Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Mark Wylie, a Belden manager with many years of experience working in both the controls and IT domains. He is responsible for our Industrial Ethernet Infrastructure and Certified Industrial Network programs.
If you are a controls or process engineer you will have noticed the direct involvement of IT while designing and deploying industrial Ethernet. While the networks and technologies come together easily, the language, culture and standard practices used by IT are very different. Indeed, they often pose a significant problem in a production environment.
If you are an IT professional working in a production environment you’ve probably run into a ton of resistance and anxiety from others based on perceived differences. Take heart, your skills are still valuable and may just require a few new twists and tweaks.
In today’s article, I hope to bring some understanding to both sides so that you can work together to better meet your company’s common goals.
Traditionally IT and Controls have been separate disciplines –
as different as apples and oranges.
IT and OT– The Same, But Different
In many respects, IT and controls engineering are converging. There is now one network technology being used – Ethernet. There might even be just one network, though I recommend approaching this cautiously keeping in mind the many important benefits of network segmentation.
More and more, the two disciplines are part of the same group within an organization. Is there a common culture with a common language and shared best practices? Not yet, though I have started to see more and more people in “hybrid” IT/engineering roles.
Now, let’s think about how things are different. In general, the priorities of the teams differ, as shown below:
Table 1: Priorities typically differ between Controls and IT.
The overall point of view about control networks is that availability is the top priority1. (It is even called out in ISA IEC 62443, an important standard that describes best practices for industrial cyber security.) The reason is clear, shutting down manufacturing or process control networks impacts production levels and could cause safety issues.
On the other hand, for IT, the most important priorities are to protect the data by keeping it confidential and accurate. This is understandable for financial, HR, business planning and the other types of data stored on enterprise networks.
The need for industrial networking solutions to have very high availability means a lot of IT practices are just not acceptable for manufacturing systems. For example, it is NOT acceptable in a factory to:
- “Call the help desk” to fix a system issue
- Do automatic software patch updates
- Reboot, particularly as an early approach to fixing a problem
- Prioritize the print job over the moving robot
In thinking about working more effectively with IT, remember that they do not usually have experience working with:
- High voltage, high current equipment
- Industrial ratings and policies
- Keeping people and processes safe
- The important differences between putting control versus information on a network
If you are a controls professional and you are second guessing your good intention to work effectively with IT, consider this: In almost all organizations, once you start putting in Ethernet-based systems, IT is going to be involved with network design and access. The good news is that IT usually has budget for planning and design that engineering may be able to take advantage of.
There are other ways IT can help.
IT often has existing specifications for PCs, Ethernet switches, and preferred contractors, integrators and installers. This means they have done a lot of legwork, saving time on new projects.
If no coordination occurs, IT might install commercial-grade wire and cable and wireless solutions that will not perform well in the factory, leading to failures or low production.
The bottom line is that if you are a controls engineer your industrial Ethernet networking projects will go faster and more smoothly if you coordinate with IT, rather than treat them like a different species.
If you are an IT professional, understanding what’s different about industrial networking solutions means you will be a lot less likely to cause system outages that are costly and potentially dangerous.
By working together, controls and IT professionals can meet company goals
faster and more effectively.
Improve Your Knowledge for Better Teamwork
One way to improve teamwork is for the people in both groups to be clear about the unique requirements of industrial Ethernet networks and the best practices for designing them.
What are the ways you have found to work better with your counterparts in IT or engineering? I look forward to hearing your comments.
1An alternate point of view on the priorities for control systems is discussed in the article “SCADA Security Basics: Integrity Trumps AvailabilitySCADA Security Basics: Integrity Trumps Availability.”
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