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Battling Obsolescence and Risk Begins with an IT/OT Assessment

During any technology assessment to determine the need for an upgrade, a direct line of communication from integrators to decision makers and maintenance and engineering teams can help them better understand how to evaluate potential solutions.

Melissa Bruno

When you’re working in a facility that has equipment reaching end of life or components on the verge of obsolescence, it would be nice to simply wave a wand and have everything be instantly updated.  Unfortunately, because multiple installations and upgrades have been done over decades, this process tends to be a bit more involved. Before you can address obsolescence, breakdown, and security issues, you need to have a full picture of where your facility stands.

To do this, we perform what we call an IT/OT (operations technology) assessment. While companies like ours perform this work, the client’s presence and cooperation plays a crucial role. Here’s how to get the most out of your assessment.

Engage and understand

Compounded fixes over time make it difficult to identify the main issues or where to start resolving them. Having an open line of communication with the decision makers and maintenance team, we can help them better understand what we’re assessing and what it will take to correct it. The goal is to take a large amount of material and truncate it into digestible pieces that will allow all parties to evaluate potential solutions. 

In many cases, maintenance technicians or other employees may not understand what we’re doing.  They see an engineer walking the floor and assume we’re there to complete a particular task. In reality we’re performing an in-depth assessment that will be used to give them control over the optimizations that are ultimately implemented.  It's not that they’re opposed to change or not willing to cooperate, it’s more a matter of not knowing what they should expect since they’re not always looped in until the end.

But if these employees are involved from the beginning and actively engaged throughout the process, they can work in tandem with us to assess all the control panels and document all the automation equipment, as well as old drawings, control network schemes, or anything else that can give us a better picture of their operations technologies.

Our engineers then return with that information to assess it and break it down for the client to identify if there are any risk factors at play and if an update is required. We can also tell them what to prioritize. Having walked the facility with our engineers, the employees and maintenance technicians can then have the proper situational context to make better-informed decisions.

An IT/OT Assessment Case Study

While working in one heavily dated facility, we discovered that all of their control panels were on one network. They also used multiple versions of various panel devices from multiple manufacturers. The site was in such a state of disarray, it was difficult to pinpoint which devices were where and what each panel was specifically controlling. Because this assessment really should have been performed 20 years ago, and a number of devices had been added over the years as stopgaps, there was nothing else to do but start from the beginning and walk the facility, mapping what was currently in place.  Fortunately, this assessment was done with the direct involvement of maintenance technicians and engineers.

While assessing their site, it was determined that they were running on an outdated software platform that would make it difficult to perform the upgrade they so desperately needed to install a SCADA system where everything could be centrally monitored.  However, because they were so eager to be involved in each step and open to collaboration, it was much easier to identify their wants and needs. 

To make sure this momentum is carried through the entire process, communication and collaboration was maintained from the plant level through corporate to ensure all wants and needs were communicated and executed so that this facility received the optimization it needed and could perform its day-to-day operations worry free.

As a result, this company is now situated so that, when they plan for future upgrades or installations based on this assessment, they’ll understand how everything is currently implemented and integrated. 

Melissa Bruno is a program lead, IT/OT Assessments at E Technologies Group.  E Technologies Group is a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about E Technologies Group, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

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