Industrial Internet of Things: Changing the IT/OT Dynamic

Nov. 1, 2015
As manufacturers better understand how a connected world can enable smarter decision-making, their interest in using intelligent devices to enhance production efficiency has been increasing.

As interest in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) gains greater traction across industries, engineers are realizing that it’s very possible—and not all that complicated—to monitor production parameters and detect deviation from required quality standards, predict future events and trends, continuously optimize product quality, and reduce overall production time. This ability to control every step in the product lifecycle will enable new business opportunities and significantly change the concept of manufacturing through instant access to real-time process information and feedback.

To achieve this, however, companies’ information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) departments will need to change how they work together. Here are the three main areas that need to be addressed:

Secure the network

With a connected world comes increased vulnerabilities and risks. One compromised system in a network of devices can act as a catalyst for widespread infection, ultimately threatening an entire company’s infrastructure. IT and OT need to work together to maintain network availability, confidentiality and integrity. They can also work together to implement processes that prevent both deliberate attacks and unintentional errors.

Recommended security measures include use of:
• Encryption to ensure data confidentiality and prevent unauthorized data interception when running on public networks.
• Access control to ensure that only devices allowed to communicate with one another can do so, and to prevent unauthorized access to the network during operation.
• Authentication to block devices and users without explicit access to the network.
• Zones to separate critical sections from non-critical sections of the system and avoid the spread of network infections.

Work as one team

Different departments have different priorities. OT professionals typically focus on keeping production running to avoid the costs of downtime, while IT workers hone in on protecting data integrity.

Despite these distinct roles, it’s important to look at manufacturing holistically and combine forces to create an open dialogue between departments. Finding ways for both departments to work together will help businesses take advantage of their combined strengths and meet business goals.

Align network infrastructure

All devices that can be part of an IIoT initiative need a powerful network connection. This creates a huge demand for consistent and unified communication over an Ethernet network.

The network containing these devices should be hierarchical to simplify network management and operation. At the field level, communication areas should be divided into effectively manageable units, such as machine, production, and any other logical or physical unit.

In any IIoT initiative, the amount of data generated and collected will be significantly higher than ever before, introducing a challenge for IT and OT professionals. Both teams will be required to work together to connect devices in a simple, cost-efficient manner while also meeting the demanding performance and reliability requirements of the specific application.

To get more insight on the implications of the IIoT, read our recent white paper, Communication for the Industrial Internet of Things.

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