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Part 4

IT/OT Convergence Best Practices

A successful IT/OT convergence strategy involves identifying desired outcomes, managing the fragmentation of OT solutions, and developing common key performance indicators (KPIs) for both IT and OT teams. This approach helps in optimizing resources, driving effective collaboration, and ensuring a smooth transition towards a unified IT/OT environment.

Determine What You Want to Change

Before you start, you should identify what results you expect from your efforts. Integrating IT and OT is about action, and every effort you make should begin with defining your expected results. Assess the value the change will create for your organization, and use your objectives and desired outcomes to inform the actions that will drive your efforts.

To know what you want to change and determine how you want to make those changes, you should have a clear picture of the challenges your organization may face on the road to IT/OT convergence. You can then define your starting point.

Expect and Manage the Chaos of OT

Unlike IT apps, OT solutions are rarely standardized. For example, within IT, your organization may use SAP software as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and match additional software to this platform. Since OT solutions tend not to be standardized and most organizations use multiple vendors and versions, this can quickly become chaotic.

Though you may be tempted to make a homogenization effort, this is likely to be too risky and cost-intensive to be worthwhile. The needed reduction projects often take years to complete, so the landscape will still be fragmented during this time. Instead, a best practice is to expect and manage this fragmentation.

You can successfully manage the chaos of OT by developing common success measures. Since both teams should agree on how an integrated IT/OT system should function, leaders should work with OT and IT teams to create key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure success. If everyone on your team is working toward the same goal, they are more likely to work together effectively.

Similarly, you may also have to manage the time-series data characteristic of OT. Since this data is time-variable, there can be additional complications. For example, if the data lacks contextual information, the data alone can be difficult to interpret. Time-series data also tends to have quality issues due to limitations of the infrastructure and sensors involved that result in signal drop-out, spikes, drift and stale data.

Create a trusted data layer where you can review OT historian data within an analytical framework. Algorithms will enrich the data with contextual metadata and handle crucial data quality management. When you configure a trusted data layer, you can enable data-chain governance, monitoring and support functionality. This is essential for avoiding data quality problems due to issues with the underlying operating model following convergence.

Tear Down IT and OT Silos

After you plan out your IT/OT integration architecture, you can start making organizational changes. In many organizations, operations and IT have usually been separated, and with this separation has come distinct mindsets that were sometimes at odds with each other. However, with the increasing overlap in tools, required skills and processes, a modern utility should function as a team. Senior managers should bring the teams together to develop a common mindset and identify a common cause.

Develop a Robust Security Strategy

One area that both OT and IT can agree on is developing a robust security strategy. Best practices for security should include:

  • Asset tracking
  • Configuration control for tracking all changes
  • Vulnerability management that tracks risk levels of devices
  • Threat detection combining policy-based rules with behavioral anomalies

Your organization’s OT and IT teams should find common ground to mitigate or eliminate the risk factors of IT/OT convergence. When IT and OT security solutions work together, your organization can enjoy the security, control and visibility needed to lessen new cyberthreats. Doing so can also bring these once-siloed departments together. Follow these tips for security best practices in the convergence of IT and OT:

  • Update the security patch process to better address vulnerabilities.
  • Deploy security controls across every layer of your organization’s environments.
  • Extend security policy and end-user education across both OT and IT environments as systems become interconnected.
  • Perform risk assessments regularly across every environment to identify vulnerabilities and ensure you implement the appropriate security controls.
  • Ensure you thoroughly understand technologies, and associated threats, across OT and IT environments. Threats can vary per environment, and technologies may not work for both.
  • Ensure your business plan’s strategy, vision and execution include safety, reliability and security for devices that are part of the Internet of Things (IoT). Include these at all levels of your organization.
  • During IT/OT convergence, security should be a top priority.

Cross-Train Personnel

IT and OT team members should cross-train to understand the other team’s needs. Training should address your organization’s framework, new processes and responsibilities. During training, focus on both the tasks and the reasons behind them. Ensuring widespread buy-in is crucial for operations to go smoothly, so leaders should request feedback from employees and address it. Training should involve cross-hiring and close observance of regulations. Additionally, many IT/OT convergence certifications can help organizations more effectively manage convergence projects.

Illustrate the Overlap

For the IT and OT teams, you should illustrate the overlap for each. This is especially important in terms of security and systems management. There is often a cultural divide between the IT and OT departments, along with different skills and risk drivers.

