Bridging the OT and IT Divide Once and For All

As manufacturers drive forward working to create the ‘factory of the future’, there is a pervasive cultural challenge that must be overcome – bridging the divide between OT and IT.

The OT Perspective

Industrial automation teams - engineers and operators - have almost always viewed IT with suspicion. When IT comes to Operations with ideas for how they can deliver solutions that can be leveraged to optimize production, they meet a lot of skeptical faces. Most OT departments feel that their traditional PLC devices and connectivity on the shop floor are better than anything that has ever been available to them from IT. The long running joke is that if ‘IT built a car, it would reboot every time you turned left’. IT was never trusted to “run the plant” because software has bugs and requires updates. While PLCs and other OT technologies weren’t as sophisticated, they just worked. When production is king and safety is critical, OT defaults to the systems they feel are the most reliable and consistent. Is IT going to promise that their software is going to run for 20 years, never go down, and never need replacing?

The IT Perspective

IT doesn’t want to be in a combative relationship. They want to find solutions that are meaningful and reliable for OT, but they are often understaffed and under resourced forcing them into a reactive and defensive position. IT wants OT to know that they have made huge strides in the cloud era. They know that they can facilitate new solutions that improve operational efficiency without requiring OT to replace or upgrade existing equipment – and even without adding new resources or cost in IT. They feel that if OT would just listen, they could communicate that they are not trying to replace OT systems, but help the company “do better OT.” Does OT need a better picture of what’s happening on the factory floor or a bird’s eye view of performance across factories? OT already has the sensors with the data and IT can harness that data and provide insights to OT that they’ve never seen before. OT and IT doesn’t have to an either / or scenario anymore – there is an OT AND IT opportunity now.

What are the most successful manufacturers doing to build the bridge?

Some manufacturers are hiring a role specifically tasked to bridge the gap. It’s a rare individual who can gain immediate credibility with both groups, but it is possible and a good way to fast track bridging the divide. The person needs shop floor experience and must create a trusted relationship with manufacturing engineers, maintenance and operations. They also need to understand IT struggles and how a corporate, global IT organization works and the constraints that they face. The role is successful only when they can create a culture where IT supports OT rather than just defending their current position. If IT remains a barrier to OT, there is always the chance that the VP of Ops will stand up a rogue cloud application on their own, even if it doesn’t meet the security and integration standards that corporate IT requires. Usually, this is a low risk move for that VP because they run production and production always wins – especially in manufacturing. IT cannot afford to be cut out and watch the rogue apps popping up around them.

Other successful companies understand how the cloud applies to operations. It is very relevant to their business providing the computational horsepower that enables operations to gain insights that improve production, reduce downtime, improve product quality, and show them things about their process they do not know today. Most machines on the floor are producing data today – lots of it – and it is overwhelming their operators’ abilities to analyze it to identify opportunities to improve performance. IT has new tools that can open doors for OT and that are minimally invasive. In the most successful companies, OT and IT come together to create a common view of the business problems worth solving, what insights they want to see, what would make a difference to line performance, and to set the business goals and rules to achieve that performance. Effort is required from both teams, but it can be done in hours and days and value from these solutions can be delivered immediately. Today, OT engineers squint at spreadsheets of data trying to look for trends. IT can now deliver this on a silver platter.

How do you get started?

Start bringing OT and IT together using assets and data you already have – invest in that to start small and gain some quick wins that get everyone on board. What data do you currently have that’s not being used? How can it help you today? If you’re concerned about the risk or effort required, you can start small, think big, and go fast – learning as you go. The Factory of the Future is a big concept, but it’s actually not that complicated for OT and IT to come together to get started – you’re likely closer to achieving many of the gains already. With minimal investment, you can start with one production line and achieve success – one factory at a time.

This is the very reason we created Spyglass - to enable OT and IT to see data from the factory floor they’ve never seen before and to act on that data to avoid unplanned downtime, improve product quality, and balance production. To learn more, contact us.


Robbie Jones | Director of Customer Success

Robbie heads up the Customer Success team at Mariner and oversees all aspects of implementations, support, and data science services. He has over 20 years of experience in the manufacturing space with a focus on using technology to improve business productivity and quality.