Schneider Electric and SAP partner to facilitate IT/OT integration

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Two major companies have collaborated to integrate Information Technology and Operational Technology (IT and OT) and innovation opportunities in the industrial sector, driving open standards.

These are Schneider Electric, an industry leader in power management and industrial automation, and SAP, a leading global business process management software provider. The two announced a memorandum of understanding whereby they intend to validate scenarios based on complementary offerings with the aim of ensuring easier and more seamless integration for mutual industrial customers. The companies also plan to establish future sustainability and energy management collaboration initiatives.

“Our collaboration with Schneider Electric demonstrates SAP’s broad support for the Industry 4.0 ecosystem. Our companies recognise the importance of cooperation, innovation and open standards to integrate data and make Operational Technology solutions easy to consume for our mutual customers,” says Peter Maier, president of Industries & Customer Advisory at SAP.

The aim is to explore opportunities to offer more value to customers based on pre-configured and tested solutions capable of reducing the cost of implementing and operating mission-critical business processes. The first scenarios evaluated will be:

  • Simplified IT/OT integration on the shop floor based on common standards, integration and asset lifecycle management as digital twins.
  • Intelligent asset management and end-to-end field services using virtual and augmented reality technologies.

“Many customers are looking for easier ways to integrate advanced technologies into their digitisation journey. Together with SAP, we are committed to addressing market challenges with innovative digital solutions and thereby helping these customers exploit the benefits of Industry 4.0,” highlights Bruno Zerbib, Executive Vice President and Head of Platform and Technology at Schneider Electric.

For example, companies cite that by ensuring end-to-end IT/OT integration, it will be possible to make data-driven decisions and devise improved strategies. Solutions automatically triggering maintenance or service orders in SAP applications can shorten the cycle between maintenance strategy and execution to optimise asset control. And augmented reality can provide the correct information at the right time and place to speed up processes and increase the accuracy of root cause analysis.

Trends in IT/OT convergence

During the Smart Production Solutions (SPS) 2022 industrial automation trade show held in Germany last November, IoT Analytics, a provider of market insights and strategic intelligence for IoT and Industry 4.0, among other segments, presented 10 trends that indicate a strong push towards IT/OT convergence in the industrial sector.

The main reason for the interest in this convergence in the manufacturing space is the significant improvements promised by Information Technology. An increasingly competitive world has “forced” the traditionally less hi-tech operating sector to consider IT as a partner. And as the first step in this marriage, IT/OT convergence can create the necessary and secure interfaces between IT and OT systems.

IT/OT convergence
Source: IoT Analytics

Briefly, the 10 trends of IT/OT convergence in the industrial sector are:

  1. Edge IT-based containerisation technology;
  2. Integration of IT and OT tools: Although solution providers are creating convergent solutions, a notable trend is the close collaboration of companies in the IT and OT area to develop integrated solutions. One such partnership is precisely between Schneider Electric and SAP;
  3. Cloud-native tools (IT) for enhanced manufacturing operations;
  4. IT programming tools and languages for controllers;
  5. Virtual PLCs – containerised controllers: Companies are now moving to virtual PLCs, which are not only independent of control hardware, but also independent of IT hardware, meaning they can run on a commoditised IT server instead of specialised controllers;
  6. Digital twins to virtualise physical assets: While IT/OT convergence is often presented in the form of OT systems adopting IT tools when it comes to digital twins, the path is reversed, i.e. IT adopting OT in a virtualised environment. The Industrial Digital Twin Association presented use cases of its asset management shell (AAS).
  7. Low-code tools: These low-code development platforms offer a visual environment that reduces the time to create and deploy applications;
  8. MQTT protocol to connect OT and IT: MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) has been gaining traction as the primary protocol for last-mile connectivity between OT assets and IT/cloud systems.
  9. IT cybersecurity models for OT: Zero Trust concept developed for IT can work in OT environments. Based on the principle of “least privilege access”, Zero Trust authorises specific access based on users’ identity and context.
  10. IT approach quality control of industrial software: PLCopen, an independent association that promotes efficiency in industrial automation based on user demands, has announced that it intends to form a working group to develop guidelines for metrics-based quality assessment of PLC software.

The presentation highlights that industrial automation and software currently represent a market of around $200 billion and that IT/OT convergence is one of the key technology drivers that will enable efficiency gains and revenue opportunities to the point of taking this market close to $400 billion over the next six years. While challenges and concerns still exist, the industry mindset has changed, and IT/OT convergence is already happening.

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