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Git can drive IT/OT convergence

June 9, 2023
Find a common language and give IT visibility into OT activity with an underlying, unifying infrastructure
In the realm of industrial automation, the convergence of information-technology (IT) and operational-technology (OT) teams has long been a challenge. These two teams have operated independently, rarely collaborating due to differences in their respective domains. However, with the advent of smart manufacturing and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the need for collaboration between IT and OT has become increasingly apparent.

Traditionally, OT teams have been responsible for ensuring the proper functioning of machines on the factory floor, while IT teams have managed computers, servers, networking and security. The rise of connected sensors and real-time data sharing has brought IT infrastructure into the manufacturing space, as OT teams increasingly require storage solutions for their data. Additionally, concerns like cybersecurity have shifted the responsibility of OT software toward IT organizations.

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Despite the potential for collaboration, many industrial companies still maintain separate IT and OT technology stacks. As the reliance on software in industrial operations grows, there is a growing desire for IT to manage both IT and OT infrastructures. The ultimate goal is to increase operational efficiency and ownership across the organization.

Ideally, this approach takes the burden of managing software, data infrastructure and security off of controls engineers or automation engineers and allows them to focus on their priority—ensuring the factory floor runs smoothly.

However, the complexity of managing multiple toolchains and disparate systems can quickly become overwhelming. For instance, a firm utilizing multiple toolchains across the IT and OT teams and lacking a centralized file backup system can find a common language and obtain OT activity visibility by using Git as the underlying, unifying infrastructure.

Development tools are finally emerging for industrial automation. One prime example is the application of Git version control. Through the lens of IT/OT convergence, Git bridges the gap between industrial technologies and software toolchains. It enables IT teams to abstract OT toolchains and focus on supporting infrastructure they are familiar with.

Eliminating the “black box” in industrial automation

One significant obstacle to IT/OT collaboration lies in the differences between the programming languages used by IT software engineers and controls engineers. IT engineers typically work with text-based programming languages, while controls engineers use visual languages like ladder logic and function block diagrams. As a result, IT has almost no real-time visibility into OT operations. While IT can standardize its source control around Git, OT may rely on archive folders or various products such as SharePoint, Subversion (SVN) or original-equipment-manufacturer (OEM) software for version control.

Adopting a Git-based approach ensures that data is stored in a central location, changes are tracked and access permissions can be controlled. This gives IT teams the leverage they need to accomplish organizational objectives.

Security and infrastructure maintenance are paramount concerns for IT teams. By integrating complex OT toolchains into a Git-based toolset that IT is already proficient in using, IT teams are able to oversee the infrastructure supporting OT teams’ work seamlessly. Meanwhile, OT teams can focus on execution without worrying about security or accessing critical file backups.

To mitigate risks, organizations must prioritize proper infrastructure and data storage. By adopting a standardized Git-based platform for both IT and OT, companies can reap numerous benefits:

● reducing the need for separate IT and OT stacks by standardizing around Git

● simplifying the OT toolchain to a single manageable system

● implementing coherent standard operating procedures (SOPs) that align with software development practices

● standardizing file data storage by integrating with leading Git providers such as GitHub, Gitlab and Azure, facilitating auditing, traceability and quick access to the correct data

● improving security by aligning OT storage solutions with IT best practices.

Breaking down the silos between IT and OT leads to improved business operations, leveraging resources effectively to achieve organizational objectives. Git-based source control provides a straightforward path to alignment and should be embraced by industrial companies more broadly. IT's familiarity with Git, coupled with its ability to enhance access control and traceability, makes it a low-risk solution to implement. Purpose-built tools empower OT teams to improve their development workflows, further facilitating collaboration and convergence between IT and OT.