How to Gain Operational Excellence Safely and Securely

Understanding the needs of your environment

In industrial environments today, security is a looming concern. The threat of intruders breaking into your operations—stealing your data, damaging your brand, even endangering your workers—is a risk that you have to address head-on.

But the right security strategy is one that’s grounded in the actual context and concerns of your own environment. It’s not enough to extend the security strategy that was developed for the IT side of your business over to the OT side of your business. The operational environment has its own crucial priorities.

What are these priorities?

Operational excellence is everything . . . plus safety, of course

For most industrial environments the pursuit of operational excellence is the driving force for investment both in terms of capital and operational expense. But it is not the only focal point—worker safety cannot be sacrificed. These two areas drive much of today’s investments in industrial automation.

What’s the difference between IT and OT?

In short, IT (informational technology) deals with information while OT (operational technology) deals with machines. IT manages the flow of digital information (read: data), while OT manages the operations of physical processes and the machinery used to carry them out.

Source: Coolfire


In manufacturing, transformation initiatives such as Industrie 4.0 strive for measurable key performance indicators: improve the operational efficiency, reduce costs of operation, improve quality control, allow for faster innovation and manufacturing flexibility. All of these initiatives have multiple movements to meet the goal, but the most common investment is a modernization of the manufacturing environment.

What is industrie 4.0?

Industrie 4.0 is an initiative started in Germany to modernize manufacturing. The name reflects the 4th industrial revolution.

Manufacturing Diagram

Business intelligence provides secure simplified connectivity

Business agility enables real-time impact

Analytics for improved OEE, Improved innovation, Reduced risk

Much of the modernization effort will come with a better understanding of the manufacturing process. That requires data, and data capture requires better connectivity to the sources of manufacturing data.

IT has been connecting, capturing, and providing automated analysis of data for many years. If they can do this in the plant, then operational excellence can be measured and improved. Innovation can be implemented faster, and risk to product, productivity, and workers can be reduced with that knowledge.

But the operational environment is different than a typical IT space. Success will only happen when IT can partner with their OT (Operational Technology) peers in the factory.

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In utilities, top line revenues are not growing as they once did, and the pressures to drive down costs continue to rise.

But driving down costs requires investments as well, and while modernization is clearly the path forward, it does generate some risk. Macroeconomic and political forces are unavoidable—people want cheaper and cleaner—but without sacrificing reliability.

There are so many different opportunities to make improvements—across all stages in the generation, transport, and distribution of power. Utilities have to balance the advantages of modernization with the capital expenses that each new investment requires.

And each change means something new to a previously stable environment.

Utilities Diagram

Declining revenues and business model evolution

Funding model, Operational cost reductions, Unregulated opportunities

Aging infrastructure technology risk

Grid modernization, Increasing grid reliability, Cybersecurity/risk, Worker safety

Customer sentiment and expectations

Mandates for renewables, Clean power plan, Prosumers, Electric vehicles

Significant challenges associated with older industrial environments

We understand that there are challenges everywhere. Most industrial environments are well established and built at a time that did not consider the implications of a broadly connected system.

Some of those systems are rather old and built without much attention to security considerations. They were designed to maximize operational efficiency and resilience—not to anticipate, detect and remediate the types of threats we face today.

If you could just lock everything down, then you would reduce the exposure. But to compete today, businesses are moving in the opposite direction—bringing more and more of their operations online in order to improve understanding and predictability. The result is that we are rapidly connecting systems—and increasing risk by doing so.

So how do you address the continuous operational challenge while still securing the overall system?

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