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Manufacturing Tomorrow

Manufacturing Tomorrow


IT and OT Alignment: The Key to Greater Efficiency in Discrete Manufacturing

Nov 28, 2017
By: Mark Stevens

Align IT and ops 

IT and Operational Technology (OT) aren’t often discussed in the same conversation because rarely are they aligned or integrated with one another. In most organizations, IT is responsible for maintaining business application technologies (payroll, transactions, etc.), and OT handles manufacturing processes (control and automation) and the technologies needed to support them. Each has historically had its own set of people, goals, approaches, protocols, and projects, and there’s little if any interest in collaborating. Actually, there’s often nothing in place that allows them to collaborate, as their systems are distinct and don’t play well together.

According to the results of a 2015 MPI/Rockwell survey, less than half of manufacturers surveyed said their OT and IT teams worked together on issues that would naturally involve both, such as upgrading legacy operations; only 37 percent said the two departments took a collaborative approach to solving technical enterprise issues, and nearly 10 percent reported no collaboration between the two. 

But That’s Changing 
Though these teams were once siloed within their organizations, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is allowing—or maybe forcing—IT and OT teams to collaborate for the benefit of the whole company. Operations teams are quickly adopting a number of IT technologies aimed at improving efficiencies throughout the production and supply chain processes. Here are some of the more common ones:  

  • Databases are being used to collect and analyze a variety of machine and process data being generated on shop floors; the insights are used to make decisions aimed at optimizing production and supply chain performance
  • At the machine level, ethernet-based communication is being put to use that allows back-and-forth communication between machines, and between people and machines, making it possible to interact with and influence the performance of equipment; workers are connected via web-based interfaces to machines
  • Mobile devices give users access to data and allow tasks to be performed via Wi-Fi networks on the shop floor, improving the speed with which those tasks are performed

Why Do It?
A relationship between IT and OT, in which data and insights are connected, benefits the entire organization in terms of the efficiencies it makes possible:

  • Systems become more integrated, with a more complete set of data informing better decisions  
  • When it comes time to select and source new technologies, both teams are part of the decisions, resulting in more widely accepted and leveraged choices
  • Projects are able to be completed more swiftly because both teams have a stake in their success, and both are familiar with the systems being used to execute them
  • Data needed is accessed more quickly because both teams understand what’s needed and how to get it 

There likely will be resistance to the kind of change we’re talking about; many team members will dig their heels in and respond by telling management that their system is superior because it’s more closely aligned with their objectives. Clear communication about the purpose and potential of collaborative systems is important in managing expectations and getting both teams to embrace an integrated system.

How to Do It 
There are a number of approaches a manufacturing organization can take to get their IT and OT teams to collaborate; one of the simplest first steps for integrating the two is to form a hybrid team that includes people from both teams and give them a common goal, such as reducing downtime. Focused on a single goal, those from both IT and OT will have the opportunity to share their unique ideas, perspectives, concerns, and questions; then, allow them to create processes, aided by technology, to help them achieve the goal. 

There’s no doubt that a connected effort between IT and Operations, where technologies and actions are aligned, adds to the efficiency of the entire organization. If your teams are operating more like islands, it’s time to develop the platform that makes it possible for them to work toward a common goal. Reach out to one of Wipfli’s manufacturing experts to start a conversation about your teams and how they can contribute to greater efficiency.


Mark Stevens
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