Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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The manufacturing CIO: a bridge from IT to OT


March 22, 2019
By Jennifer Rideout

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March 22, 2019 – Manufacturing chief information officers (CIOs) are busy people with a wide range of duties.

They deal with issues ranging from IoT to security, and modernizing the plant floor to supporting an array of business applications.

A key consideration for most manufacturing CIOs is the changing roles of operation technologies (OT) and information technologies (IT). Once happy to reside in separate silos, the last few years have seen a blurring of the lines between OT and IT, and a growing overlap between them thanks to the rise of IoT, cloud computing and analytics. For example, the majority of plant floors now incorporate wireless devices, IoT sensors and other technologies.

This evolution has enabled plants to support industrial applications, and has improved collaboration among workers by granting them mobile access to voice, video and data tools. Massive amounts of real-time operational data, critical to improving operations and the bottom line, can be accessed in record time. Yet all this has also created new challenges, as companies must maintain suitable infrastructures to support these capabilities along with the ability to securely move, store and compute this data.

As a result, the role of the manufacturing CIO is also evolving with the critical need to bridge the IT and OT teams successfully. They must ensure that collaboration is not only successful across groups, but that processes, technologies and new business models are all considered with an eye to unlocking new opportunities.

Here are 5 ways manufacturing CIOs can help bridge the IT/OT gap within their organizations:

1. Find common ground through strategic alignment
In most organizations, IT and OT often have different priorities. IT may prioritize security, while OT wants to maximize efficiency and uptime. It can be difficult to get IT and OT employees to agree on a set of action items. Start by conducting an internal audit to identify the challenges you’re facing; and get people in both departments to agree on the ones that need to be addressed immediately. Once the challenges have been identified and a consensus built around them, marshal the resources of each IT and OT employee, and empower them to collaborate to align their priorities and devise a strategy to address the challenges.

2. Train for the future
People in both departments need to start speaking the same language. Proper training is crucial to get people in IT to understand the wants and needs of those in the OT department –­ and vice-versa. The focus of training should be on preparing IT and OT for a future where their duties are increasingly intertwined. To that end, both camps should learn not only the job duties and responsibilities of the other, but also how they can work together on projects that require both of their skillsets. Training can build trust and camaraderie, and enable the sharing of valuable knowledge – all of which are critically important given the convergence between IT and OT roles.

3. Create incentives
Even after common ground has been found, challenges will still crop up. One way to ensure that these challenges don’t overwhelm the organization and obstruct real progress is to create incentives that are relevant and attractive to everyone involved in IT/OT integration. Creating a company-wide incentive, like a bonus plan, can increase buy-in while also increasing employees’ willingness to work across department lines.

4. Adopt the right techniques
When deploying new technologies, it’s important to make decisions that will pay off in the long term. Any OT worker can testify to the longevity of manufacturing technology (consider the number of PCs on factory floors that are still running Windows XP). No matter which vendors you choose, it’s important to start with a logical set of goals and ask the right questions. Your goals should dictate which technologies you adopt.

5. Dream big; start small
Before you rush headfirst into revolutionizing your operations, start with a small, manageable project that has clear objectives and can show immediate returns. When it comes to bringing IT and OT closer together, it pays to walk before you run.

The road to IT and OT convergence isn’t always a straight line. As technology changes at such a rapid clip, things will continue to evolve. But it’s worth remembering that, when IT and OT converge, the results can be amazing. Manufacturing CIOs must be the catalyst to bridge the divide, and bring positive and profitable results for the business.

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Jennifer Rideout is the manufacturing marketing manager for Cisco Canada. She is responsible for developing go-to-market strategies for the manufacturing sector in Canada, including channel alignment and content development.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION. Read the digital edition here.