7min. read

Industry 4.0 has vast potential to transform what factories can do. Manufacturing can be faster, more data-driven, more responsive to the needs of workers and customers, and more powered by innovations such as artificial intelligence, internet of things, digital supply chains, and blockchain. While the possibilities of Industry 4.0 are extraordinary—and realizing them is seemingly just within our reach—there are still obstacles to overcome before we can feel truly comfortable making them a reality.

Where I see the biggest dissonance today is in how companies are allowing both IT and the manufacturing groups to exist inside their organizations. Traditionally, the value of IT in the manufacturing industry has been to provide the factory floor with the resources they need, and then to stay out of the way. And in the past, that was really the best approach, because the controls that IT needs—particularly for security—typically aren’t conducive to maintaining an efficient and optimized factory environment.

Industry 4.0 Requires New Ways of Working Together

In the world of Industry 4.0, the separation between IT and the factory floor pretty much disappears. Today, it’s almost mandatory that IT sits in the middle of the factory and is seen as a valuable partner and an essential business function. But, in many organizations, the traditional dissonance between IT and the factory floor is still there; leading to conflicts in which the health and security of the business are jeopardized due to misalignment. Whether that’s the security of the entire organization, or the efficiency and efficacy of the operational technology on the factory floor, neither scenario is acceptable as they’re both preventable.

What’s needed now is a growing understanding on both sides, so the divisions and dissonance are eliminated, and cooperation and teamwork are celebrated. IT needs to figure out how to reduce its need to control everything, so that teams can protect what needs to be protected while supporting the operational technology (OT) environment in ways that don’t negatively impact productivity, efficiency, and automation on the factory floor.

At the same time, the factory needs to understand that they are not technologists and don’t have a wide enough scope to view the entire environment in order to protect OT. This means they’ll need to be able to bend a little to let IT be part of their conversations. If the IT team is somehow iced out, the factory may run just fine, but business operations are substantially more vulnerable to a major disruption due to a cybersecurity attack. Nobody wants that to happen. So both sides will need to drop tradition and ego to create a win-win situation for the organization.

How IT Can Support the Changes Needed for Industry 4.0

Let’s look at some ways IT can do our part.

Earn our seat at the table. Firstly, if we can’t keep the printers and computers on the factory floor running, there’s no way we’re going to be invited in to even talk about securing the environment. So there is a minimum “pay to play” mindset of operational excellence that has to be put in place to even get a seat at the table.

At the table, the IT team must be prepared. We can’t go in talking about the factory floor in the same language and terms that we would talk about a traditional office environment. It’s a different world, and if IT doesn’t understand that world–if we don’t take the time to live in that world–then how can we possibly go about protecting it?

That means spending time on the factory floor; talking to factory staff and management to get deep in the weeds to understand the methodology they are using for quality, efficiency, and everything in between. You have to make sure you figure out how to maintain it before you can figure out how to protect it.

Practice patience. The other key mindset for IT is patience. Once you get into the operational side of things, you’ll be overwhelmed by how much there is to learn, and by the amount of technology and processes you’ll need to protect. If you try to address everything at the same time, you’ll fail. Worse, you will burn bridges, reinforce the dissonance and, eventually, you’ll get removed from the table.

So, for us in IT, it’s about starting small, making sure your OT colleagues understand that you have their environment in mind, and that you’re not going to inadvertently shut down the factory. Ultimately, IT needs to be viewed as a true business partner protecting the factory from all kinds of vulnerabilities, while also creating the assurance that OT won’t be held back. It’s about doing the work in a way that is sustainable and secure.

Building Empathy to Realize Industry 4.0

Without people and process, the new technologies of Industry 4.0 are never going to be fully maximized. In fact, I’ve seen organizations put in amazing technology, but without paying enough attention to how it impacted the factory floor; the return on the investment was pretty much zero. CISOs need to demonstrate empathy and a true understanding of the challenges of keeping the factory working every day. This includes knowing how failures of equipment and machinery can be disastrous for the OT team.

It helps to become friends, or at least tight colleagues, with factory management, floor supervisors, and machinists. Get to really know those people who are your customers. As with any relationship, there needs to be a strong commitment from both IT and the factory floor to resolve issues, but I think it’s our responsibility in IT to go a little further than halfway in order to train our people, and transform our mindsets.

We have to make sure our IT staff are equipped to work with the OT side of the company. We have to spend time on the factory floor and engage with the philosophy and values and mindset of the people there. Sometimes working on the factory line gives you the right amount of empathy to understand what’s going on.

Collaboration Enables Innovation for Industry 4.0

If you can get your teams working together, the possibilities are tremendous. The speed of delivery should increase and more importantly, you’ll have alignment between your IT and engineering groups, creating space for real innovation to happen. Bot IT and OT are composed of problem solvers that are in their fields because they know how to make things better: they just have different sets of tools.

By taking people who have similar drives, backgrounds and passions for fixing problems and putting them in a room, you’ll achieve amazing levels of innovation and countless creative solutions. And because the work is done together, as a team, the designs are more stable at every stage. They will be easier to implement, easier to manage and operate, easier to secure, making adoption measurably faster.

By removing the dissonance, you can totally change how you’re able to deliver value both at the factory floor and to your customers. Industry 4.0 becomes more than just an exciting possibility; it becomes the new reality.

Michael Loggins is an award-winning executive IT leader focused in strategic business alignment, customer success and standardizing global IT operations.