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IT vs OT: How Information Technology and Operational Technology Differ

By ·Categories: Tech Explained·Published On: July 1st, 2022·4 min read·

The line between IT vs OT is blurring. As technology has evolved, the concept of IT/OT convergence — the integration of information technology systems with operational technology systems — is giving businesses unprecedented flexibility and capabilities. 

So what is the difference between IT and OT? And what is each field responsible for? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about IT vs OT.

IT vs OT: What are they and how do they work?

IT, or information technology, has traditionally referred to the use of computers for information processing and management.  The term OT, or operational technology, has most commonly encompassed the hardware and machines responsible for the physical processes of a given business.

IT includes things like servers, networking devices, and endpoint devices, while OT generally includes industrial computing equipment like IoT gateways and control systems. 

IT vs OT was once thought of as representing business needs vs production needs, office-based technology vs plant floor technology, software vs hardware, and the distinct teams responsible for each. The IT team was in charge of the data, and the OT team was in charge of the machines.

But increasingly, the value of IT data to the success of OT processes is bringing IT and OT closer and closer together. This concept of merging IT with OT is known as IT/OT convergence.

The basics of IT: what does IT do?

IT is used as an umbrella term that covers the processing, creation, storage, exchange, and retrieval of data and information. Although IT most commonly refers to computers, other endpoint devices like smartphones, servers, IoT devices, and tablets can be part of IT infrastructure. 

When it comes to IT, many people think of technical support. While troubleshooting is one part of what IT does, there are many other subsets of IT including software development, communication, information security, system administration, infrastructure, networking, and telecommunications. 

IT’s main function is to ensure that all data is managed, processed, and stored securely. Because information technology is closely tied to network access, it’s important to make sure all data is secure and that any potential risks are continuously identified and mitigated. Security analysts within IT help to protect information and identify any potential threats through the implementation of cyber security.

The basics of OT: what is operational technology?

OT is most commonly used to monitor and control production in factory settings. Unlike IT which primarily deals with the internet, OT plays an important role in dealing with the physical world. Because of this, one of OT’s primary areas of concern is downtime. 

Downtime refers to the time when production is halted, whether planned or unplanned. Unplanned downtime often proves to be very expensive for businesses to deal with, so OT’s main concern is being able to prevent downtime as much as possible.

One way OT can help to prevent unplanned downtime is through the implementation of SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), which is a type of industrial control system (ICS).

SCADA software helps to control PLCs (programmable logic controllers), which are largely responsible for monitoring and controlling factory machines and production, and can help considerably with preventing downtime by automatically shutting off the factory machines or sounding an alarm in the case of a system malfunction.

IT/OT convergence

IT/OT convergence

IT and OT have largely remained separate fields, but in recent years, IT/OT convergence has become an increasingly growing idea. When it comes to IT and OT, convergence offers many benefits, but also comes with some risks that are important to consider. 

On one hand, IT/OT convergence offers a lower chance of downtime with OT, and since downtime is often very expensive to deal with even for a short amount of time, this is very appealing for OT. However, security analysts within IT are often hesitant to converge because of the potential security risks. 

If you connect factory equipment to the internet, cyber attacks become a potential threat. Because of this, IT/OT convergence often requires careful planning as well as monitoring potential threats and constantly re-evaluating risks.

What’s the bottom line on IT vs OT?

IT (information technology) is a broad term that covers software (data/information processing) and includes endpoint devices like computers, servers, and all that is encompassed within. OT (operational technology) is responsible for managing and controlling systems, generally in a factory setting. Although IT and OT are separate fields, IT/OT convergence is becoming an increasingly appealing option for engineers.

Through convergence, plant managers and OT professionals can now monitor and act on gathered data in real time to help build efficiencies and prevent downtime.

Have any questions about the ins and outs of IT vs OT? Talk to one of our experts today.


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About the Author: Cole Wangsness

Cole is the leader of strategic partnerships at OnLogic. He works to enable the technologies that customers use to solve problems today and in the future. When not working, he enjoys training his dog (she's 9, but he tries anyways).