A Reliable, Healthy OT Network and The Journey of Into IIoT

April 13, 2020
As companies continue to look for ways to continue their digital transformation journey, a look into the health and reliability of the operations technology needs to be assessed in order to successfully incorporate IIoT technology.

Some of our clients are engaging in more serious dialogue about leveraging the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and digital transformation to enhance their manufacturing operations and, thus, improve their profits, market growth, and sustainability.

As conversations revolve around connecting more and more “things,” their network owners and trusted outside network resources quickly approach the topic of the client’s existing operations technology (OT) network. Is it stable? Can it be expanded without significantly affecting data throughput? Is there any network health monitoring in place to gauge the performance of the network and warn or issue notifications when performance degradation is occurring? Our clients begin to realize the need to have both a solid network design as well as the means to efficiently monitor the network and its assets as they travel along the journey of deploying IIoT technology; much the same way we rely on monitoring tire pressure, oil level, engine temperature, and fuel gauge as we drive our vehicles. Now, let’s examine some of the key factors our clients are monitoring as they travel on their IIoT journey, and why.

Today’s rapidly evolving OT systems contain many interwoven and interdependent components. At the base level can be multiple siloed industrial control system systems with some being a mix of proprietary platforms. IIoT device and industrial network asset inventories, configuration, and firmware data are, many times, managed via spreadsheets. Security and remote connectivity have limited insight, and, depending on the complexity of the system, asset performance monitoring can require senior engineering-level competency.

Digital transformation relies on a Big Data extraction layer on top of these base level components with the Big Data layer pushing data up to one or more business intelligence engines. For a client’s business operation to benefit from all this technology, the critical OT industrial system must be continuously monitored, notified, and reported on, one way or the other, for asset visibility, health, and security.

Clients have tangible business justification for making investments in monitoring the health and well-being of the OT assets. Most notably is a reduction in—or elimination of—unplanned downtime and loss of production via continuous OT monitoring. Other cost savings most likely will include ensuring software license compliance on key assets as well as helping to create proactive break/fix policies that mitigate lost production opportunities. Another equally crucial cost avoidance will be to minimize/eliminate the impact of security breaches.

Some of our clients are deploying automated OT health and security monitoring systems to help them realize the benefits of IIoT along their digital transformation journey. Key to their OT monitoring are centralized asset visibility, real-time health monitoring as well as asset and location security tracking. Centralized asset visibility is giving the client automated asset discovery, thus eliminating tedious internet protocol (IP) spreadsheets and inventory of IP-based OT assets. Real-time health monitoring is providing clients with a centralized, monitoring user interface together with real-time alerts and abnormal OT asset behavior. Security tracking is allowing clients to gain visibility into user access to their critical plant assets along with getting alerts about “unusual” geographic access attempts, ie from rogue sources on the internet.

Having a sound and reliable OT system platform is absolutely crucial to a client’s plan and execution of the IIoT. Having an automated monitoring system in place to continuously check the health, assets, security, and integrity of the OT system can provide some “peace of mind” for a client along their digital transformation journey.

If you make the investment in upgrading and enhancing your network to leverage IIoT to your business advantage, then make an equally wise investment in a platform to monitor your systems assets, health, and security. Don’t get behind the wheel of your vehicle to drive without the comfort of knowing your vehicle’s key operating parameters are being continuously monitored for your safety and well-being, and the same concept holds true with your OT systems.

Steve J. Malyszko, P.E., is CEO at Malisko Engineering, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). See Malisko Engineering’s profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.

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