Below are some common challenges that IT and OT teams sometimes experience when working together, as well as key ways to help these two teams find common ground for holistic digital transformation success.
IT/OT convergence challenges
Generally speaking, IT teams tend to solve problems with enterprise-wide approaches. They gravitate to one-size-fits-most solutions because the size of the systems they manage are usually on a large (if not global) scale. As a result, many IT teams leverage broad implementation strategies designed to work for the majority—sometimes all—users at an organization.
For example, Microsoft Office 365 licenses are often purchased en masse to give all users access to the same tools. Even though different employees may use different programs within the Office suite (e.g. data scientists use Excel but managers use PowerPoint more), purchasing the entire suite for every employee is easier to manage from an IT perspective.
At the same time, though, IT teams take on in-house custom projects to meet hyper-specific needs where there often isn’t an enterprise fit. For example, they run reports from different systems, develop custom apps, or build other tools like connectors and custom integrations. They are tasked with balancing the best enterprise solutions with the expectation of custom creation on-demand. They face many competing priorities, oftentimes making it difficult to dedicate time to hyper-personalization.
While IT teams tend to solve problems from a global approach, OT teams are more focused on a localized problem-solving approach. Sitting on the operations team, they have an ear to ground on what the shop floor needs to operate at optimal efficiency. And, given that every plant operates just a little bit differently, OT tends to handle problems with more regionalized, problem-solving approaches.
OT teams are more likely to select solutions that best fit the needs of specific sites. These solutions can range from specialized equipment for different facilities or unique programs/tools for specific job roles. It’s looking at areas where technology can augment the shop floor, whether that includes sensors for digitizing records or automating manual tasks (e.g. logging events in a digital form instead of on paper). Since OT teams and facilities are often highly specialized in operations, they are accustomed to solving problems in ways that best meet their given set of challenges.
While IT teams tend to solve problems from a global approach, OT teams are more focused on a localized problem-solving approach.
This can lead to frustration for IT teams trying to globalize systems and processes. To over-generalize, IT teams are looking for long-term data and infrastructure choices that are sustainable across multi-site manufacturers to ensure safety, compliance, and service at scale.
OT, on the other hand, is close to the shop floor and understands how a new tool or piece of equipment can make its employees and processes more efficient. They may not want to learn a new corporate IT tool or wait for their equipment to be ruled as a company-wide choice. These two viewpoints can lead to frustration from each party.
How to facilitate IT/OT convergence
Despite the fact that IT and OT teams inherently work in very different ways, they do have common ground. Digital transformation leaders need to find—and encourage—common goals in order to form a cohesive front for Industry 4.0 initiatives.
Focusing on shared goals can smooth over IT/OT convergence efforts, bringing both teams purposefully together to develop and find shared solutions.
When building joint goals, manufacturers should consider:
Safety and reliability. Keeping people safe and happy are essential goals for both IT and OT teams. If safety is the main concern, it can be easier to find solutions that work for both sides. For example, reliability is often more valued than a shiny new digital tool that takes too long to learn and slows down shop floor data latency.
A desire to pioneer their industry. Energize teams by encouraging them to be the first to tackle problems that other companies haven’t figured out how to solve. Working together, IT/OT can do what’s never been done before. Industry has thrived on innovative discoveries. Keeping the spirit of industry alive with innovation can have altruistic and improved performance wins.
Building together. Gain employee trust by working on culture shifts, showcasing the power of collaboration. Team silos may be holding the company back from achieving true success. Having “common goals” (which are not mutually divided for accountability), can make IT/OT teams more combative than collaborative. Identify leaders who can work to bridge cultural gaps and who are trusted by both sides.
Improved security. Without IT and OT convergence, your company runs the risk of increased security issues. When there are more resources dedicated to supporting staff, (e.g. training and monitoring), best practices can become scalable. Having a shared vision to protect the company’s data can encourage understanding and mutual respect.
In addition to these shared common goals, there are specific ways that both OT and IT teams can move their company’s Industry 4.0 forward.
