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OptoNews: IoT Defined - OT and IT

Posted by Jean Femia on Apr 13, 2016 3:57:19 PM

IT and OT work together in the enterpriseIf you've heard much about the Internet of Things (IoT) or Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), you may have heard the terms OT and IT.

What do those terms mean? And why do we hear that OT and IT are "converging"?

Let's take a look.

OT stands for Operational Technology, the industrial control and manufacturing automation part of a business. That's where we work, for the most part, and OT systems and equipment are most familiar to us. OT is the factory floor, the building automation systems, the remote installations. 

Gartner defines operational technology (OT) as "hardware and software that detects or causes a change through the direct monitoring and/or control of physical devices, processes and events in the enterprise."

IT stands for Information Technology, the systems that move and store computer-based data the company needs. IT is the guys and gals who set up and run the company computer network and databases. (In general IT doesn't include embedded technologies, unless they generate data for the enterprise.)

Gartner defines information technology (IT) as "the entire spectrum of technologies for information processing, including software, hardware, communications technologies and related services."

How OT and IT interact

Both OT and IT work to create the goods and services the company sells:

  • OT directly creates goods or services using physical assets.
  • IT manages data about the production, sale, and support of those goods and services.

These two systems were created separately, progressed in different directions over time, and typically don't connect. They can't communicate because:

  • OT and IT systems run on different physical connectors and buses.
  • OT and IT use different languages and protocols to work with data and present it to humans. 
  • OT and IT people have different backgrounds, viewpoints, and goals.

Although these two parts of the business are separate now, looking into the future we can see that the most efficient and effective companies will increasingly require them to communicate.

In fact that's the whole idea of the Internet of Things: to make better business decisions possible by sharing data between the physical things in the world (both things currently in the OT realm and isolated things that contain useful data) and IT computer systems and databases. 

To make these better business decisions possible, we'll need to bridge the communication gap between OT and IT; that is, we'll need to see a convergence of OT and IT. Ways to best bridge that gap—physical, linguistic, and philosophical—are the questions we'll be working on for the next several years.

So now you know more about OT and IT and the roles they play. If you're interested in learning more about OT/IT convergence and challenges for the Internet of Things, take a look at our free IoT Primer.

Read the IoT Primer

Topics: Internet of Things, IoT, optonews, OptoNews 2016-04-13

Written by Jean Femia

Jean Femia writes about technical subjects and has focused on automation and control systems for more than 15 years. She likes learning about technology and taking corners in her Honda S2000.
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