In today’s age, when everyone is aware of what IT is, those without an operational technology background may be unclear on what operational technology, actually entails. Operational technology, sometimes known as OT, is a class of computing and communication systems used to manage, observe, and regulate industrial activities with a focus on the actual tools and procedures that are employed.
Manufacturing and industrial equipment are monitored and managed by operational technology. Since the development of electrically driven machinery and equipment in factories, buildings, transportation systems, the utility business, etc., OT has existed considerably longer than IT or information technology. However, the term is more modern. In its simplest form, operational technology (OT) refers to the hardware and software that keep systems like factories, power plants, facility equipment, etc. operating.
Operational Technology: What is it?
Operational technology (OT) is a category of hardware and software that keeps an eye on and regulates the operation of physical objects.
In the past, industrial control systems for manufacturing, transportation, and utilities were the main applications for OT; but, unlike information technology (IT), the equipment used to manage operations in those sectors wasn't networked. For controlling or monitoring physical devices, many of the tools were mechanical, and those that possessed digital controls did so through closed, exclusive protocols.
However, there is a growing tendency toward IT/OT convergence as physical objects become smarter. Administrators in charge of OT now have improved monitoring systems and remote access to physical devices attributable to wireless connectivity. The ability to evaluate data produced by physical devices in real time has brought about a sea change in machine-to-machine communication and machine learning, enabling autonomy, preventive maintenance, and increased uptime.
Industrial control systems and supervisory control and data acquisition networks now use internet-capable technology. However, the same security issues that IT faces, such as malware, identity management, and access control, also affect operational technology. The distinction is that OT system flaws put vital infrastructure at risk of sabotage, which might lead to life-or-death circumstances.
What is the Importance of Operational Technology?
For enterprises and society at large, OT is essential. Organizationally, OT typically connects to key business procedures. OT is frequently the same thing that makes it possible to manufacture products in a factory. Similarly, hospitals rely on OT equipment to identify patients with a range of ailments. A service outage would significantly impede or even stop the organization's key business operations for a company or other organization that depends on OT.
On a larger scale, society relies on OT to maintain vital infrastructure. For instance, a ransomware attack resulted in the closure of the Colonial Pipeline in May 2021. The pipeline, which might be called an OT in and of itself, transports 2.5 million barrels of fuel daily, and the closure caused a severe fuel crisis on the East Coast. This is but one illustration of how important certain operational technology may be.
What are Examples of OT Systems?
It's simple to imagine OT systems as being closely related to industrial machinery, and OT systems are indeed widely utilized on factory floors. OT systems, however, are not just used in industrial processes. Any specialized computerized equipment can be considered an OT system.
An industrial robot is a sort of OT system, but so are some medical gadgets including MRI machines and other radiology tools. ATMs and traffic lights are both categorized as OT systems. All of these intricate, specialized digital systems are not a part of the conventional IT infrastructure. Similar to how other safety systems operate, OT systems also include the robots that are increasingly utilized in retail to stock shelves and sweep floors.
OT vs IT: What are the Differences?
Resources for computing, networking, and storage have long been the focus of IT. These resources can be desktop computers, smartphones, supporting hardware, storage arrays, servers, and network switches in a data center or the cloud. Enterprise IT is also in charge of overseeing software at both the infrastructure and application levels. In addition to the OSes and security and monitoring tools, this includes deploying and maintaining the user-dependent apps.
On the other hand, OT concentrates on the devices connected to physical processes. These procedures can be anything from the production of items to imaging in the medical field. These procedures focus on the utilization of digital technology, just like IT. These systems do not typically fall under the category of traditional IT assets because of their proprietary nature.
What Industries Make Use of OT?
Operational technology is utilized in several sectors and environments, including:
- Power and utilities
- Oil and gas
- Water treatment
- Chemicals manufacturing
- Waste management
- Scientific experimentation
- Critical manufacturing
- Building management and automation
- Building lighting controls and automation
Depending on the industry and several kinds of industrial processes, operational technology can be employed in more technologies and in a wider variety of devices, systems, and gadgets.