Reskilling today’s industrial workforce for OT-IT convergence

The impact on manufacturing is mirrored in the utility space

Analysts forecast that the industrial sector will have over fifty billion internet-connected devices by 2020. In this connected environment, OT and IT professionals will have to collaborate on all aspects of design to create fully converged architectures.

For this to succeed, however, manufacturers and other ‘industrial’ organisations, such as utility companies, must ensure that their IT and OT professionals have the critical knowledge and skills required to design, deploy, and manage high-value industrial network architectures.

Utilities transformative times

According to Paul Taylor of Cisco, “Manufacturing will change more in the next five years than it has in the previous 20 as a result of greater connectivity and an explosion of internet connected, ‘smart’ devices.”

This is being made possible by the convergence of IT and OT systems leveraging common IP networking standards or using a single networking technology, as well as by enabling forces such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Big Data analytics.

For utilities, the amount of data generated from millions of IoT devices including smart sensors, two-way communications and analytics is enabling them to make better decisions about their grid networks.
Information-enabled operations offer virtually infinite potential to improve business performance. Companies will be able to use data that has long been stranded inside machines and processes to quickly identify operational inefficiencies and pinpoint potential safety and security or environmental issues.

Remote access connectivity and mobile technologies will immediately connect operators with off-site experts to be able to avoid or more quickly troubleshoot and resolve downtime events – critical to public sector services such as electricity, water and gas.

Opportunities and challenges worldwide

The move to information-enabled operations is taking place at a crucial time for many industrial organisations. Within today’s highly competitive global marketplace, manufacturers are seeking to retain footholds in established markets. Utilities and energy retailers are too, under increasing pressure to innovate and deliver value in today’s competitive, deregulated markets.

Regulatory requirements are also increasing, including ever more stringent safety standards and emerging regulations that require greater product traceability and supply chain management aimed at reducing the spread of counterfeit products.

Smart meter manufacturers are also called upon to meet the industry’s highest safety standards in response to numerous radiation exposure and fire safety concerns from consumers and regulators, while utilities themselves are under pressure to keep prices low and efficiencies high.

At the same time, utilities face a workforce dilemma as older, highly knowledgeable workers retire and younger, less experienced workers take their place. A 2014 study by Accenture and The Manufacturing Institute found that US manufacturers may be losing up to 11% of their earnings per year due to increased production costs resulting from a shortage of skilled workers.

In reference to a study complied for the Task Force on America’s Future Energy Jobs produced by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), the Harvard Business Review noted that in the US, “a backlog of baby-boomer retirees is expected to turnover upwards of 40% of utilities’ 400,000-strong workforce. The need for digitally savvy technical hires is especially pronounced.”

The BPC predicts that by 2030, utilities in the US will need to hire 150,000 additional workers in information-technology intensive roles.

Connected operations and Internet-ready technologies will help industrial firms of all types address these challenges and maximise opportunities through greater insights into their operations; and by seamlessly connecting people, processes, and machines across the enterprise. This can only happen, however, if their employees are armed with the knowledge and skillsets needed to design industrial networks, as well as deploy, manage and sustain them for the long term.

Blurring of roles

Converged network architectures bring together IT and OT systems that have long remained separate. As a result, IT and OT professionals who previously only oversaw their own individual systems now must also understand the counterpart technologies. IT professionals must be able to transfer their experience of enterprise network convergence and ubiquitous use of Internet Protocol into industrial applications.

OT professionals must be able to migrate from yesterday’s islands of automation to today’s network-wide, information-centric architectures to enable the secure flow of information throughout the enterprise and beyond.

Manufacturers and utilities should be proactive in equipping workers with these skills and knowledge. They must also improve collaboration between IT and OT workers and improve training for each. IT training has traditionally been virtual- and certificate-based, with the goal being to enable IT professionals to demonstrate their knowledge through tests or assessments to help them advance their careers.

OT training, on the other hand, has more often been provided through the employer and conducted in the classroom and/or “on the job.” It is not certificate-based, and the intended outcome is a workforce equipped with the necessary skills for their specific jobs.

