In a recent post on IT/OT convergence, we shared a big prediction with you: This convergence doesn’t only involve the coming together of two separate, technology-focused domains. It also brings about the convergence of people, too – people who have never had a reason to interact before.

Until now, IT and OT teams managed different technology on different networks for completely different purposes. Uniting these two groups isn’t as easy as pushing some desks together and scheduling a few all-hands meetings. As these two worlds collide, there are bound to be a few IT/OT convergence challenges along the way.

Here, we take a close look at common IT/OT convergence challenges in manufacturing and industrial environments – and how to address them.

1. A Lack of Understanding About What Convergence Means

Before you talk IT/OT convergence, it’s crucial to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Although the term is used a lot, different groups may have different comfort levels with it. A basic yet thorough explanation of what IT/OT convergence is – and how it will benefit your organization – lays the groundwork for future plans.

Important points to highlight during this discussion:

ITOT-part-2-image-2
  • A “converged network” doesn’t mean that 
  • everyone will have open access to everything
  • As a team, you can make decisions about where and how specific data flows (one way, back and forth, etc.)
  • Convergence isn’t as simple as connecting two existing networks
  • Convergence will help your organization take advantage of IoT and process automation
  • IT and OT will be able to pursue common objectives side by side
  • It’s more convenient to have one system to buy, configure and manage

2. Speaking Two Different Languages

Part of understanding what IT/OT convergence actually means involves using common terminology – which can be a challenge when IT and OT interact.

One obvious example is CIP vs. SIP (both sounding like “sip”). Hold a conversation about CIP (common industrial protocol) with an OT team and you’re talking about protocol that automates industrial processes: control, safety, motion, configuration, etc. Hold a conversation about SIP (session initiation protocol) with a group of IT experts and you’re discussing protocol that initiates, maintains and terminates real-time voice, video and messaging applications.

It will take time to bring these two languages – acronyms and all – together. Patience and the willingness to ask questions and offer explanations are key.

3. Diverse Backgrounds and Cultures

ITOT-part-2-image-3IT focuses on office security and accessibility – it’s been the keeper of Ethernet technology for decades. OT focuses on production safety, reliability, quality and uptime/availability. Historically, these two worlds required different skillsets and involved different training, knowledge and experiences. But IT/OT convergence is changing that.

It is possible for these two groups to come together – despite their differences. Honesty and openness are vital to ensure that valid questions are answered, reasons behind decisions are clear, acronyms and terms are truly understood and the benefits outweigh any potential IT/OT convergence challenges.

4. Lack of Knowing How to Cooperate

Sometimes certain groups just don’t want to work together – whether they realize they’re resisting collaboration or not. It could be due to preconceived notions about skills and abilities, working in silos for too long or even a belief that one group is invading another’s territory.

As IT and OT unite, manufacturing and industrial environments will need someone to step forward to align priorities and encourage work as a single entity. This person should act as a neutral third party, not taking any “side.” The person (or group) who leads IT/OT convergence within your organization needs to be able to communicate with – and relate to – both teams. Understanding how to convey information in a way that encourages cooperation and collaboration helps everyone buy into the concept.

5. Not Having Faith that Convergence Works

Until it comes to fruition, it can be hard to believe that IT/OT convergence really offers the benefits that everyone says it does.ITOT-part-2-image-4Try starting with a pilot program or identify a few projects that IT and OT can work on together. Convergence doesn’t have to happen all at once. By building trust and faith in the process over time, team members will come to naturally support the idea as they learn to work together and see the impacts of their collaborative projects.

Make it clear from the start that it’s okay if trial runs don’t go smoothly – especially in the beginning. Everyone should expect hiccups, mistakes and questions. Be open about how issues will be handled as they arise and where people can turn if they have concerns.

Belden Supports Your IT/OT Transformation

To overcome these IT/OT convergence challenges, some IT and OT professionals find value in partnering with a third party that understands both perspectives. Not only does this provide an unbiased, go-to resource, but ideas shared by experts outside your organization may be better received.

Belden understands IT and OT. We can help you overcome professional and personal IT/OT convergence challenges (and get everyone on board with the concept).