Edge computing is usually discussed as a technology issue, driven by the need to process data faster and serve more users up and down the organization. But it also has important implications for the Information Technology and Operations Technology (IT/OT) professionals who manage that technology.
Thanks to 5G, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and the Cloud, devices, and systems at the edge that were once isolated can now communicate in real-time, sharing data and converging their networks and infrastructures. The change is happening fast, too. The global edge computing market is expected to exceed 17 billion dollars within five years. Its impact will be felt across industries.
To deal with these changes, it may be time for manufacturers to rethink how they organize their technology staff.
Traditionally, IT and OT staffs have been separate departments, with IT running systems of record such as ERP and the OT team in charge of machines and systems in the factories. That approach worked because the technologies and systems themselves were distinct, with only limited and controlled communication between them.
Now, with IT and OT networks converging and users demanding access to manufacturing intelligence in real-time, enterprises should consider merging their technology teams to reap the full rewards of digital transformation. Experts warn that dividing IT and OT architecture limits performance and value, especially when your workforce is digitally proficient. And if the technology is becoming unified, it only makes sense for the organization to be unified too, at least to some degree.
Merging departments in an enterprise is never easy. It’s all the more challenging in this case because IT and OT are mission-critical functions. Security and even the ability to operate are at stake. What’s more, these two staffs have different skillsets and are experienced in different tools and technologies. But in the long run, delivering the best value to the enterprise will require most manufacturers to adopt a unified approach to their staffing as well as their technology.
What Manufacturers Can Do to Start
There is no single prescription for every company. You may already have closely-collaborating IT/OT teams. Or, you may only be starting your digital transformation journey. Regardless, here are a couple of areas where you can begin your staffing transformation to help ease a merging of your IT and OT departments:
- Start with knowledge-sharing days – One way to begin this transition is to establish one day a month or every other week for different IT staff to sit with an OT co-worker for the day to “live a day in the life” with each other. This is a great opportunity to share a new perspective that likely will result in greater awareness of challenges – and maybe even identify a few opportunities for improvement on implementing edge intelligence infrastructure and capabilities.
- Evaluating needs – Staffing and workforce needs should be looked at in the context of the overall technology ecosystem. Review your OT and IT architecture holistically from L0–L3 within operations to identify potential sources of weakness, such as in terms of bandwidth, redundancy, security, and availability of worker expertise. Other areas to evaluate might be around your industrial networks, historians, and SCADA systems.
- Vendor selection – Vendors have a role to play too. By choosing vendors committed to forward-looking convergence, companies can ease the burden on their technical staff. As new projects come up, consider solution providers with an industrial specialization. These prospective solution providers should be well versed with Industry 4.0 strategies and already have experience in deploying converged IT/OT solutions.
One common thread that should be clear by now is the importance of starting to plan your IT/OT staffing needs today. Thousands of jobs in the manufacturing sector are going unfilled right now. A study by Deloitte and the National Association of Manufacturers predicts that more than two million jobs will go unfilled by 2030. Talent will be scarce across the board, including high-paying skilled positions, as people are turning away from college in record numbers.
IT/OT convergence is at the heart of digital transformation across manufacturing operations. This applies to people and technology. An edge-based infrastructure can deliver the resilience, flexibility, and efficiency that manufacturers need – especially concerning data collection, processing, and analysis. But that potential can only be realized if the IT and OT staff can work effectively together.
As IDC explains, “IT/OT convergence is sometimes considered an amorphous topic, but the truth is that this convergence across staff, technology, and the process is at the very core of Industry 4.0 transformations. This is particularly true in the area of the convergence of OT and edge-based infrastructure and intelligence.”
We are still in the early stages of Industry 4.0 and the future is not cast in stone. What is clear is that the IT and OT worlds are on a path toward a unified information system. Now might be the time for manufacturers to start unifying their technology staff as well.
Gordon Benzie has 20+ years of leadership experience in marketing and communication roles. This knowledge was gained while working at software solution providers focused on driving digital transformation across industrial operations. As an avid technologist, Gordon has a deep understanding of how today’s technologies are improving manufacturing processes within discrete, hybrid, and process industries. Follow Gordon on LinkedIn.