How OT teams can advance digital transformation
As any operations team member will tell you, every day can feel like a series of small fires. It can be difficult to work towards big-picture goals when each day brings new and unexpected challenges.
Do your best to focus on one thing to improve. Yes, there are a lot of fires, but you can’t put them all out at once. Instead, rally your efforts around a singular objective and work to move that needle.
Rally your efforts around a singular objective and work to move that needle.
Value creation will drive your OT transformation strategy. It just takes one small win to encourage your team, get additional support from management, and continue moving forward with other transformation efforts. With the right initial project—and the right team working on the challenge—you can start building momentum and gain buy-in from other employees.
Additionally, OT teams sometimes show resistance when working with IT teams. OT often feels that IT is just trying to bring them “one more thing” and finance new tech tools. The constant rotation of new technologies, new procedures, and changing protocols can leave many OT teams feeling jaded toward IT efforts.
It’s important that OT teams are able to participate in key decisions and feedback loops to IT. IT teams can be the missing link that helps OT obtain the resources, technologies, and tools that OT teams need to get where they need to be. Still, it’s important that OT teams feel like their needs are being addressed to help build trust between the two teams.
Lastly, remember that very few other departments fully understand the behemoth that is operations. Other teams—including IT—aren’t going to be able to help if they don’t understand the complexity of production problems. For this reason, it’s the responsibility of OT leaders to start bringing valuable outside contributors, such as IT into the day-to-day operations world. Be open to sharing your challenges and be patient in helping others understand your world.
How IT teams can advance digital transformation
IT teams play a unique role in manufacturing. Even though they aren’t on the shop floor producing products, they need to understand how the entire business operates in order to do their jobs effectively.
Unfortunately, the reality is that there is often a knowledge-sharing gap between IT and OT teams. Very few IT teams “speak” the language of operations teams, and OT teams don’t always have the time to sit down and explain how everything works. To be clear, it’s not anyone’s fault: everyone is busy and everyone has their own set of challenges. Learning the nuances of another team often isn’t a priority. Remember, IT has to align company-wide with different departments—marketing, HR, finance, and others—and each one has its own vocabulary and challenges.
In addition to this knowledge-sharing gap, OT teams may imply that they can handle things themselves without IT. This cultural barrier can make it harder for IT to find an “in” with OT, further dampening progress toward Industry 4.0 efforts. Sometimes, the plant that is most willing to collaborate will get state-of-the-art equipment, run pilots, and be the guinea pig for new IT initiatives. IT teams know that they have the skill set to help OT make significant strides forward. Having a set of mutual respect can benefit each group.
Take the lead in bridging knowledge gaps, and stay open-minded to OT suggestions.
IT teams can take the lead in bridging this gap and should stay open-minded to OT suggestions. If possible, send your people to start working with Operations. Remember: you don’t need to be at the top of the management team in order to start making connections with people in OT. It takes people at all levels of the organization to make meaningful connections and change.
Start by asking OT teams what skill sets or tools they need to make progress on their biggest challenge. If necessary, look to other internal teams to help you fill these skill gaps if you can’t address them yourself. Offering your knowledge and resources freely to OT can help earn their trust, enabling you to better understand and solve future problems in a collaborative way.
In short, IT and OT convergence requires cultural changes on behalf of both teams. Even beyond cultural differences, there are knowledge-sharing gaps, communication challenges, and a lack of mutual understanding regarding what each team does.
Leaders from both sides of the table will play a major role in getting things started and keeping the momentum going. Whether these leaders are in management or simply passionate about igniting change, determining who they are is just the first step. Executives need to ensure both teams have the resources—including time and money—to be successful in their cross-departmental efforts.
It might take some time, but IT and OT convergence is a crucial element for enterprise-wide transformation.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Analytical cookies are used to understand how visitors interact with the website. These cookies help provide information on metrics, themetrics the number of visitors, bounce rate, traffic source, etc.