IoT: When IT and OT Meet at the Edge

If you went to bed last night as an industrial company, you’re going to wake up this morning as a software and analytics company.

Jeff Immelt, GE CEO

Mimi Spier, senior director of marketing and strategy for the Internet of Things (IoT) at VMware

Mimi Spier, senior director of marketing and strategy for the Internet of Things (IoT) at VMware

By now, we are all keenly aware that there is a major disruption happening in our industry: IoT has arrived. It is changing the nature of operational technology (OT) and how decision makers run their businesses. So what is OT? The way I like to explain it is any technology that is responsible for the management and operation of physical assets in an enterprise, such as operating robots, machines, or tools; controlling electricity; and running cranes. In other words, OT is everything that is absolutely critical for a business to operate.

To better understand how the Internet of Things (IoT) is disrupting operational technology, here are a few use cases.

Safety Doesn’t Happen by Accident
Construction and mining industries rely considerably on cranes for heavy lifting. And every year, crane accidents happen all over the world, resulting in serious injury and damage.

Now with IoT, companies in construction, mining, and oil and gas industries can achieve safety and efficiency like never before. By bringing together a vast range of technologies—hardware, sensors, devices, apps, telematics, and connectivity to the cloud or data center—and collecting data from these technologies, the equipment owner can schedule preventive maintenance, determine optimal operating procedures, prevent theft and misuse of equipment, and more.

By adding sensors, gateways, network connectivity, and data collection, operational technology is upgraded to information technology. And here is the challenge. While IT does not understand the operational technology of a crane, OT is not familiar with the management of the new IT capabilities. To be most successful for the business, the two need to partner and work together. Gartner calls this “the convergence of IT and OT.”

Artificial Intelligence Is Not a Threat
Yesterday’s industrial robots are nowhere near as productive and secure as the new generation of IoT-enabled smart robots. These robots are designed with integrated sensors to collect data and show live graphs with predictive modeling for future failure. In this way, the industrial robot, a superstar of OT, has been augmented with IT.

The challenge with connecting some of these old-world physical assets to the Internet is that they were never designed with that purpose. It’s one thing for someone to hack into an email server, but imagine the risk if someone launches a similar attack on an airplane—while in flight—or a patient’s pacemaker. I don’t need to compare the order of magnitude here, but everything else seems pretty mundane when a life is at stake.

This is why the new concept of the ‘edge’ is so critical. It can act as a decoupling point between the old and new worlds, and protect mission-critical assets from being at risk. As organizations define their IoT use cases and architecture, they must consider the infrastructure, management, and security solutions for the edge and its connected things. This is exactly what IT does in a data center, which can be integral to OT to ensure there is a consistent set of standards across all IoT use cases.

Houston We Have a Problem
Finally, with the promise comes great peril. IoT brings new challenges to the job of Enterprise Risk Management.

While operation technologies can become more efficient with IT, this connected IoT technology can be easily hacked, as we witnessed with the recent Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. In order for companies to overcome security challenges like this, both IT and OT departments will need to learn new skills and train each other on their domain expertise.

So Now What?
The key takeaway in this new world where we are surrounded by connected devices, in the home and in the workplace, is that enterprises must rethink their traditional business models. Success in an IoT world will largely depend on how adept an organization is in moving from “business as usual” to the new business model. Along with IT and OT collaboration, another essential strategic consideration for IoT success is choosing the right IoT infrastructure and management partner.
With its key IoT partners, VMware is focused on delivering customer success in IoT by bridging the gap between the OT and IT worlds—extending their expertise in data center and device management out to the edge, where IoT resides. Only when IT and OT converge will organizations successfully deploy, manage, and secure IoT across the business.