IT OT / Operational Technology / IoT / SCADA / PLC / DCS
In today’s digital age, technology is transforming various aspects of our lives and the business world is no exception. With the advent of automation and the internet of things (IoT), operational technology (OT) systems are becoming increasingly important for businesses that want to stay competitive and efficient.
In this article, we will explore what operational technology systems are and how they can benefit businesses in different ways, but we will mostly focus on the challenges while implementing OT Systems.
- What is Operational Technology (OT)?
- How do Operational Technology Systems work?
- What are the benefits of OT systems?
- What are the challenges of implementing OT systems?
- What is the future of OT?
What is Operational Technology (OT)?
Operational technology (OT) is the use of hardware and software technologies to monitor, control and automate tangible assets (such as machinery, equipment and facilities). These systems are used in a variety of industries (including manufacturing, transportation, energy, mining and healthcare). Common examples of OT systems include SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition), PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) and DCS (Distributed Control Systems).
Examples in the industry
To illustrate: the examples below highlight how SCADA, PLC and DCS systems are essential components in ensuring the reliable and efficient operation of various industrial processes across different sectors:
- Healthcare: SCADA systems (and more specifically MES) provide batch tracking and traceability throughout the manufacturing process. This is essential for compliance with regulatory requirements in this industry. It ensures that each batch can be traced back to its raw materials and processing conditions.
- Transportation: PLCs play a role in controlling the operation of automated systems in this sector, such as automated baggage handling systems in airports.
- Manufacturing: In large-scale manufacturing facilities, DCS is used to integrate and coordinate various control systems, ensuring seamless operation and optimization of the entire production process.
How do Operational Technology (OT) systems work?
OT systems are designed, to be integrated with physical devices and systems, to assist companies monitor and control their operations. These systems use sensors and other data collection devices to gather data about physical processes and assets. This data is then processed and analyzed using software, which can help businesses identify trends, optimize operations, and make informed decisions. These systems can also be used to automate processes remotely.
What are the benefits of OT systems?
Implementing OT systems in businesses can bring a range of benefits to streamline their operations. Here are some of the key advantages:
- Increased Efficiency: they can help businesses optimize their operations by automating processes, reducing downtime and improving productivity. Therefore, this can lead to increased efficiency and cost savings.
- Improved Safety: they can help businesses identify potential hazards and prevent accidents by monitoring physical processes and assets in real-time.
- Better Decision Making: they can provide businesses with real-time data and insights, which can help them make better-informed decisions about their operations.
- Increased Flexibility: they can be customized to meet the unique needs of each business, making them a flexible solution for a range of industries and applications.
Examples in the industry
- Honeywell and Lufthansa Technik implemented AVIATAR system to optimize the aircraft maintenance processes. By leveraging predictive analytics and condition-based monitoring, they achieved a (15-21%) reduction in unscheduled maintenance costs. The ability to predict component failures before they occurred allowed for more efficient resource allocation, saved time and minimized the impact (potentially fleet-wide) of unexpected issues. Emirates, British Airways and Swiss Intl. Air Lines are some of their customers.
- Chevron deployed technology to improve safety, enhance efficiency and reduce costs in their oil and gas operations. Through the integration of OT systems, they were able to monitor and control critical processes remotely, reducing the need for manual intervention in hazardous environments. This resulted in a decrease in workplace incidents over a five-year period.
These case studies highlight the tangible benefits that OT systems can bring to businesses in terms of efficiency, safety, predictive maintenance and cost savings. Keep in mind that the impact of these systems can vary across industries and specific business contexts. Always consider the unique characteristics of your organization when evaluating the potential benefits of implementing OT systems.
What are the challenges when implementing OT systems?
While there are many benefits to implementing OT systems, companies may also encounter some challenges. Here are some of the key challenges:
- Security: They are often connected to the internet, which can make them vulnerable to cyber attacks. That is why companies need to take measures to ensure the security of their systems to protect against potential threats.
