Talent Bridges the Gap Between IT and OT in the Industrial Internet of Things

  • December 01, 2016
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Feature

By Dave Vasko, Director of Advanced Technology, Rockwell Automation; Board Member, IoT Talent Consortium

There’s a lot of hype surrounding the Internet of Things. Much of it’s focused on making and placing sensors on different devices and machines, and creating new networks to interconnect these sensors and devices. Considerable time and effort is being devoted to that part of the equation, and not as much effort yet around connecting the analytics that can optimize the data from those sensors and devices. Only about 14 percent of companies have been able to fully connect their manufacturing floors with their IT departments.

A big issue is talent. Manufacturers just don’t have the talent they need with skills in security, cloud, industrial communications and data analytics technologies. In addition, many manufacturing pros are retiring, so we’re losing the talent we do have.

That’s the bad news.

Looking for tech talent

The good news is that manufacturing is becoming a vastly more exciting place to work. Coming into the workforce with the skills of today, professionals can be promoted quickly and make a contribution straight out of school. Since they have the tech skills that factories need to optimize their operations and production lines, they are a population that is hugely valued.

If you are a tech worker or someone with a tech background, there can be real advancements for growth and promotions within industrial environments. Part of the reason for that is because, candidly, manufacturing often isn’t on a tech professional career options list.

That should change.

What’s unique about a job in the industrial space is the ability to really accomplish something. Professionals have the ability to make something at the end of the day, whether it be cornflakes, cars or petroleum. Skilled workers can use data analytics to optimize factory operations, operations efficiencies and production environments while boosting uptime. And by optimizing the data, workers with IoT skills can help factories create amazing new products that will change how people live, work and play.

IoT in the industrial space

In manufacturing, connected devices aren’t some novel concept. Factories have been using sensors on equipment for a decade or more. Today, that gap between operation technology (OT) on the factory floor and information technology (IT) is closing.  With sensors already in place and emerging analytics technologies becoming more widespread, the time is ripe to make huge changes. Tech professionals with analytics, Big Data, industrial networking, cloud and security skills are going to be the ones that make the connections and drive this productivity.

There’s a lot being discussed about digitization, especially in the context of the manufacturing plant. The IoT dovetails with digitization beautifully. In digitization, the factory’s data is available to analyze. The status of every device in the plant is available in real-time and is used to make decisions in a timely manner. Through connecting every machine, every device, every piece of equipment, the IoT provides the connections from that manufacturing space into the information space.

To realize the gains in productivity that they can get from digitization and the IoT, manufacturers are looking to hire and skill employees with IoT-related skills. Manufacturers are creating new jobs to accommodate these evolving needs. The job roles that have IoT foundations are concentrating on taking full advantage of the data mined from sensor-connected devices on the factory floor.

Securing critical infrastructure

Security is one area in IoT-enabled manufacturing that needs positions filled quickly. Much of the globe’s critical infrastructure in energy, utilities and waste treatment uses OT systems. These systems are quickly connected to network-enabled sensors and controllers that can inadvertently expose control environments to hackers in the rush to automate systems.

To protect potential shutdown from an attack, manufacturing leadership needs to identify, hire or train individuals with the cybersecurity backgrounds needed to ensure when that connection is made, only those people who have authorization to do so are allowed to make changes, only that data that you choose to expose is being exposed. Security plays an important part in the Industrial Internet of Things.

When you’re connecting industrial machinery to sensors and controllers and providing the ability for that information to flow beyond the factory floor, throughout the plant and beyond its walls, security becomes paramount. Manufacturers must have professionals on its security teams that can help sense attacks that may occur, and take measures to protect sensitive data or access to controls if an attack does happen. For example, security teams need people who can configure industrial networks and firewalls to ensure only the authorized people have access to different parts of the factory. Security staff should be able to enforce uniform policy guidelines, policy protection throughout the organization, so that only those people who have the correct access are allowed to access information within the factory.

Efficiency Gains

Digitization and the IoT are presenting the potential for huge efficiency gains in areas from operations to energy consumption. Unplanned downtime is a productivity and profit killer in many industries, especially manufacturing, but addressing it wisely represents a competitive advantage for manufactures. In the industrial environment alone, there’s some $20 billion of downtime cost that occurs every year. If people managing the factory were able to know when equipment was going to wear out, they could perform the maintenance during planned downtime. $20 billion savings annually is a big deal, and that’s just one example.

The opportunities for efficiency gains from the IoT is massive. There are opportunities for serialization, for doing tracking from field to fork in agricultural environments. In pharmaceutical scenarios, manufacturers can become even more precise and efficient in tracking products when recalls occur and limiting negative impact. Enabling the supply and demand chains with the insights from IoT-enabled device data can reap big rewards in efficiency and improved process automation.

Looking Ahead

The industrial sector is beginning to take advantage of these gains, but bridging the talent gap between the traditional OT factory floor and the analytic insights that workers with new skills can deliver. While there are still gaps between the job roles required and the skill sets of job seekers, the industry is developing training programs to teach skills in the IoT, analytics, Big Data, industrial networking, security and other critical areas. Regardless of whether a job seeker has a four year or advanced degree, these training programs and certifications like the CCNA Industrial certification help flesh out professionals’ skills so they’re productive as soon as they walk onto the manufacturing plant floor.

Industrial manufacturing companies are embracing smart technologies and the connected world, which are changing the face of the modern factory more dramatically than ever before. It’s only now that manufacturers have the cloud infrastructure in place, the communications networks in place to really make a lot of this happen. While the industry is still seeing gaps between the potential brought by this new technology, and where manufacturers are with their workforces, bridging the gap between IT and OT in factory environments is key to realizing the smart, connected factory of tomorrow, today

About the Author

David A. Vasko is director of Advanced Technology at Rockwell Automation. He is responsible for applied R&D and Global Product Standards and Regulations within Rockwell. Dave is also on the board of directors for the IoT Talent Consortium, a group focused changing the way we develop and acquire talent by defining new skill sets and building the training and matching platforms needed to facilitate the transition to an IoT world.  

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