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In its 2017 report titled ‘Digital in Mining: Progress … and Opportunity’, Accenture reported that “56% [of mines were] considering merging their IT and OT groups within the next 12 months’. While significant progress has been achieved, the two groups are still learning to work together at most sites to address common issues around wireless network reliability, mobile data access and cybersecurity among others.

The distinct functions each group is accountable for has a lot to do with this difficult merge. It’s however critical to review the silver lining in converging IT and OT when it comes to the digital mine – enhanced productivity through real time data access provided by a reliable wireless network and reduced technology Capex.

The conflicts traditionally faced between IT and OT

Traditionally, the operation technology (OT) group is accountable for managing the physical process that creates value from ‘pit to market’, leveraging equipment, sensors and software; while the information technology (IT) group is in charge of managing everything related to data center and networks.

While it quickly becomes clear that IT is essential to the success of OT by providing the communication piece, especially as mines digitize, the two groups typically still work in silo. Having their own budget, processes and KPIs, they typically run projects in parallel, not consistently consulting each other or considering the bigger picture. The potential result: selection of a short-term solution for one group, that could impede on the long-term plans of the other.

Let’s look at this common example. As miners look at automating data collection, the IT group might be charged with deploying a wireless network and will be searching for ‘just’ a radio to be installed on the mobile equipment. However, the OT group might have other plans, considering accessing further sensors and managing some of the data at the edge over the lifespan of the technology. Two options are available: 1) only buy a radio, then add additional hardware as requirements appear, 2) understand the full technology requirements of the two groups over the next 5 years and select the appropriate solution. Some true savings could be achieved by going with option 2 with less hardware and less equipment downtime required.

The power of convergence when planning your technology needs

As the proverb would say, the sum of IT and OT working together is bigger than the success each group could ever achieve individually.

By aligning IT’s and OT’s business unit delivery and tying them to the overall performance of the mining operations, the two groups have the opportunity to plan their long-term mutual success by ensuring data is reliably and timely communicated, and overall technology capex is minimized.

But where to start? Joining forces and co-planning their technology roadmap for the next 5 years or so together is critical. Tying the communications requirements with the data requirements will help paint a general picture of what the network should look like year over year (size, throughput, etc.), which data will be accessed on-board the mobile equipment, how it’s expected to be communicated and at which frequency.

To truly leverage the benefits of a convergence between IT and OT, a four-step process should be followed:
1. Convergence of the two departments should be embedded into the culture of the organization;
2. Consistent direction should be provided to both departments;
3. Clear definition of the value of the convergence should be outlined, supported by new ‘digital’ KPIs such as innovation rate or time from pilot to scale;
4. Only at last should the right platform be selected supporting the needs of both IT and OT.

Converging IT and OT with edge computing

The output of this discovery phase by IT and OT will often reveal a greater plan that will require some forms of edge computing to reduce hardware expenditure and downtime as IT moves from one wireless technology to another and OT requires additional data.

A platform like the 3D-P Intelligent Endpoint (IEP) provides the communication and integration tools both teams will need. With up to 5 times less downtime, and half the hardware expenditure required, the ROI on edge computing is quickly justified when the bigger picture is considered.

To learn more about how 3D-P can help you reduce capex through integration, contact us today.

By Categories: Digitization, Productivity Optimization, Surface Mining, Uncategorized