- Compatibility: The OT systems may need to be integrated with existing hardware and software systems, which can be a complex process. This may require specialized expertise and resources.
- Maintenance: These systems require regular maintenance and updates to ensure they continue to operate effectively. This may require additional resources and investment.
- Training and Skills Gap: Implementing OT systems may necessitate a workforce with specialized skills in both operational technology and information technology. Companies might face challenges in finding or training personnel who can effectively manage and troubleshoot these systems. There is a need of bridging the gap between traditional operational staff and IT professionals.
- Interoperability: Ensuring seamless communication and coordination between different OT components and systems is crucial. Achieving interoperability can be a challenge, especially when dealing with diverse technologies from various vendors. This can lead to integration issues and hinder the overall efficiency of the OT environment.
- Data Management and Analysis: OT systems generate vast amounts of data, and companies must have the capability to manage and analyze this data effectively. Extracting meaningful insights from the data can be challenging without proper analytics tools and strategies, potentially limiting the ability to make informed decisions based on real-time information.
- Regulatory Compliance: Many industries have strict regulations governing the use of OT systems, especially in sectors such as energy, healthcare, and manufacturing. Companies must navigate complex regulatory landscapes to ensure their OT implementations comply with industry standards and legal requirements, which may involve additional documentation, audits, and compliance measures.
- Costs and Budget Constraints: Implementing and maintaining OT systems can incur substantial costs, including initial setup, ongoing maintenance, and staff training. Budget constraints may pose a challenge for some companies, limiting their ability to invest in the latest technologies or adequately address emerging cybersecurity threats.
- Scalability: As businesses grow and evolve, the scalability of OT systems becomes crucial. Adapting these systems to accommodate increased workloads, additional devices, or changing operational requirements can be a complex task. That is why companies need to design their OT infrastructure with scalability in mind to ensure it can grow alongside the organization.
How to adress it?
Addressing these challenges requires:
- A strategic approach,
- A comprehensive planning,
- and ongoing commitment to staying abreast of technological advancements and security best practices in the ever-evolving landscape of operational technology.
Need help with any of the above? Contact us.
What is the future of OT?
The future of OT systems is expected to be shaped by several trends and developments:
- Integration with IT Systems: The convergence of OT and Information Technology (IT) is likely to continue. This integration can improve efficiency, data analytics and overall system performance. However, it also introduces new challenges, particularly in terms of cybersecurity.
- Cybersecurity Challenges: With increased connectivity and integration, the cybersecurity of OT systems becomes a paramount concern. Protecting critical infrastructure from cyber threats is a priority. Ongoing efforts will focus on developing robust security measures, to safeguard OT environments.
- IoT and Edge Computing: The Internet of Things (IoT) and distributed computing architecture (edge computing) are becoming more prevalent in OT systems. This involves real-time data processing at the periphery of the network (closer to the source). This reduces latency and improves responsiveness to centralized servers. This trend is set to continue, enhancing the capabilities of OT systems.
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: The use of AI and machine learning in OT systems can lead to predictive maintenance, process optimization and better decision-making. These technologies can analyze large datasets generated by OT systems. They enable you to identify patterns and anomalies, enabling more proactive and efficient operations.
- Cloud Computing Adoption: OT systems are increasingly moving towards cloud-based solutions. Cloud platforms offer scalability, flexibility and the ability to centralize data processing, making it easier to manage and analyze large volumes of data.
- 5G Connectivity: The rollout of 5G networks can significantly impact OT systems by providing faster and more reliable connectivity. This can enhance real-time communication, enabling quicker response times in critical industrial processes.
Therefore, for understanding the current state and future direction of OT systems, it is crucial keeping abreast of the latest industry news and technological advancements.
Operational technology (OT) systems are becoming increasingly important for businesses that want to stay competitive and efficient. Indeed, these systems can help companies optimize their operations, improve safety, and make informed decisions about their operations. Although there are some challenges to implementing these systems, the benefits can be significant, making them a worthwhile investment for businesses in a range of industries.