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How to Bridge the Gap Between Informational Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) for Mechanical Integrity

By Floyd Baker, Vice President at Antea USA. This article appears in the November/December 2022 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.
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Introduction

Bridging the gap between informational technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) can be transformational for asset management in process industries. The convergence of IT and OT is a much-discussed topic due to the value it creates in automating processes, improving productivity and workflows, mitigating risk, improving efficiencies, and enhancing analytics.

Information technology (IT) refers to the development, management, and application of computer equipment, networks, software, and systems. It is the oldest software infrastructure for resource and financial planning within plants and facilities: enterprise resource planning (ERP), computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), enterprise asset management (EAM), CAD drawings, Excel, and so on. It can also include things like document management systems or other legacy systems used to provide infrastructure for information.

On the other end of the spectrum, operational technology (OT) refers to the edge environment: the asset itself, devices and humans that interact with the physical asset, and processes like inspections, tests, and maintenance activity. Essentially, all operational data comes directly from the plant, through systems like distributed control systems (DCS), programmable logic controllers (PLC), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), data historians, and remote sensors. It includes data coming from the asset about its health and current condition: pressures, temperatures, flows, PH levels, etc.

Historically speaking, OT has developed quite differently from IT. In asset-intensive environments, OT does not have the luxury of being able to withstand latency and downtime in the same manner as IT. Process safety dictates that these assets literally cannot afford latent downtime due to the safety and environmental risks posed to the plant and surrounding communities. Furthermore, OT devices have been in operation for decades in some instances. As such, they’re based on old design which is inherently different from their IT counterparts. This is a contributing factor to why IT and OT have existed in silos up until now.

The industrial internet of things (IIoT), the main driver behind the latest industrial revolution (often referred to as Industry 4.0), has changed the landscape of these technologies by enabling a bridge of integration between them. IIoT refers to the internet-enabled interconnectivity of industrial “things” (assets, equipment, people, processes). For IT/OT convergence in mechanical integrity programs, IIoT makes it possible to bridge and eliminate information silos.

This convergence creates value by integrating all facets of operations into one centralized, collaborative environment, making it possible to automate procedures, improve processes and workflows, enhance mechanical integrity analytics, reduce operational costs and shutdowns, and improve efficiency. This ensures that the same data is actionable by every department within an organization. It helps to streamline processes while providing access to the full picture of asset conditions, thereby enhancing risk mitigation, diagnostics, analytics, anomalies, and recommendations. With the ability to immediately detect issues and even forecast/trend them and prescribe repairs in advance, the return in value of this convergence is substantial. In fact, those who integrate IT/OT will receive better ROI from digitalization than those who do not.

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