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The Convergence of IT vs OT: Two Worlds Colliding

What is the Difference Between IT vs OT?

IT stands for information technology. It’s all of the stuff that you think about when you think of computer people. These are the people that maintain desktops, servers, printers, laptops, networks, firewalls, email applications, databases, and so, so much more. They essentially manage all of the hardware and software that helps run a business. Their focus is on the technology of information (no surprise there, right?).

OT stands for operational technology. This is all of the technology you use to make the plant run. Think about things like PLCs and machines. OT is the technology that ensures manufacturers can make products. Yes, there is overlap because many of those machines have PCs in them and can be networked. But, the knowledge and type of person you need to understand and run a CNC machine or packaging line or bottling line is very different than the skill set required for somebody to set up a traditional PC and run a windows server.

An OT person could be a machinist or a machine programmer or a maintenance person. This person is not limited to just one role in the plant. They’re the ones that know how to work on and fix all of that equipment that exists inside of a plant versus in IT, it’s people who know how to work on and fix computers and networks.

Both roles, IT vs OT, are crucial to manufacturing, yet each has its own area of focus. As technology has evolved and Industry 4.0 has taken hold, these roles have begun to shift and converge on one another.

IT vs OT in Manufacturing

There is a lot of discussion around these two roles is because while they are focused on two very different skill sets, the overlap is coming closer and closer together. Historically, the IT team worried about the things that happened on the OT side and vice versa. When needed, the two teams would work together on projects like coordinate hooking up machines to the network so programs could be downloaded, connecting a TV on the plant floor, or bringing WiFi to the plant floor as examples, but as far as day-to-day activities, IT and OT would work independently of one another.

As more and more people want to get their machines connected, the IT and OT teams need to ditch that old-school mentality and work together. That’s the only way to fully embrace Industry 4.0 and IIoT initiatives.

For example, if the OT team wants to network all of the machines, you have to make sure they’re secure. That’s an IT thing. The OT people will set up the programs on the machines themselves so they’re able to communicate on the network, but the IT people are going to have to maintain security requirements. This type of initiative requires a lot of teamwork to accomplish these kinds of tasks. It’s not just networking, but also knowing how to configure the machines. IT and OT can no longer work in silos.

The folks on the floor, the traditional OT people, are now wanting dashboards, databases, and mobile apps, just to name a few. Before, IT never had to support these kinds of requests, but now manufacturers are innovating and roles are evolving. Thus, the convergence of IT and OT.

On the plant floor, the machine has to work, it has to get up and running, and parts need to be made. If that doesn’t happen, the company doesn’t have products to sell and they aren’t making money. It requires teams to work together, rather than argue over goals. Technology is only going to continue to evolve, making the need for a unified technology team even more important. IT and OT working together is vital to ensuring the product gets out the door and delivered on time to customers while continuing to innovate and embrace smart technologies.

What is the Future for IT and OT Roles?

In the future, manufacturers will likely still have IT and OT people, working within their own areas of focus, especially in larger organizations, however, there will likely be a hybrid role, bridging the gap between the two. This person understands and knows both sides of informational and operational technology. They understand the specifics of manufacturing, connecting machines, and data. They understand concepts of how manufacturing works, the data behind it all, and how to talk about it in a way that creates a bridge between the more traditional IT and OT roles.

The IT OT convergence will establish a hybrid role whose main priority is to create a harmonious relationship between IT and OT. Essentially, this hybrid role is the bridge between people speaking two different languages.

When we go to implement Mingo at plants, we often come across the problem of a lack of communication between the OT and IT teams, not because of a lack of knowledge, but because they haven’t implemented many projects of this nature or they’re used to working within their individual silos. If there were a person with a hybrid role who understood both sides, it would make embracing and implementing technologies like Mingo much easier and faster.

This hybrid role allows manufacturers to fully take advantage of the innovations that are a result of Industry 4.0 and IoT in manufacturing. This is what we believe the future of IT vs OT will evolve into, and we’re guessing, it’s going to happen sooner rather than later because if manufacturers aren’t embracing new technologies, they’re going to get left behind.

Is the IT OT Convergence Bridging the Divide?

While this role is continuing to grow in popularity in the manufacturing industry, this person often evolves from the OT side and creates their own role, many times prompted by projects like a Mingo implementation.

Because we’re a cloud-based SaaS software, we often fall into the hands of the OT team simply because you don’t need to know anything about the underlying infrastructure of how Mingo works. You just need to know what data you want and how you want to look at it. Someone who becomes the administrator or owner of Mingo at each plant often ends creating a bridge between the two worlds, essentially establishing an environment where the IT vs OT mentality ceases to exist, and instead, the teams work together. The role is created out of necessity.

Truthfully, if you are someone that knows the manufacturing side of things plus the networking side, things go smoother if you’re going to implement an IIoT project.

So, what we’re saying is that the worlds of IT and OT are quickly converging. While some may be hesitant to embrace these changes, eventually, it will become necessary to keep up with the rest of the industry.

But, at the end of the day, a harmonious relationship is not a bad thing. In fact, it helps to create more well-rounded employees while encouraging engagement, faster implementations, and the ability to iterate on processes.

The IT OT convergence is happening quickly, and as a manufacturer, you should think about what this will look like at your own plant and take steps to embrace the changes that will result. It will benefit you in the end.

Picture of Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.