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Bridging the IT/OT Gap

Systems integrators live IT/OT convergence every day. It is in the DNA of companies like ours. So we know how important it is for our clients to take advantage of the synergies between information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) in order to ensure that their plant floor systems are protected. Within an organization, it is not unusual for the lines of communication between IT and OT to be strained, with each side ignoring the other or believing that they are an obstacle to work around. To improve performance on the plant floor and reduce your operational risks, these two groups need to be in sync. Your system integrator can help bridge that gap and begin to lay the groundwork to make that happen.

What Causes the Gap?

On the surface it would seem that IT and OT should have more in common than not. After all, the concepts of networking, computer architecture, thin clients, and virtualization are used by both parties. There are some technological differences, of course. The plant floor has PLCs, VFDs, and endpoint devices that do not exist in an office environment. While this is certainly a barrier, this is often not the biggest obstacle in a relationship between IT and OT. Indeed, the disconnect between these two groups often comes down to a lack of trust, lack of communications, and a bit of turf protection. Some examples of these disconnects include:

• Response time and uptime requirements for the systems in their respective areas
• Networking design and infrastructure design challenges
• Patch and antivirus management of server and client operating systems
• Identification and management of cybersecurity risks

Close the Gap

The first step in closing the gap is recognizing which challenges are affecting your organization and then working to communicate that perspective so that both groups understand the needs of the other. It is also important to breakdown the turf mentality, on both sides, and realize that working together will provide the best outcomes in the protection your critical OT assets.

Getting started is the hardest part and your system integrator can be a valuable resource in helping to get the process going. They bring to the table a unique understanding of the computing nature and characteristics of OT systems and can help you bring that perspective to IT in terms they understand. Similarly, your system integrator can help adapt your company’s cyber posture into the OT space allowing you to leverage your tools, techniques, and knowledge that your IT organization already has to improve your operations.

Making It Work

System integrators, like ACE, live in both camps. We can speak the language, make the introductions, find or be the go-between, and facilitate co-participation in critical activities that build trust and educate all participants. In short, we know how to shrink or even eliminate the gap between IT and OT. Activities such as requirements development, server set up and maintenance, network and infrastructure design, incident response and disaster recovery planning, risk assessments and cybersecurity testing are all areas where ACE has worked with our client’s teams to keep manufacturing running smoothly and safely.

Please visit our cyber security page to learn more about our offering and be sure to look up our article, Good Cybersecurity Requires IT/OT Convergence, in the December 2021 GSIR issue of Control Engineering magazine.