RIOT Solutions

Convergence of IT and OT in the Critical Infrastructure Space

12 July 2022
Published by Rob Merkwitza

, Managing Director

The difference between IT and OT and how they can co-exist within the critical infrastructure space

Traditional Information Technology (IT) and legacy Operational Technology (OT) are incompatible, right? While they do often remain siloed and can have very different objectives, mature organisations are working to achieve a positive balance between the two.

On the one hand, IT is about keeping data available and ensuring users are happy. On the other hand, OT is more focused on uptime, operational continuity and keeping systems highly available. This is even more important in the critical infrastructure space, which OT essentially underpins.

Despite these different priorities, as technology develops rapidly, more devices are connected to the network. As more security threats emerge, it’s essential to look for opportunities that allow IT and OT to work together. In this article, we look at the differences and similarities between the two and why critical infrastructure organisations need to strike a balance between the two.

Information technology (it)

IT is essentially the technology backbone of an organisation that covers the hardware, software, network connectivity and data storage. Typically, these systems run with very little autonomy, utilise standard operating systems and require regular updates.

From a security perspective, employees across the entire organisation will likely have access from anywhere to the systems and software managed by the IT department. This, combined with the continued explosive growth of connected devices on the network, has led to increased security threats for organisations.

Operational Technology (ot)

OT systems are different in that they tend to be more isolated and run autonomously on proprietary and in many cases, legacy software. These systems are used to monitor, manage and control the devices and processes, within the critical infrastructure space.

Unlike IT, which has organisation-wide access, OT systems and devices tend to have restricted access and are operated by experienced teams responsible for keeping critical infrastructure operational. Commonly, these systems do not receive updates for months or even years.

In short, you could say that the main difference between OT and IT is that IT systems manage the infrastructure to deliver the systems and data to the end-users. In contrast, OT provides the underlying platforms to support the physical devices that control critical infrastructure environments.  It is not uncommon for critical infrastructure organisations to have dedicated IT and OT teams.

So what’s the real difference?

Despite these differences, there is generally mutual respect between IT and OT, which provides a foundation for balancing these separate objectives and priorities. For example, while OT will generally keep things simple and ensure ongoing maintenance is robust and kept to a minimum, IT will focus on the more complex configuration to secure and support the speed of adoption of new services.

The most mature critical infrastructure organisations ensure IT and OT work together and see the benefits of combining the two. In fact, modern IoT systems are a reflection of this convergence of IT and OT.  

More OT devices being connected to the network brings significantly more security risks to both IT and OT that need to be managed.  To solve this, critical infrastructure teams can utilise the standard IT connectivity, monitoring and security systems, to create a robust environment that benefits the entire organisation.

The division between IT and OT is becoming blurred as new technology and connectivity bring more opportunities for new, highly efficient ways of working.

Despite having different priorities at times, it’s clear that the convergence of IT and OT for critical infrastructure environments will help organisations reap the rewards that come from this convergence. This includes improved secure connectivity, tighter integrated security, situational awareness, real-time monitoring and performance enhancement.

RIOT has highly specialised skills for critical infrastructure environments. Find out more about how we help you manage and protect your critical infrastructure assets at https://riotsolutions.com.au/critical-infrastructure/