems – as well as the devices they control (such as robotics, regulators, drives, and related safety systems) – this can not only disrupt production and impact quality but can also result in personal injury or loss of life.

In recent years there has been a number of high-profile cases including the Merck NotPetya cyber attack, the Ukraine power grid cyber attack and the Hydro smelting plant ransomware attack.

These incidents showed how susceptible the OT environment is to both internal and external threat vectors, and that businesses require a more comprehensive end-to-end security solution that protects the business whilst allowing them to maximize the value from the new digital landscape. These attacks also highlighted the need to extend enterprise cybersecurity architectures with industrial cyber solutions that are specifically designed to protect industrial networks and connected systems.

A new approach to technology adoption

The adoption of digitization technology requires a shift in business and technology mindset with a real-world understanding of the challenges with transforming an environment which can support limited to no downtime. The steps below provide a methodology to overcome some of the key challenges with adopting technology.

Step 1: Drive communication between IT and OT leadership

Engagement and collaboration between IT and OT leadership will be key for any successful initiative. The siloed teams must break down any pre-conceived barriers that drive a lack of understanding of what is important to the individual parties.

WWT offers independently led ideation sessions providing a safe environment for business and technology leadership to articulate existing challenges along with future wants and needs. Ultimately, ideation tends to coalesce previously disparate teams around a common vision and strategy for the IIoT and the evolution to a truly connected, digital manufacturing operation.

A longer-term steering committee provides a platform to ensure ongoing alignment and collaboration that is mandatory for a successful digital strategy to be realized.

Step 2: Build a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy

A mixture of homegrown, third-party and partner managed systems adds to the complexity of the OT environment. Couple this with the lack of necessary tooling and monitoring solutions, it severely impacts the ability for the business to truly understand how applications are mapping through the environment, both internal and external, which in turn increases the security threat footprint.

In the past, organizations have used a manual approach for the discovery and mapping of production applications and systems. This is not only time consuming but provides only a "point in time" snap shot which will have limited value longer term.

WWT's consultancy service takes a tools-based, automated process to OT application discovery and dependency mapping. This allows the business to gain a real-time viewpoint on the current attack vectors which are built into a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. At the same time there is longer-term benefit of confirming applications and systems are continually compliant with internal and industry regulations.

Step 3: Define a next-generation digital factory infrastructure

A holistic IT and OT partnership is required when defining a secure, scalable and resilient OT architecture which is capable of defending, quarantining and quickly recovering from both current and future OT security threats.

There will not be a one-size-fits-all solution across industry, or even across manufacturing/production plants within a single organization. However, it is crucial that a best-of-breed solution (incorporating IT, industrial and security vendors) is put in place to provide the most comprehensive and resilient solution.

WWT's Advanced Technology Center demonstrates the viability and value of IT solutions integrated with industrial automation systems and applications, our strategic IT and OT partnerships, and the latest advancements in both IIoT and cybersecurity.

The opportunity for transformation

In an industry where profit margins are notoriously small, manufacturing businesses will see huge value in in the digitization of the most critical component of their business – the production operation itself.

However, finessing strategy before rushing to implement technologies will set your connected factory apart and ensure that your innovative approach will translate into real business outcomes for the long term. The vital difference will be the approach taken to integrating Industry 4.0, rather than the technology itself.