With fast-evolving technological capabilities and customer expectations, there is increased dependence on operational technology (OT) today. However, as IT and OT converge, OT systems are becoming highly complex to manage, and increasingly vulnerable to malicious attacks. To navigate the new paradigm, businesses must apply IT best practices in OT services management.
Increased customer expectations, evolving capabilities in IT and data analytics, and continuous disruption in an increasingly competitive business landscape is accelerating the dependence on operational technology (OT). However, due to the isolated nature of OT environments and lack of transparency and standardization, centralized process improvements and efficiencies of scale are not possible in OT domains unlike their IT counterparts. Moreover, as IT and OT converge, OT systems are becoming highly complex to manage, generating more data than organizations are able to process meaningfully, and are increasingly vulnerable to malicious attacks. To navigate the new paradigm, businesses must draw from the best practices in IT and embrace the shift towards OT services management.
Navigating the current operational technology landscape
Operational technology (OT) is an integral aspect of the world economy, driving factories, energy generation, transportation, and utilities. These technology systems combine hardware and software components, and physical devices to monitor infrastructure and manage changes over time. The rapid advancements and developments in technology have also transformed operational technology, further driving the convergence of OT and IT systems. While OT systems were isolated from the internet in the past, they increasingly require data and analytics to function optimally.
sales for OT hardware and software have increased due to IT-OT convergence and are projected to reach $33 billion by 2028.
Operational technology today spans across different technology systems such as programmable logic controllers (PLC), distributed control systems (DCS), supervisory control, data acquisition (SCADA), Integrated Building Management Systems (IBMS), POS, cameras and handhelds. It combines hardware and software components to monitor and control physical assets in industries as diverse as telecommunications and retail.
With each passing day, the dependence of enterprises on operational technology is increasing. The increasing adoption of automation across sectors has resulted in wide swathes of areas being integrated with OT. However, such massive adoption also means increasing exposure to the risk of OT systems failure or malicious attacks, and increases the need for enhanced systems to manage the technology. Only 8% of OT leaders reported no intrusions over a 1 year period, according to a 2020 report by Fortinet. The continuous and optimal functioning of OT systems is critical for the bottom lines of organizations. As OT systems become more complex and sophisticated, companies need to devise carefully framed strategies and frameworks to manage them, with enhanced monitoring and control capabilities.
Islanded OT systems and the need to manage them more effectively
A clear difference can be observed in the way IT and OT environments are managed, monitored, and integrated with larger technology ecosystems within an organization. Devices such as PCs and laptops and cloud-based servers are managed systematically within a clearly defined framework but once one enters the realm of power grids and building controls, things start to become more loosely defined.
Differences in underlying architecture have kept IT and OT separate or ‘islanded’ even as data flows between the two fields have increased over the years. A degree of separation between the two has traditionally been maintained for operational integrity and security, and due to lack of support. OT systems often feature embedded devices operating on specialized technology developed by OEMs without open management interfaces, requiring specific and compatible tools to reconfigure them.
Centralized management and remote execution of tasks is a key component of IT management that allows for scalable solutions and optimization of processes. However, in an OT environment, specialized and local resources need to be present to oversee or manage the actioning of various processes. Often, OT systems are managed by manufacturing engineers, process control engineers, or controls technicians. When sophisticated manufacturing machinery is involved, centralized software updates could, in the event of an error, knock the entire production line out of action.
From patching to configuration, training processes need to be developed for OT resources to better manage their systems. While this is a sufficiently sophisticated and evolved area in the field of IT, it is lacking when it comes to OT.
The IT-OT convergence has given rise to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) which provides businesses with the ability to collect vast amounts of data and leverage analytics to gain business insights in unprecedented levels. This means that data is growing exponentially in OT, necessitating better systems for managing this increasingly lucrative and vulnerable information.
IT/OT convergence is an increasing aspect of the evolving enterprise world. As digital technologies pervade the physical systems and machines on plant floors, it gives rise to the question of applying IT methods to managing OT environments. There are concerns that IT processes don’t take into consideration the intricacies and specialized details typical of industrial situations. However, industrial environments often run on unsupported technologies and are not optimized for how systems interact. This calls for change. While IT processes cannot translate into OT environments directly, it is a useful approach. OT cannot be isolated from IT and IT methods cannot be directly applied in an OT environment. A balanced approach is key.
