There’s still quite a way to go in the industrial sector’s journey towards digitization. Many companies, especially the smallest ones, don’t have segregated IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operational Technology) networks, instead, all of the equipment is connected to one single network which leads directly to the Internet. In others, generally the largest ones, the workshop’s network is separated from the office’s network by means of a firewall, making it possible to control communication between the two worlds in a very granular manner.
This is not only important in terms of the network architecture, but also on more basic levels. For example, the communication of information between the workshop and the office is still, in many cases, done on paper which, as well as being inefficient, makes the process less accurate. The network architecture not only has to be suitable, but it also has to be used in the right way.
It’s important to recognize how important it is to perform IT/OT convergence correctly in order to place our plants at the top of the podium in terms of competitiveness in a digital ecosystem. Subsequently, among the challenges to consider in the concurrence of the worlds of Information Technology and Operational Technology, from a safety point of view, are:
- Awareness. The segregation of IT and OT networks is something that must be left to the professionals. This is vital for the security of the company’s systems.
- It’s important to have a system, generally a router or a firewall, that limits which systems on each network can be accessed from each element.
- Access to the configuration of the router / firewall must be restricted to IT staff or personnel that manage the networks. If this profile is not available, external advice should be sought so that the safety configuration is correct.
- Industry 4.0 technology enablers such as the Cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) or Big Data make the resolve to enhance cybersecurity risk management even greater, if possible.
To converge IT/OT, a study of the requirements of each specific plant must be carried out. Depending on each company’s characteristics, one or more OT networks may be necessary. At the same time, all of the elements in the supply chain that will need to be connected to these networks need to be identified, both hardware (machines, sensors, computers, etc.), and software (programs and applications). Which doors need to be opened with the firewall will depend a great deal on the latter.
Many companies fail when integrating these two worlds, not succeeding in sharing data suitably or doing so in a way that is unsafe. It’s important to highlight the importance of a data architecture that is connected to all of the areas, from when an order arrives, is designed, the material is calculated and stock is confirmed, to when it is manufactured and distributed. That is, the different departments must be connected (sales, innovation, storage, workshop, etc.).
In the metal and sheet metal industry, the ideal program to make this integration real and efficient is MES. The Manufacturing Execution System software offers an integral view of the plant in real time, making it possible to run the manufacturing process connecting other software, such as CAD/CAM and ERP, and PLC data integration systems and SCADA systems for process monitoring. At the same time, in our journey towards Industry 4.0, we must support the MES in data analysis tools using Artificial Intelligence solutions and, in their most advanced version, Machine Learning. And all of this connected to the Cloud through the sensorization of machines and processes and the IoT. The correct implementation of this data flow will later allow us to gather information so that we can evaluate the performance of our productive process, such as the OEE.
This forces us to be even more strict with the security of the networks. Here’s a fact: almost 80% of organizations with a SCADA / ICS network have suffered a security breach in the last 24 months. This figure is taken from a report published a year ago by Forrester Research, but which evaluates the issue.
Undoubtedly, choosing a suitable partner to accompany us in our digital transformation is key along with being able to implement a digital strategy that considers the differences between the IT and OT worlds, making it easier for us to achieve that competitive advantage that sets us apart from the competition.