With industry 4.0 in full swing, OT and IT are rapidly becoming one and the same. OT/IT convergence is driving a major digital transformation within this growing industry.
What is OT/IT Convergence?
Operational technology (OT) and Information technology (IT) are often used synonymously, but the two play different key roles within any industrial organization. IT manages systems and applications, while OT monitors and maintains operations. OT/IT convergence occurs when the physical becomes digital, as technological advances digitizes facilities and equipment. Traditional industrial facilities become smart facilities, legacy equipment is updated for wireless or remote capabilities.
Why is it important?
The convergence of OT and IT boats many benefits for the company, including optimized operations and reduced costs. In the past, industrial machinery required costly, time-consuming maintenance that would often shut down operations until completion. As machines become “smarter” with the addition of computers and networks, they become easier to maintain. In terms of cybersecurity, having OT and IT teams that operate in sync with one another is a must to ensure safe, secure operations.
How can it be implemented?
The convergence of OT and IT has been happening all around us for many years now. Data-driven manufacturing gives managers the advantage of deep insights into the performance of their operations. This usage of data combined with the need to continuously collect and exchange this data between OT/IT teams to make decisions drives the convergence of the two. The ways in which the convergence happens varies by organization. The usage of Industrial control systems (ICS), SCADA networks, and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) facilitate OT/IT convergence in most organizations. These technologies represent a partnership between operations and data. Something to keep in mind during OT/IT convergence, IT is well-known to be vulnerable to cyber attack. OT is built on the same computers, and as we’ll cover in the next section, OT and IoT inherit all the same cybersecurity vulnerabilities as IT.
How can this convergence be protected?
As technology continues to advance, many more devices, including modern industrial equipment and control systems, are full-fledged computers internally. IT and OT teams often use the same devices now, usually managed via one or several centralized networks. If this network were compromised, the newly converged OT and IT assets are now in the same space and easily accessible at the same time. Thus, these machines are vulnerable in the same ways computers are, or even worse. So that begs the question: should they be protected the same way?
The short answer is yes. When industrial companies search for a cybersecurity solution, we recommend solutions that cater to OT, IoT, and/or IIoT protection. Asset management and threat detection is extremely important in this regard. Organizations should also prioritize educating their employees on OT/IT, their roles within the company, and how it affects them. With OT and IT using the same networks and systems, it becomes even more important for employees to understand data privacy and general cybersecurity measures to ensure a smooth convergence.