Many who work in the IT department believe the OT department is unaware of IT best practices. IT workers also tend to lack specific field-based experience and knowledge of real-time OT solutions. On the OT side of things, workers tend to believe IT doesn’t understand practical engineering. OT supports critical systems in which integrity and availability are essential, and OT understands how to support operation workers.

To begin, you may want to address the OT and IT data collected in your reports. Optimize this data to derive helpful insights for your daily operations. By identifying and addressing this optimization gap, you can drive convergence value.

Utilize the Proper Tools

Tools used should cover configuration, security, management and discovery. Your teams can work together to determine which tools to use to ensure the appropriate amount of control and visibility in regards to IT/OT assets. After you implement the trusted data layer, add action drivers like alerts, visualizations and analytics that can help your utility find and fix issues or incidents quickly.

Integrate your IT/OT solution into IT-led asset-management and work-management solutions so your IT experts can optimize interventions and workflows. By doing so, you can keep experts in the loop and monitor the adoption of your IT/OT solution. IT and OT can both be productive drivers of the adjustments in behavior and culture that you’re aiming for and create a data-driven, proactive mindset among your operations staff.

Communicate Your Goals

Grid modernization includes both larger-scale change and incremental refinements. Communicate the convergence goals to the IT and OT teams to ensure everyone involved understands the objectives. Make sure the objectives you develop are clear and understood by your entire team, including stakeholders, who should be aware that change is constant rather than a set-and-forget situation. By establishing this expectation within the organization, managers can improve buy-in and pave the way for change in the future.

Clearly Define the Responsibilities and Roles

Determine the goals, roles, responsibilities and duties for the OT and IT teams, along with collaboration opportunities. When everyone understands their role in the convergence efforts and the results, your organization is more likely to be successful and avoid confusion and conflict. Security, for example, should be the responsibility of an executive who has oversight of both operations and IT.

The success and security of an IT/OT convergence plan benefit from various initiatives that involve project teams, including:

  • Training staff
  • Planning for scale
  • Developing expertise
  • Having an executive-level sponsor
  • Keeping IT and OT in the same loop
  • Understanding how IoT is integrated
  • Understanding the importance of analytics and data

Other Industries That Benefit From IT/OT Convergence

While IT/OT convergence undoubtedly helps electric utilities manage modern digital and distributed grids, sensors and connected systems like actuator networks are useful for managing many industrial environments, including gas utilities, factories and water treatment. The following are industries that could benefit from IT/OT convergence:

  • Gas utility companies: With modern IT, OT teams can remotely access operational data, assisting gas and oil utilities in assessing damage, handling inventory monitoring and distribution and optimizing industrial equipment and pipeline inspections.
  • Retail industry: Using IoT devices like product tags, cameras and POS devices can help retailer organizations deliver more data for analysis. This can lead to sales floor and inventory optimizations for cost savings, better shopper experience and improved revenue generation.
  • Manufacturing industry: IT/OT convergence can make companies more efficient in terms of resources and costs by using inventory and sales data to drive their manufacturing operations. This optimizes power and equipment use while minimizing unsold inventory and maintenance.
  • Transportation industry: Prioritizing asset management is essential in the transportation industry. Fortunately, integrating OT and IT can help bus, rail and delivery organizations get better visibility into the condition, usage and coordination of assets to guide route optimization, short-term repairs and long-term planning for safety and asset replacement.
  • Pharmaceutical and medical industries: The pharmaceutical and medical industries could also benefit from IT/OT convergence. Convergence enables more medical devices to share and exchange patient information. Companies can then gain better real-time visibility, resulting in better patient outcomes and analysis. IT/OT convergence can also improve the manufacturing of medicines to ensure and even enhance the quality of the products.
  • Law enforcement and military: With IT/OT convergence, law enforcement and the military can better coordinate and deploy resources. IT/OT convergence can also provide greater insight into the maintenance and condition of critical equipment.
  • Media and communications companies: For communication providers, IT/OT convergence can help organizations oversee the operation and performance of equipment and service quality, resulting in better user satisfaction and faster troubleshooting.

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Part 5. TRC for Digital Grid Solutions

Whether you have questions about how IT and OT are converging or you're seeking effective digital grid solutions, contact TRC to learn more about what we can do for your business.

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