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Integrators Bridge the Gap

If control engineers are from Venus and information technology (IT) professionals are from Mars, the systems integrator is often the therapist who is helping to end the family dysfunction by improving communication.

{mosimage} The communication problem is a matter of differing priorities. The plant wants to run the network without stopping, while the IT people are worried that viruses and hackers can enter a plant network that isn’t properly secured.

Systems integrators come to plants knowing that they will have to run communication between IT and plant engineering. “We help IT folks understand the design of the plant floor network and we help engineers understand the IT infrastructure,” says Jack Woelber, president of Interstates Control Systems, an integrator in Sioux Center, Iowa. “We make sure the plant floor is keeping up with patch management and viruses and we make sure the switches and routers have proper security.”

The tension between plant and IT folks is intensified when data is exchanged between the plant and business system. “Traditional automation stops at the HMI (human-machine interface), so there’s not a big turf battle,” says Rob Peters, chief executive officer of Aseco Integrated Systems, an integrator in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. “The big battle comes when you link the plant to the business operation. IT and plant operators both want control over it. We ride the middle between them and create a plan that delineates duties.”

Some integrators are seeing improvements in the communication difficulties. “The wall between IT and engineering is still there. When a big network goes in, IT gets excited. But it’s a control network, not an IT network,” says Steve Goldberg, director of industrial systems at Matrix Technologies, an integrator in Maumee, Ohio. “We do everything we can to help a company’s culture.” Goldberg notes that the cooperation between control and IT is improving at many plants.

“The tensions still happen between IT and control, but they have cleared up quite a bit vs. 10 years ago,” adds Jon Siebold, manager of industrial programs at automation vendor Siemens Energy & Automation Inc., in Alpharetta, Ga. “Integrators offer better coordination between IT and control.”

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