Industry Expertise: How to Achieve IT and OT Convergence

In today’s world of connectivity and real-time data, bridging the gap between IT and OT systems creates new opportunities to improve operational efficiency, meet customer demands, and keep pace with digital transformation. With enterprise applications (IT) and operations running the grid (OT) working together, utilities can benefit from disaster recovery and business continuity efforts. The integration of these systems enables an organization to optimize data consistency and management, which increases productivity and other efficiencies including network planning and engineering, service assurance, and service fulfillment.  

The Biggest Hurdle to Overcome 

Utilities are an asset-intensive industry. Successful convergence depends on achieving an end-to-end view of all resource and service assets of the communication network, across all technologies and vendors, throughout each layer. Today’s utility networks are typically based on a very heterogeneous mix of technologies (e.g. WDM, SONET / SDH, MPLS, IP, etc.). Adopting comprehensive resource management is the key to achieving a complete view of assets and improving service assurance, service fulfillment, engineering and planning.  

Creating a single resource repository is the best way to achieve a comprehensive end-to-end view. To create such a resource repository, typically EMS / NMS data of the different network technologies are used to load vendor-agnostic resource information and reconcile the data regularly to keep it accurate. The same applies to the underlying passive cable and outside plant infrastructure. In this domain, however, an integrated planning, change and documentation update process ensures data accuracy and takes on the reconciliation role mentioned above. 

Bridging the Gap 

The first step in successfully converging IT and OT systems is to eliminate organizational silos. Holistic, unified management of OT and IT resources is a must. One of the obstacles to convergence that utilities most often cite is overcoming these organizational silos. A single data repository that integrates with other systems to make data actionable by users across the organization, regardless of where they reside in the organization, is a best practice for resolving this issue.  

Second, implementing a common data source will make processes more efficient and improve control of active and passive network infrastructure. An integrated data model implemented in a central data hub, that simplifies integration and sharing of data, is a critical part of a utility’s systems architecture. This will enable utilities to use data between operational and IT systems seamlessly and, ultimately, improve business processes. A single system of record will also make it easier for utility companies to share information, both inside and outside the enterprise. This reduces operational cost and facilitates impact analysis in case of outages and during maintenance window management, and the diverse routing of connections. Operational efficiency can only be reached if resource data is provided across all active and passive network and infrastructure layers. 

Third, data integration is crucial for IT and OT tools to communicate with each other and with other key systems. IT/OT crosses traditional boundaries including planning/engineering, operations, field work, enterprise applications, and the customer. A central resource repository needs to expose data via open API capabilities to facilitate a successful standards-based integration. Whether between operations, business and IT, the control center or the field force, IT/OT integration is about making information available where it has the greatest impact and benefit, no matter what group in the organization is responsible for the creation and maintenance of the data.  

Unified Resource Management 

Overall, IT and OT convergence is the key to continued success in the utilities market. Convergence is only possible if enterprise applications (IT) and operations running the grid (OT) are using common data sources to share information, integrate applications and automate processes. Implementing a unified network and service resource management solution will provide utilities with full visibility across all type of physical, logical and virtual IT, data center and telecommunication networks and service resources 

With this transparency, utilities will experience reduced operational costs and improved efficiency due to IT automation and process integration, faster troubleshooting, accelerated service delivery as well as streamlined change management and transformation processes, and the elimination of data silos.  

Ulrich Schälling, Head of Business Line Networks at FNT Software, recently discussed IT and OT convergence in Power Grid International. Read his article here