Every day, valuable data from the factory floor is being collected about manufacturing processes and the machinery used to carry them out. This information ultimately falls under the jurisdiction of operational technology (OT). At the same time, the flow of information coming from offices—from computers to surveillance cameras—is being watched and managed by information technology (IT).
While IT has shifted toward the cloud (storing and accessing data and programs online), OT hasn’t quite made it that far. But there are valuable benefits to moving industrial data to the cloud by creating a Sensor to Cloud environment. (We identified and summarized three of the most important here.
Sensor to Cloud uses sensors to accumulate data and transmit it to a cloud computing infrastructure for information sharing, collaboration, process improvement and decision-making—even across several sites. It’s an efficient way to integrate industrial processes and systems. In order for the concept of Sensor to Cloud to work well in an industrial environment, it’s important to make sure IT and OT are functioning as partners.
Here are some tips to make that happen:
Make Sure IT and OT are Both Involved
As with many new initiatives, when the concept of Sensor to Cloud is championed from the C-suite down, their influence can flow through your organization, straight to IT and OT.
Adoption goes more smoothly if you have champions from both “sides” (IT and OT) to bring questions and concerns to the table. If you leave it up to just one group to figure it out independently, they’ll understandably focus on what they know and could miss things along the way.
For example: Particularly in an OT environment, things don’t change rapidly; hardware is designed to operate for a long time. In an enterprise environment, things are different; a PC isn’t expected to last for a decade. In the industrial world, components can and do last that long (or longer).
If the sensors, switches, PLCs and controllers connected to your industrial network haven’t failed since they were installed, it’s likely that they haven’t been touched in several years. The fact that these devices aren’t actively maintained could impact the accuracy of determining what currently exists on your network and information can be lost over time.
Find someone who lives with one foot in each world (or someone who isn’t closely tied to either group) to fairly represent IT and OT. This can help ensure that both groups have a voice and understand long-term visions.
Set Goals that Require Buy-In from Everyone
Set goals that everyone can get behind. If an auto manufacturer produces 100 cars a day and sets a goal to improve its current quality rate of 99.9%, that’s probably not a realistic goal (and not a goal that will excite anyone).
Instead, consider establishing goals that both groups can get behind and work together on, like improving the customer experience: giving insight into the car-making process or offering the ability to change their minds about color up to a certain point in the manufacturing process, for example.
To reach these goals, IT and OT both need to be involved in deciding on the technology and processes that will lead to these improvements—and how to incorporate Sensor to Cloud to use data to make decisions along the way.
Include Both Groups in Long-Term Planning
Shifting to Sensor to Cloud isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. The transition can happen as quickly or as slowly as your budget and timeline dictate.
In some cases, you may have to wait for funds to become available to make some of these changes. When the money is available, you’ll want to be ready with a plan. Bringing IT and OT together early—long before deployment begins—helps get everyone on the same page.
Openly discuss which components and processes you want to make compatible with Sensor to Cloud—and the benefits of doing so. Even if you’re not prepared to implement them now, talk about features you think you’ll benefit from later (time-sensitive networking, for example, to process critical and noncritical data at the same time). What will it take from IT and OT to make these initiatives happen?
When everyone agrees early on about which processes and devices will become part of your Sensor to Cloud environment, you’ll be able to move quickly once funds are available.
Examine Information Flow from Both Perspectives
As manufacturing data starts to move to the cloud, some people fear it may fall into the hands of people who shouldn’t have it (whether it’s an employee who accidentally stumbles upon it or a bad actor who intends to cause harm). Control of and access to information flow should be examined together by IT and OT.
Discuss things like sensor information: That data will be relevant only to certain departments or people. Does HR need access? No. What about the marketing team? No—but they may want certain information to use in presentations or marketing materials, so how will they be able to safely access it?
It’s important for IT and OT to know that moving data to the cloud via Sensor to Cloud doesn’t mean you have to give up security or control. Instead, talking about who should have access can help both groups feel like they have a say in processes and security.
Making Sensor to Cloud Possible
Belden makes Sensor to Cloud possible—without putting data at risk. We know and understand both sides of the table (IT and OT) and the differences in their processes, devices, security concerns and priorities.
Our solutions are designed so both groups can use and understand them; they can handle the complexity of today’s industrial world while being simple and supporting agility. They also offer the same type of access whether you’re working onsite or remotely.
No matter your environment, we’ve got the right types of products—whether you’re looking for switches, cables and connectors to use in a traditional factory environment in the Midwest or in a cold nuclear substation in Alaska.
Want to learn more about Sensor to Cloud and Belden’s ability to support it? Join us for a six-part webinar series where we’ll discuss:
- The market trends driving Sensor to Cloud—and what it takes to create a Sensor to Cloud solution
- Standards, best practices and the importance of IO-Link in Sensor to Cloud
- Redundancy and infrastructure
- Data analytics and edge solutions
- Securing sensor data
- Managing Sensor to Cloud networks