IIoT / Cybersecurity

Re-skilled workers bring the Industrial IoT to life

As the lines between IT and OT blur, professionals on both sides of the divide are in need of new skills

By Sudarshan Krishnamurthi, senior product manager, Cisco, on behalf of Industrial IP Advantage

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Industrial operators, attracted by promises of gains in productivity and increased insight, will add an exponential number of devices onto their networks in the coming years.

However, as more devices are connected, manufacturers are experiencing a deficit in skilled workers able to maintain plant floor equipment. Workers are simply not able to keep up with the exponential growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), and are left unable to design, implement and maintain these technologies. And with more devices coming on the network, the skills gap will continue to widen.   

IT/OT convergence

For years, operation technology (OT) professionals have maintained the networks and devices in industrial settings. On the other hand, information technology (IT) professionals were consulted on the few devices that were operating on Ethernet to help manage deployment, management and troubleshooting.

However, as plant networks are becoming increasingly connected, there’s a rebalance of responsibility taking place. As a greater variety of devices are being added to the network, the lines for who maintains what are blurring between IT and OT.

In order to keep plants productive and help manufacturers realize the full potential of the IoT, IT and OT professionals will have to learn new skills and reevaluate their current job requirements. IT will need to learn more about the plant floor, and OT will need to learn about operations and maintenance on an Ethernet/IP network.

New skill sets

Though there will still be some differences in job roles, training will help both IT and OT teams learn to install, operate and maintain the industrial networks that are becoming prevalent in manufacturing facilities today.

Both professions will learn the intricacies of connecting control systems to network systems and how to maintain them. These best practices will maximize plant uptime and security for critical industrial systems and assets.

They will also be responsible for managing the scalability, availability and reliability of the industrial control systems. Beyond set-up, they must know how to monitor and diagnose network issues.

Building and guarding the infrastructure

Another big part of the convergence will be learning to provide security services to the industrial network.

In 2015, there were a large number of security breaches. Major companies struggled to find security specialists to provide adequate protection from hackers. This highlights how critical the skill set is from a security operations perspective, both for the enterprise and the plant. With hardly enough security specialists available to guard an enterprise, there’s even less of a chance there are enough to guard a plant.

The IT and OT professionals in plants will need to learn to choose and install security devices such as firewalls to protect the entire plant. But beyond just installation, workers must be trained to monitor for security issues. Actively monitoring for security issues can help thwart attacks before they even start.

Bridging the skills gap

The skills gap has always existed. But the expansion of IP technology throughout a plant is reinforcing the need for re-skilling. The growing desire to gather analytics from IP-based devices means the skills to implement network changes are in increasing demand.

At the Rockwell Automation TechED 2016 event, attendees can sample courses in the network design eLearning program from Industrial IP Advantage that teaches the critical design skills needed to build a plantwide network. These hands-on sessions will allow attendees to work through common manufacturing scenarios on wireless, security, segmentation and more. 

For more information on the new industrial networking training, visit the web site here.