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How to effectively manage the integration of IT/OT in the hyper-connected enterprise

Greg Jones, Chief Technology Officer, MachineShop | July 29, 2014
There has been a lot of discussion lately about the Internet of Things (IoT) and how connected endpoints can help revolutionize the way businesses collect and process information from Operational Technology (OT) systems, but there are huge challenges in accessing the information and making it accessible to your other business systems, employees and business partners.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the Internet of Things (IoT) and how connected endpoints can help revolutionize the way businesses collect and process information from Operational Technology (OT) systems, but there are huge challenges in accessing the information and making it accessible to your other business systems, employees and business partners.

While IoT is a fairly new term, businesses have been deploying systems and devices that collect information and manage processes since the early days of microprocessors and networks. These devices record everything from temperature, location, motion, status and much more. The problem with these legacy systems is they almost always send their information in a proprietary format that must be learned and re-learned for every application developer in order to use the information effectively.

Some of these proprietary protocols date back to the old AT Modem command sets. Most of this is ancient history to today's web application developer and certainly no inducement to building new applications and integrated systems.

So even though the device may have a way to report the information it is collecting, it's really not connected in a way that an application or other business IT system could consume the data and use it in operational or business decisions.

There are several industry groups, such as the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) and the AllSeen Alliance, that are working to resolve the issue with device protocols and working to define a set of standards that almost any device could use for communications. There is also the concept of agent software that could be installed on a device to force it to communicate using a known protocol. The problem with both of these approaches is there are millions of existing devices already deployed that have no capability to be upgraded in either firmware or protocol.

New technologies and advances in microprocessor technology allow for the newest devices to use the latest web standards, like RESTful web services, to expose the information. Unfortunately, very few of these devices have been deployed compared to the multitudes already in the field.

But the approach of the newer devices is correct. Modern application developers almost always use API's or web services to create their applications. In fact, they may use a wide variety of these API's in their application to display items such as Google Maps on their web page. The concept of using web services is not a foreign concept, like the idea of having to learn antiquated AT command sets.

One idea gaining momentum is the concept of device translators or connectors, which could potentially convert the older protocols into something that would simulate a web service. These translators would need to understand the protocol, but once it was done, any web application could potentially gain access to the device and its information using this new web service.

 

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