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How to approach IT/OT convergence training and certification

Effective IT/OT training involves rethinking existing processes and acquiring new skill sets to bridge the gap, such as business process engineering and project management.

The convergence of IT and operational technology can provide valuable business insights, leading to improved processes and reduced costs. But integrating the two is a complex process. To be successful and fully realize the benefits, familiarize yourself with the reasons for convergence, required knowledge and skills, relevant courses and certifications, employee training tips and best practices for integration.

Why are IT and operational technology converging?

Industry 4.0, initiated by the German government in 2015, was spearheaded to make manufacturers more competitive. It promoted a means to intelligently network machines and manufacturing processes through the use of information technologies such as IoT, security, robotics, big data, simulation, cloud computing and system integration. Important goals included making manufacturing processes more productive, cost-efficient, malleable and visible for those who perform and manage them.

Before Industry 4.0, manufacturers used programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that controlled manufacturing processes in individual machines and on assembly lines. Manufacturing engineers hand-programmed computer numerical control machines so they could produce parts and products without an actual worker. Design engineers used CNC machines to produce physical prototypes of new designs during product development. The problem was that each of these operations was a standalone silo. Manufacturing engineers had to go out to the floor repeatedly to redesign workflows and work orders whenever a manufacturing approach changed. Information had to be relayed in person from station to station because there was very little IT integration with manufacturing. Consequently, there were holes in the end-to-end visibility of manufacturing processes that prevented a holistic and integrated view of every operation and how it was working with others around it.

This changed when Industry 4.0 integrated IT with operational technology (OT), and former islands of information became integrated with the help of industrial control systems and industrial networks. These systems integrated machines, data and newer technologies such as IoT with holistic IP-based network architecture.

Skills and knowledge needed for IT/OT convergence

Companies saw the advantage of integrating IT with OT, but revising work processes and retraining employees presented new issues.

Employees were fearful of losing their jobs as industrial automation and robotics moved in. To be sure, there were job losses as certain manufacturing operations became automated. But what many manufacturing employees and managers found instead was that they would be tasked with learning new skills, such as how to report or record status with an internet device on the floor, how to interpret dashboard reports on their devices, or how to respond to IoT-generated alerts on the floor when maintenance to a particular machine was needed.

As more IT moved to the manufacturing floor, manufacturing managers and supervisors also had to assume responsibility for guaranteeing the security of manufacturing processes by participating in the implementation of security products, security technologies, and security strategies and practices. All were areas where they had little or no expertise.

Companies soon discovered that employees, managers and supervisors in manufacturing needed new skills for the Industry 4.0 digital environment, including the following:

  • soft skills in communications and collaboration;
  • business process engineering;
  • security;
  • training and mentoring;
  • business use case identification and proof of ROI;
  • project management;
  • technology and operations integration; and
  • human factors engineering.

IT/OT convergence courses and certifications

To attain IT/OT convergence competence, administrative and interpersonal soft skills as well as business process engineering and IT skills are needed.

The following is a cross-section of training courses and certifications worth considering.

SANS Institute's ICS/SCADA Security Essentials (ICS410) is a six-day online course that provides foundational skills for industrial control system cybersecurity. IT security professionals might know many of these fundamentals, but manufacturing employees who are tasked with supporting and defending industrial control systems against cyberthreats at the local plant level might be unfamiliar with privacy policy, privacy preferences and the day-to-day IT tasks that are needed to monitor, check and secure IT and IoT assets and networks that are running in the plant. This includes security products, security technologies, security strategies and uncovering gaps in security. Students gain an understanding of industrial control system components, purposes, deployments and constraints, and also participate in interactive scenario-based training.

Why it's important: Personnel in manufacturing must develop a battery of para-IT skills that include knowledge of how industrial networks work from an IT/OT standpoint, as well as the ability to administer security on a local level in the plant.

Udemy's soft skills development is an online course that teaches 11 essential soft skills that employees need to effectively collaborate and communicate with each other in a team environment. Billed as a lunchtime course, it is self-paced and can easily be consumed in video sessions that fit in small time frames. Communication and listening skills are taught, as well as group leadership skills.

Why it's important: The glue that binds together IT/OT work isn't development and integration, but cooperation and coordination. IT/OT teams must work together as they digitalize work processes. Without effective cooperation and collaboration, that can't happen.

Coursera offers a series of project management courses and certifications that are helpful to anyone asked to manage an IT/OT project. Topics range from an introduction to project management, which is ideal for those who have limited PM experience, to more advanced and specialized topics, such as engineering project management and business analysis and process management.

Why it's important: IT/OT convergence work is done in projects, and many employees on the OT side might be unfamiliar with working in a project format. Even for individuals in IT and OT who have PM experience, it might still be useful to attend a more advanced course that can assist with the particulars of the projects they're tasked with.

SMEClabs' IIoT Industrial Internet of Things Training is a full complement of IoT courses that covers a wide range of technical topics -- from working with PLC and SCADA on the manufacturing side, to developing IoT stacks, systems, networks, physical cabling, logical topologies, wireless considerations, holistic IP-based network architecture, enterprise-wide networks, network components, secure network architecture and industrial technology on the IT side. Training is self-paced, online and offers lab work.

Why it's important: Companies need technical training at all levels of manufacturing and IT, from beginner to advanced topics. This course collection provides a full array of courses and certifications.

The Management and Strategy Institute (MSI) corporate trainer courses and certifications are self-paced, online and address all aspects of training and mentoring, from acquainting line personnel and supervisors with the fundamentals of training and mentoring to advanced certifications that develop corporate trainers. Topics cover how to plan, develop and deliver training.

Why it's important: Companies will be called upon to train their own personnel in new business processes and technologies as IT/OT is implemented.

IT/OT convergence training tips and strategies

Every organization faces unique IT/OT convergence challenges, but there are four best practices that work in any situation:

1. Train from within

There will be times when you need an outside consultant to train elements of IT/OT, but the best way to ensure a smooth transition to new IT/OT processes is to train from within. This will require train-the-trainer education for mentors and others who'll be responsible for training and coaching fellow employees.

2. Don't forget the soft skills

The ability to communicate, collaborate and cooperate in the design of new manufacturing and IT processes depends on employees who can communicate well and work with each other. IT/OT teams should be comprised of individuals from operations and IT who possess these skills.

3. Choose an integration platform before choosing your IIoT

The IIoT technologies -- i.e., robotics, sensors, hand-held devices, etc. -- that will pave the way for industrial business process design must be able to work together. Because many IoT devices offered by third-party providers have proprietary OSes and there is no industrywide interoperability standard, IT should first select a platform that can work with a wide array of IoT -- and specify the compatibility criteria any IoT platform must meet before it is purchased.

4. Use cross-disciplinary IT/OT teams

Manufacturing and IT must collaborate if IT/OT is to work. IT/OT teams should be interdisciplinary and should share in the work of business process design and technology integration.

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