Digital Transformations and the Role of the Integrator

Feb. 7, 2022
As more companies pursue digital transformation, system integrators can play an important role by helping to bridge the knowledge gap between IT and OT.

As 2022 unfolds we are finding that different clients are at different points of their journey along the road to data convergence between the manufacturing environment and the offices. Some end users are “getting it” when we talk about why IT/OT convergence is vital now and in the future. Clients want more data from the shop floor in order to make more impactful business decisions through analytics. What we continue to see being more of a challenge is grasping the ‘”how” and answering the question, “is our infrastructure up to the task of securely handling the data needs of industry 4.0 initiatives?.” How do end users get to a point where they are ready for what’s coming? We continue to advise clients that they need specialists involved who understand both the IT and the OT sides of the issue.

An important component to success is the customer having alignment between IT and OT within their organization. Often, digital transformation initiatives start on the enterprise side of the house with a specific business case where IT is typically challenged by their leadership to take more ownership of the connected “things” on the manufacturing side of the business. This, however, can be perceived as a threat to manufacturing operations, and for good reason. Operations is all about uptime and system availability when it comes to manufacturing. Historically, OT has tried to keep IT at bay when it comes to involvement in their systems to avoid costly system outages that may arise from lacking understanding of the intricacies of the manufacturing equipment. We see this as an opportunity for the integrator to help bridge the knowledge gap. As an OT/IT integrator, Malisko has developed great relationships with IT departments and has even tailored workshops that are specifically targeted towards IT professionals to help them better understand the OT world. We find that we gain credibility by having our top-tier network and security specialists right alongside process and data experts to not only plan a path for convergence but also show what it will do for their business. Helping bridge that gap between IT and OT professionals is the biggest area where an integrator can help ease anxieties when it comes to IT/OT convergence. Many times, it’s more about the people than the technology.

Most clients have heard the buzz phrase “digital transformation,” but a portion of those clients struggle to understand where to even start. A knowledgeable and experienced integrator will sit down with those clients and demonstrate to them the ‘art of the possible’. In our engagements, Malisko explains to these clients where and how digital transformation can positively impact their own unique business operations—aggregating data from segments such as manufacturing, market analysis, suppliers and logistics, and ultimately performing business analytics that truly add value. These clients become more engaged in the dialogue and the vision becomes clearer as we help them develop digital roadmaps which often start with proof-of-value pilot projects.

At this point the Integrator would be helping the client understand where they are now; what capabilities their current manufacturing automation platforms have; what changes and possible enhancements need to be made to their physical and logical networks; and what they’ll need to support more comprehensive data aggregation which will ultimately feed analytics at various levels in the organization. In our engagements, Malisko helps them create their roadmap, including planning, remediation, designing, deploying, support, and costs.

For the clients who have started down the road of digital transformation in their manufacturing we are seeing edge computing as a major enabler for other Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies. Specifically, since many digital initiatives come from the IT side, we’ve had to figure out a way to bring IIoT technology to the plant floor in the least disruptive way possible. One area where clients are seeing success is deploying network infrastructure with edge computing technology embedded at the network switch layer. For example, Cisco IOx running micro-services and containerizing applications. This compute capability at the edge allows connectivity to controllers and other endpoints to harvest data without having to touch the process control’s main SCADA system. Recently, we have seen customers take advantage of this new edge-computing capability in the area of cybersecurity to be able to analyze network traffic in real time, identifying assets talking on the network, and alerting users to vulnerabilities in the environment. For example, Cisco’s Cyber Vision brings all this to bare utilizing the IOx switches as network sensors which report the deep packet inspection data to a centralized server providing comprehensive threat intelligence. This solution assists IT/OT teams in building secure infrastructures and enforcing security policies to control risk.

System integrators (SI) of manufacturing automation can play a vital role in 2022 in helping clients navigate digital transformation as the industry continues to undergo a metamorphosis. Traditionally, the SI merely implemented control and data systems in the manufacturing space specified by clients. The industry continues to experience client resources rapidly dwindling in numbers thus causing clients to rely more on outside professional resources. In numerous instances, the client lacks the in-house resources to support complex control systems, virtualized servers, and multi-layer network architectures with OT-focused security posturing. In these scenarios many times the client’s in-house resources become more of a facilitator instead of subject matter experts. This is where the role and value of an SI makes a paradigm shift to provide more technical support and guidance for the client along with taking on a greater responsibility to better understand their business needs and challenges. The role of the SI becomes more incumbent on the SI to understand the client’s business objectives in the realm of digital initiatives so the SI can be a more valuable advisor navigating the ever-evolving landscape of Industry 4.0.

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