Leveraging best practices and management frameworks from IT
As business processes became increasingly integrated with technology and IT, IT services management (ITSM) emerged as a structured methodology for organizations to streamline and manage IT services. ITSM encompasses the designing, planning, operating and controlling aspects of IT management. In the realm of IT, ITSM empowered businesses to enhance value to customers, improve quality of service and increase transparency, accountability, and compliance. In the realm of OT, operational technology systems management (OTSM) must emerge as an approach that mirrors ITSM and draws from its best practices to drive efficiencies.
Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a framework that brings together the best practices in IT support for delivering consistent and continual results for organizations. It helps organizations deploy service management in cost-effective ways and drive business outcomes through clearly defined processes. Resource optimization is central to ITIL and involves regular reviews of processes for identifying areas for possible improvement. Businesses are not pressured to accept all practices defined under ITIL but only those that are meaningful and practical to them.
ITIL processes must drive desired business results. If this is not achieved, then corrective actions are initiated and the processes are modified to drive the desired outcomes. ITIL process owners ensure that individuals in relevant roles action these processes. Process owners list and monitor KPIs, ensure synergy and collaboration across the system, drive effectiveness of processes, ensure targets are met, conduct reviews, and ensure training of personnel.
OT systems management must be aligned with the different stages of the ITIL lifecycle. Initially, the strategy stage ensures that the OT strategy is aligned with the overarching organizational strategy. It is crucial for this stage to be implemented perfectly for future stages to be effective, as they are built upon the strategy as a foundational layer.
Next, the planning and design activities for the OT strategy are executed. This ranges from service level management to information security management and availability management and draws from the plans formulated during the strategy stage.
During the transition stage, the updated or new services are built and tested and transferred into operations. It involves various aspects such as configuration management, change management (in case of an altered process), service validation, and deployment. After the transition stage, the services are operationalized in a live environment. This stage encompasses aspects such as incident management and problem management. The final stage is continual service improvement which leverages processes from across the previous stages to ensure that improvement areas are always worked on to offer ongoing optimization. This involves service reporting and measurement, service level management processes, ROI optimization, and improvement in processes.
IoT ecosystems as a way of managing OT systems
An IoT managed service framework such as Wipro’s IoT NXT can act as a bridge between IT and OT, and offer flexible and reliable solutions for managing infrastructure. With such a solution, organizations can monitor their OT infrastructure on a 24x7 basis, ranging from sensors, gateways, controllers and equipment. They can ensure effective asset monitoring and management.
A solution such as IoT NXT allows for integration with IT services management (ITSM) tools, and drives enhanced results across service automation, incidence management, and contract management. Businesses can take advantage of service management and automation, integration with BSM tools, and device management. Additionally, IoT NXT paves the way for effective management of IoT networks, cloud environments, and data centers. The administrative processes for databases can be streamlined and enhanced.
The increased convergence of IT and OT leaves buildings, plants and factory floors incredibly vulnerable to a wide range of cyber security threats that are constantly evolving, from ransomware to data theft. With an IoT management framework, organizations can adopt the best practices from IT to counter threats of this nature and avoid potential damage to their bottom lines.
OT managed services solutions allow organizations to leverage the power of analytics in areas such as predictive maintenance. Smart analytics allows organizations to implement corrective measures ahead of time by conducting simulations of real-world situations and by implementing impact analyses. Constant monitoring and superior management capabilities unlock possibilities for continuous improvements in enhancing use-case efficiency and driving business results. Stakeholders can measure asset failure probability reliably. Meanwhile, operational analytics boosts the success rates of health and maintenance efforts for equipment. It leads to cost savings by preventing the need to deploy personnel for maintenance when fixes can be implemented through remote means. It helps to avoid elaborate and inefficient practices in traditional scheduled maintenance efforts and identify the areas that actually require attention, thereby avoiding wastage of productivity and costs. It helps optimize the usage of machinery to extract the most value out of them, prolong their life span, and minimize downtime.
IoT NXT combines efficiencies that are achieved in facility management, workforce management, process management, and tools. Process standardization is ensured to drive consistent outcomes, and programs such as Lean and Six Sigma help to translate this into a reality. Proactive communication with stakeholders and a strong governance model further enhance the effectiveness of OT service management.
Wipro’s IoT NxT GCC, enabled by Wipro Smart i-Connect™ along with ServiceNXT, allows for a highly efficient operating and governance template for OT management, with the organic platform enabling businesses to navigate complexities seamlessly while offering modularity, scalability and security. This empowers organizations with the flexibility and customizability they need to drive non-linear business growth.