Hu Yoshida

What are the Challenges of IT/OT Integration?

Blog Post created by Hu Yoshida Employee on Sep 1, 2017

When we talk about Digital Transformation we often talk about the integration of IT and OT as though it is a given. We want to integrate machine data with transaction data to gain better insights into the total business and provide better goods and services. We need to stop and think about what that means and what that entails. We need to start with some definitions and good place to start is with Gartner’s glossary of digital marketing terms.


Here are some definitions from this glossary:


Operational technology (OT) is 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.


Information technology is the entire spectrum of technologies for information processing, including software, hardware, communications technologies and related services.


IT/OT integration is the end state sought by organizations (most commonly, asset-intensive organizations) where instead of a separation of IT and OT as technology areas with different areas of authority and responsibility, there is integrated process and information flow.


These definitions are pretty straight forward. However, we need go a little deeper. OT systems are used to control devices like motors and other machines and monitor sensors to regulate various processes, detect anomalies, or prevent hazardous conditions. The operating systems technologies and communications protocols that are used for OT have been very different from IT technologies and protocols, since they were focused on specific tasks and operated in real time or near real time. Advances in IT technologies like Intel processors, Linux and TCP/IP are now making it possible to run more OT systems on IT technologies.


However, because of its focus on internal, operational processes, OT systems often lack the maturity of IT systems management in terms of enterprise availability, security, governance, and transparency.  Many OT systems use simple passwords for ease of use and do not keep current with software upgrades. The Miriai Malware attack which occurred last year, exploited this by installing a remote bot into OT devices like IP cameras and routers. On October 21, 2016, the bots were activated and caused a Distributed Denial of Service attack against major DNS servers which made several high profile websites like Airbnb and Netflix inaccessible. When we bring OT devices into the enterprise world of IT and networking with the outside world we have to ensure that it does not enable new avenues of attack. This requires rethinking how we manage OT systems in an open enterprise environment.


Most OT systems do not use external storage so data simply wraps over itself. In a recent incident at San Francisco airport, an incoming flight almost landed on a taxi runway where three other planes were ready to take off. Luckily, the landing was aborted at the last minute and the lives of the passengers on all four planes were saved. When investigators got around to examining the flight recorder, the data had already been over written by a subsequent flight and valuable investigative information was lost.


Self Driving car.png

As we move to automation like self-driving cars, more data will be created and processed on the edge and decisions must be made as to how we curate the data; what data is thrown away and what data is sent back to the mother ship. A self-driving car may be processing terabytes of data on the fly as it navigates through traffic and it cannot wait for someone in the cloud to process the data remotely to tell it what to do next. There are some fundamental challenges in the growing number of OT connected assets that generate large-volume, high-speed data. We will have to consider new data storage and retention requirements when incorporating OT data into an enterprise governance environment.


The integration of IT and OT can be challenging and the degree of difficulty depends on the type of business. Financial services and retail already have a high degree of IT and OT integration while other verticals like healthcare, manufacturing, oil and gas have less integration. Often times the integration is less about the technology and business and more about people. If the operations people are used to running their own systems, it will be difficult to redefine roles and responsibilities.


Hitachi is a unique company with over 106 years of experience with OT systems, starting with electric motors and generators, and over 57 years of IT systems experience. We understand the challenges of integrating OT with IT. We will be presenting a number of  use case for IT and OT integration at our NEXT 2017 event in Las Vegas, September 18 to 20.


One session you should attend is Unlock a Greater Business Value With Fog Computing by Sudhanshu Gaur Director, Digital Solution Platform Lab Hitachi America Limited, in which he addresses the challenges of a growing number of connected assets with fog computing that distributes various functionalities and applications anywhere along the continuum from cloud to things. Discover how this fast-emerging trend gives you higher scalability, agility, programmability and trustworthiness in industrial IoT systems.

  • See how fog computing uses IT and OT technologies.
  • Improve scalability, agility and programmability.
  • Accelerate product and services rollout