IT, OT, and IIoT: Where These Technology Types Diverge & Intersect

Recently, we’ve discussed the emergence of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and offered some case studies to illustrate its capacities. Today, we are discussing how it impacts the global industrial complex, which relies on a vast web of technologies to accomplish corporate goals and optimize growth. Conventional manufacturing technology typically falls into two categories: information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Both systems provide critical services, but have not historically been designed to regularly interact or engage with each other.

The sophistication of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is changing that reality. Its equipment and programming connect enterprise technology networks to unify IT and OT functioning into a single, corporation-encompassing digital architecture.

Technologies Defined

Their labels aptly describe their functions:

  • Operational technology (OT) refers to the hardware and software that control industrial production activities, such as sensors, communications relays, and smart devices. These OT mechanisms gather and share data with machine programming to perform specific tasks related to production processes. Many manufacturers have automated their OT to improve its precision, increase its productivity, and reduce its operating cost.

  • Information technology (IT) captures, processes, and integrates data to generate specific enterprise-relevant insights. Databases collect and clean raw data as it streams in from corporate machinery and devices. Subsequent programming analyzes the homogenized data for specific purposes, such as tracking wear-and-tear on equipment, monitoring production values, and assessing safety and compliance activities.

  • Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) refers to the virtually limitless array of digital appliances, devices, and gadgets — the physical things — and their related programming, all designed to produce services to (and data for) their users.

Together, OT and IT comprise the entirety of the digital corporate structure. Using IIoT devices and software to knit together the activity of each technological suite extends and enhances the value of all three.

OT ≠ IT  

There are many reasons why OT and IT have not converged before now. 

The two technologies were developed independently, evolved separately, and are often designed with different computer languages, software, and hardware strategies.

IT and OT function differently, too. OT systems are typically independent of other networks; their software is programmed to accomplish precise automated tasks. IT systems, however, can be connected to any number of networks and configurations and use operating systems to control and consolidate the overarching architecture.

The ultimate distinction, however, is their fundamental purpose: IT systems prioritize confidentiality, while OT networks prioritize safety. Each brings a distinct but equal value to the enterprise. 

Layering an IIoT configuration over IT and OT networks connects these two foundational technologies. It combines their respective data and production metrics to inform and enhance the performance of both.  

IIoT + OT + IT = Enhanced Performance

One way to envision IIoT technology in your organization is to track its function from its installed location to its end product. 

Initially, IIoT devices are networked into an established OT system to address existing concerns or enhance activities, such as measuring daily product outputs, tracking workforce metrics, or following supply chain developments.

IIoT devices are automated industrial systems, so there’s no need for human attendance after installation; the mechanical information simply streams as production activities continue.

These devices can add any additional service or action to an existing process, such as sensing temperatures, assessing system health, or acting as an alert sentry when operations fail. When used for these purposes, IIoT devices can significantly enhance OT productivity.

The resulting OT/IIoT data is then fed into corporate databases for integration, analysis, and manipulation. With this streaming, up-to-the-minute intelligence, IT analytics can identify and act on events and situations as they occur. The immediacy of the information gives operations and corporate management the time needed to pursue emerging opportunities or fix glitches before they become problems.  

IIoT in Practice

Many industries have already adopted IIoT strategies. 

Food Safety

In the agricultural industry, many foods require specialized storage and handling processes to ensure foods are suitable for consumption. IIoT sensors installed throughout food production, transport, and delivery systems can measure compliance with those processes to ensure that foods are safe to eat when purchased by the consumer.

The equipment can also identify and alert management to vulnerabilities or inappropriate exposures within that infrastructure that might threaten the food’s viability or safety. IIoT equipment can reveal concerns undetectable by humans, enhancing the value of IIoT in the agricultural industry.

Predictive Maintenance

Modern production machinery often represents a significant financial investment by its corporate owner. Keeping those machines operating at peak efficiency maintains optimal organizational productivity and maximizes the value of operating costs.

IIoT sensors are programmable to report when individual components are approaching the end of a lifecycle or experiencing issues with parts or processes. Capturing that data before total system failure allows workers to make repairs or install replacements, reducing potential losses or damage.  

Waste Management Efficiency

In the waste management industry, federal and state environmental and zoning regulations mandate strict compliance with health and safety practices when disposing of industrial waste, such as discarded plastics, paper, machinery, scrap metal, and other materials.

IIoT sensors can monitor conditions and maintain control over a variety of concerns generated by this often toxic debris, ensuring it remains within acceptable levels. The IIoT-enabled system can protect workers and the public from inadvertent lapses in safety standards, such as those that release noxious fumes, generate excessive temperature levels, or even cause radiation exposures. 

IIoT = Cost Saver

Most companies rely on their proprietary corporate data when making critical business decisions. Machines, devices, and software programs that control production processes and measure safety and compliance standards generate that business intelligence. 

Adding an automated industrial IIoT system over corporate technology infrastructures provides confidence that the C-Suite can base its decisions on reliable, real-time enterprise metrics. Look for our next article in this series to learn how the IIoT can help reduce the cost of running your organization. The IIoT experts at ICA Engineering can help you install and integrate your organization’s OT/IIoT/IT connectivity. Call us at (908) 686-8568 or reach out to us online.

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