CTO Jochem van Lierop on IT for OT
IT for OT is a technology that we deploy at several companies, particularly for remote monitoring and updating assets in remote locations. CTO Jochem van Lierop of Conclusion Mission Critical discusses this particular technology on our emerging technologies radar. What is it, what makes it so complex and what are the benefits? Read on and get to know the topic through an inspiring case study.
August 18th, 2023 | Blog | By: Conclusion
What is IT for OT?
Wouldn’t it be great if a train was capable of indicating that a particular component needed to be serviced? Or if a conveyor belt could stop without operator intervention the moment a camera detects that something is going wrong somewhere in the process? In an increasing number of places, this is already happening – by using IT to control operational technology (OT). This data-driven control of industrial assets is also known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), or Industry 4.0.
Assets can be anything from machines, conveyors, and forklifts to wind and solar farms, bridges and locks, locomotives and train sets, and so on. These assets are equipped with sensors that measure vibrations, noise, pressure, or air quality, or with cameras that monitor processes. This data is processed by a predictive algorithm, which then automatically initiates a new action: scheduling maintenance, stopping a conveyor belt, or venting a vessel.
What are the benefits?
Controlling your OT through IT allows you to automate manual tasks, which means you can do more with fewer people. In addition, it often opens up opportunities to make your processes smarter. For instance, you might be able to deploy machine learning to analyse sensor patterns. Take a camera on a conveyor belt, for example, that monitors whether all the bottles are still positioned correctly on the belt. The images captured by this camera are analysed in real time using computer vision. As soon as this image recognition algorithm detects a process error – such as a bottle that has fallen over – the IT solution communicates this directly to the OT environment, which stops the belt. Previously, an operator would have to monitor this process and stop the conveyor manually, often after dozens of other bottles had fallen over as a result of the disruption.
What makes IT for OT so complex?
1. There are many differences between the OT world and the IT world. OT systems are controlled by measurement and control technology such as PLC and SCADA – systems that are designed to last for decades. They are incredibly robust and not easily modified. This makes innovation a challenge.
2. On top of that, OT almost always involves stand-alone systems that were not designed to connect to the outside world. So they are not made for sharing data, and certainly not for twoway communication. Now that IT for OT is here, OT needs to be secured. And preferably in a way that can be integrated with the rest of the security landscape, otherwise all you are doing is creating tomorrow’s legacy. A final point to bear in mind is lifecycle management. While this is often neglected in IT environments, it is even lower down the list of priorities in OT environments. In addition, no budget is set aside for maintenance and management.
3. This all adds to the complexity of creating a stable OT environment that is also future-proof. An environment where you can innovate without costs spiralling out of control – and which is extremely secure, because it involves business-critical processes.
Case study: Controlling wind and solar farms remotely
One of the biggest challenges we face in the energy transition is balancing the energy grid. At times when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, there is often an oversupply of energy. As the grid itself has little capacity to store energy, production needs to be adjusted at these times. This means that wind turbines may have to be shut down or solar farms switched off. This also has to be done in near real time. myBrand Conclusion has developed an application for controlling and monitoring this in a standardized way. Based on the agreements made (energy to be supplied) and the current level of energy demand and supply in the grid, all sites producing renewable energy receive a notification: you must now generate x number of megawatt hours. The wind turbines and solar farms switch on and off automatically, without the need for an operator to go to the site and flick a switch. The application runs on a hybrid cloud developed by Conclusion Mission Critical. The IoT platform was also provided by Conclusion Mission Critical in partnership with AMIS Conclusion.
Organizations often see the opportunities of accessing their industrial assets via IoT, but they tend to overlook what such an IT for OT environment requires in terms of security and management. This is extremely dangerous, especially in a mission critical environment.
Jochem van Lierop
CTO at Conclusion Mission Critical