The existence of operational technology (OT) can be traced back to the time the electrically-powered equipment and machinery were used in buildings, factories, and transportation. It primarily interacts with the physical world and its main functions are sensing, actuating, monitoring, and controlling industrial equipment. This includes discerning the input and output signals and thereafter manipulating the processes as necessary. Now that we have an idea of what operational technology is, let’s jump straight into its wider definition, examples, and application.
Operational technology definition
Devices, technology, and system that controls the physical world are all part of operational technology. In other words, it represents the use of hardware and software to monitor and manage industrial processes, equipment, and infrastructure.
This form of technology also includes various systems such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), distributed control systems (DCSs), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and manufacturing operations management systems (MOMS). Their function is to ensure consistent control and management in the industrial environment.
Thanks to operational technology, factories and machinery keep running efficiently. Organizations use this technology which can also be controlled remotely. Therefore, it is gaining popularity in recent times and finds use in integration with information technology.
For instance, big data and machine learning alongside this technology are transforming communication among machines. This combination makes operational technology far more connected than it used to be. Also, the IT-OT convergence gives businesses a competitive edge in the market. We will discuss this at length in the application section of this study.
What are the examples of operational technology?
Having covered the key elements of operational technology, let’s look at some noteworthy examples of operational tech:
The manufacturing industry employs operational technology to automate production processes. This includes receiving signals from connected input devices and sending programmed control functions to the output ones. For instance, take a conveyor system, where operational technology turns the motor that runs it on or off.
Another representative is pressure control, where OT receives signals from the input device that pressure in the line is high, and sends the open command to the valve, which is the output device. This way, pressure is effectively reduced within the system with input signals and output commands. Other instances of OT in manufacturing are displaying alarm notifications, production reports, and live trends.
A popular example of operational technology in aviation is the baggage handling system. It ensures that passengers and their luggage arrive at the destination at the same time. This is to say, this form of technology improves process efficiency along with passenger experience and safety.
Alongside this, it brings automation to the check-in conveyors and baggage screening. Another example is fuel farms, where the OT system regulates valves, controls, and equipment for the fuel management of aircraft. To sum up, it provides support for greater operational innovation and efficiency in aviation.
In the healthcare sector, operational technology includes all equipment and medical devices essential for the continuation of daily operations. For instance, take infusion pump technology that delivers medications in controlled amounts into the patient’s body.
Other medical devices are similarly used to provide medications. This is to say that operational technology is used in hospital diagnostic and monitoring systems. Several other pieces of this technology in healthcare are sensors for ECG (electrocardiogram), respiratory rate, and temperature, as well as MRI and CT machines and heart rate monitors.
Energy and utility systems
Operational technology provides massive opportunities for the energy and utility sector to achieve excellence. In fact, it is one of the sectors that can generate huge profits by maximizing the use of this technology. OT can remotely monitor, control, measure, and adjust the machinery powering the processes in this sector.
Broadly speaking, it is used for pipeline scheduling, compressor monitoring and controlling, leak detection, and drilling optimization, among other purposes. Data is gathered from sensors and automatically compiled in real-time. To summarize, operational technology provides an accurate status of the complex power system in real-time and can monitor it in remote areas.
Applications of operational technology
Now that you are well-versed with the representatives of operational technology, let’s move on to its application.
Enhances production and increases efficiency
Access to innovations was previously limited to large organizations. Advancements in operational technology made it possible for small and medium-sized organizations to boost their productivity by improving their access.
This form of technology streamlines workflows using automation to enhance production, all the while simplifying tasks. It increases efficiency by displaying data in real-time and cutting downtime, costs, and wasted efforts.
Aids in cost-saving
Along with boosting efficiency, operational technology brings lowered costs. Firstly, the shift to remote monitoring has resulted in the requirement of fewer experienced personnel in daily operations. In other words, with remote access to data, industrial assets can be managed with fewer operators.
This has allowed businesses to minimize labor costs and switch to lean operations for enhanced productivity. Further, automation has reduced the interference from manual operators, therefore reducing downtime and errors. Ultimately, this led to massive cost conservation for the organizations.
Increases operational standards and lowers the risk
This kind of technology reduces the margin of error while increasing standards. In the process, current practices are analyzed to find room for improvement. This is done by working on valuable data collected by operational technology regarding the business strategies, operations, and people’s behaviors. These insights are then used to drive operating efficiency.
Furthermore, this technology type lowers the risk for the organizations by providing access to large volumes of high-quality data.
Provides competitive advantage
The next step to pushing operational efficiency is getting a competitive edge. Operational technology enables the sharing of data across the organization in real-time. This facilitates the effective decision-making process, eventually making it quicker and better.
Moreover, it reduces costly errors by allowing businesses to implement cost-saving measures. Finally, it provides a greater return on investment (ROI) by bringing significant value to the businesses. Altogether, this gives the organization a competitive edge in the market.
IT vs OT
Over the years, we have become familiar with information technology, or IT. However, technological advancement has opened the door to many innovations, and one such innovation is operational technology, which at times can be considered part of IT, but is not, despite the line that separates them being so blurred.
OT draws a parallel with IoT and UoT, and the rise of smart devices that are interconnected, including machines and sensors, has resulted in operational technology, which is basically the sharing of information between interconnected devices in real-time.
There are many differences between OT and IT, despite the similarities. One major difference is that any OT network or system is a separate and autonomous entity, isolated and free from the influence of other OT systems. Whereas IT systems are all interconnected, lack autonomy, and require operating software to function.
Also, one should note that OT is primarily concerned with industrial environments, whereas IT is more geared towards common devices and public use. Furthermore, the purpose of OT is also different, as it exists to ensure the availability and safety of equipment, whereas IT emphasizes confidentiality and data transmission.
Below is a table that compares both information technology and operational technology in several aspects:
|Feature||Information Technology||Operational Technology|
|Focus||More emphasis on data transmission, communication, and overall information||Focuses on maintaining and controlling industrial processes and physical devices|
|Goal||Safeguarding data integrity, confidentiality, and availability||Strives for the automation of physical processes in real-time|
|Data||Digital applications and software||Analog signals, such as those from sensors|
|Security||Protection of data and information||More emphasis on physical infrastructure and hardware|
|Regulations||General IT guidelines and regulations apply||Industry-specific guidelines and restrictions|
|Skills Required||Focus on software, networks, and cybersecurity.||Industrial processing, automation, and control|