Today, training programmes are being recalibrated to meet the needs of both IT and OT workers as their roles and responsibilities increasingly become blurred. More blended and consumable training offerings have been created, with a greater reliance on online courses to better serve both groups and more knowledge-centric courses to help OT workers become more knowledgeable on IT systems.

Reskilling the workforce: Nine key areas of focus

Designing high-value network architectures with anywhere from hundreds to thousands of connections requires skills and knowledge in a number of key areas. The specific knowledge and skills needed will depend on each company’s specific situation.

However, all professionals responsible for deploying scalable, end-to-end network infrastructures should be well versed in the key fundamental areas of industrial network design. Industrial IP Advantage believes that these involve nine key areas:

EtherNet/IP: EtherNet/IP enables the use of a single standard network for safety, motion, process, batch, and other highavailability applications. Understanding key protocol functions and services is critical for users seeking to converge their networks using this widely used Ethernet protocol.

Physical infrastructure: The network provides the physical foundation that enables IT and OT convergence. Knowing how to design this physical infrastructure to maximise the logical network design for each cell or area zone is imperative. This includes recognising network distribution install issues, adhering to standards to reduce downtime risks.

Wireless technology: Wireless technology is increasingly being used for critical applications that demand reliable data transmission with low levels of latency and jitter. When designing WLANs, IT and OT professionals must account for crucial factors, including autonomous vs. unified topologies, quality of service, high availability, security etc.

Security: Industrial network security must be designed into an infrastructure and addressed at different levels. Workers should know how to deploy a defence-in-depth (DiD) approach to system security and be familiar with the tools that can be used at the network layer to provide defence within the cell or area zone.

High availability: Network downtime typically equals production downtime. Those responsible for designing highavailability network infrastructures should understand the full range of factors that can influence network availability, including standard and proprietary resiliency protocols, switch stacks, virtual switching systems, EtherChannel, etc.

Segmentation: A move from physical to logical segmentation drives efficiency in both acquisition and operational phases of the infrastructure lifecycle and acts as a platform for deploying a DiD security strategy.

Secure remote access: Remote access is changing how industrial firms operate, from connecting off-site experts with plant operators for faster problem solving, to remote monitoring of critical or dispersed assets. Those responsible for designing and deploying remote-access solutions should be familiar with key design considerations for internal and external access to converged plant-wide networks within the industrial zone; and understand how factors such as business practices, corporate standards, security policies and procedures, and risk tolerance impact their approach for achieving secure remote access.

Mobility: The ability to incorporate voice, video, and data on mobile devices can improve communications across functions, enhance levels of expertise. Getting the most from mobile technologies requires that IT and OT professionals understand the best practices for deployment.

Virtualisation: Virtualisation decouples a computer’s physical hardware from its operating system and software. This enables manufacturers to create pure software instances, or virtual machines, of their physical computers. This can extend the useful life of computing assets, reduce server sprawl, and improve productivity by reducing maintenance requirements. Designers should understand important client-server concepts such as the network implications of multiple servers deployed on a single virtualised hardware platform.


Clearly, the need for industrial network design skills will only grow as industrial operations become increasingly connected and as the number of connected devices continues to grow. These organisations must ensure their IT and OT teams are properly equipped to migrate smoothly to a converged network infrastructure, and help ensure those teams are getting the most from their smart technologies in the long-term. MI


Craig Resnick, vice president, Consulting, ARC Advisory Group Craig Resnick covers the PLC, PAC, HMI, OIT and industrial PC markets as well as the packaging, plastics and rubber industries for ARC. He is the primary analyst for many of ARC’s automation supplier and financial service clients. Craig’s focus areas also include production management, OEE, HMI Software, automation platforms, and embedded systems. Craig has 30 years’ experience in sales, marketing, product development, and project management in the industrial market, gained with major suppliers of PLCs, process control systems, power transmission equipment, and field devices. Craig is a graduate of Northeastern University with an MBA and BS in Electrical Engineering.