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Convergence is here, so what does that mean for IT and OT teams?

Image of Brian Turner
Brian Turner

We’re no longer looking at OT devices just sitting on the IT network, or two completely separate networks.

 It’s now a truly converged IoT network where each team needs to understand and work together on a bigger picture.

What is Convergence in Smart Buildings?

For buildings and OT, convergence has accelerated as the price of enabling technologies has decreased. Controllers the size of your hand now come with IP connectivity and they’re purpose-built for building automation. Fiber has advanced so that it’s now cost-competitive with Cat5 cabling and much more scalable. On the information technology side, IT teams are faced with larger, more connected networks that offer access holes to malicious parties at every turn.

On the Buildings IoT “One Network” Debate and What’s Been Missing from the Conversation

When OT comes to the table for a building network strategy session, we’re talking to a room full of IT people about network and fiber like it’s new. IT has been doing this for a long time. The only thing that’s new is the application. In order to better work together, OT needs to help IT know what the device is, what network ports it is listening to and how often, how much bandwidth it needs and most importantly, which device starts the conversation.

When a Switch is Not Just a Switch

While OT is leveling-up on the technology side, IT needs to reframe the way it thinks about building devices.

“To IT, it’s just a light switch,” says Rich Miller, VP of Information Technology at OTI. “It doesn’t need very much attention. Instead, IT is focused on making sure all users have email access or that the personal devices people bring onto the office network are not posing threats to overall security.”

As convergence deepens, building devices are no longer just light switches. Devices are WiFi enabled, IP connected, power over ethernet, data sharing smart devices. They are part of a larger effort to improve operations, maximize profitability and keep people comfortable. They're flexible and programmable because they're not inherently secure.

Enterprise case study on truly converged IoT Network for GGP mall properties

“The crucial point that both OT and IT teams need to understand,” Miller says, “is that if you don’t secure every one of these OT building devices, it could be the jump-off point that ends up getting a whole office or corporate enterprise hacked. It is everyone’s mutual responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

How to Make Convergence Work Better for Everyone

Traditionally, IT has seen facilities as outside their network purview and OT has seen information technology teams as roadblocks to on-time and in-budget project delivery. Convergence has arrived and the internet of things is only going to continue intertwining devices, teams and networks. Everyone needs to work together otherwise networks will have security holes, machine learning will halt and entire industries will fall behind. Here’s how both IT and OT groups can better work together.

1.) Stop dreading the conversation

There’s a huge misconception that working with IT can push an OT project behind by three to six months.

“The mentality in the buildings industry has been ‘we don’t want to deal with IT, they’re a road block, we just want to do our own thing,’” explains Clint Bradford, head of operations at OTI.

The truth is, a clear path can be agreed upon in one to two meetings. Calling IT at the last minute saying “I need 100 ports open for my VLAN” is never a successful strategy. Neither is working around IT and placing a router anywhere that OT teams need access to a platform front-end. The first path is unfair and the second is not secure.

Data center case study on working with IT for 352 pieces of equipment

2.) Talk early and at key project points

“It always comes down to the relationship,” Miller says. “The more someone trusts you and the work you do, the more they’re willing to work with you to accomplish a mutual goal.”

Convergence means that IT is part of the OT network, OT is part of the IT network and everything works together for the sake of the IoT.  With this in mind, it only makes sense to have both IT and OT start working together early in the project process.

3.) Outline exactly what you need

Building controllers and network devices have advanced so much that it’s hard for even industry veterans to keep up. Imagine how out-of-the-loop IT is. There are a few specific reasons IT must be involved in OT network integrations. Conversations should clearly outline these needs. First, discuss bandwidth needed for each device on the network. Then explain the important features and functions of the system and latency/up-time required. Finally, determine port assignments, data transfer and storage methodologies.

Convergence means that it’s not just OT devices sitting on an IT network. It’s a true IoT network where all applications share relevant data important to each application. With everyone on board, projects will go smoother, networks will be more secure and people will be more successful.

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