The explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT) holds huge potential for manufacturers in 2015. But in order to fulfill these promises, manufacturers will need skilled workers who can deploy the evolving technology on the plant side.
As more and more companies migrate toward increased connectivity on IP (Internet Protocol) and EtherNet/IP networks, in order for companies to keep up, the World Bank estimates two million ICT-related positions will be needed globally.
Manufacturers attracted by promises of gains in productivity and increased insight will add an exponential number of devices onto their networks. As more devices are connected, manufacturers are experiencing a deficit in skilled workers able to maintain the equipment. Workers are simply not able to keep up with the IoT’s exponential growth, and are left unable to design, implement and maintain these network challenges. And with more and more devices coming on the network, the skills gap will continue to widen.
For years, OT professionals have maintained the networks and devices in industrial settings. On the other hand, IT professionals were consulted on the few devices that were operating on Ethernet to help manage the deployment, management and troubleshooting.
However, as plant networks are becoming increasingly connected, there’s a rebalance taking place. A greater variety of devices are being added to the network, and 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. The two jobs are no longer mutually exclusive. IT will have to learn more about the plant floor, and OT will have to learn about operations and maintained on an Ethernet/IP network.
The prime candidates for receiving additional training include industrial network administrators, control automation engineers, control system integration engineers, and technical support specialists assisting customers or individuals doing pre-sales.
New Skill Sets
Though there will still be some differences in job roles, training will help both IT and OT 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 just setting them up, they must know how to monitor and diagnose network problems as they arise.
The IT and OT convergence will help maintain the entire architecture, solution and technology, regardless of which products are being used.
Building and Guarding the Infrastructure
Another big part of the convergence will be learning to provide security services to the industrial network.
The year 2014 saw a number of large security breaches. Major companies struggled to find security analysts to protect their companies 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 analysts 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.
Data breaches in any industry are bad, but a breach to a plant network could bring the whole plant down and cause major production delays, damage or even worker safety issues.
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.
The increase in skilled workers by 2022 means better business for manufacturers as well. These newly educated workers will have developed nonproprietary skills that can be applied across a number of industries. Having more skilled workers in the industry generally means more pull-through revenue and opportunities for manufacturers.
For more information on industrial networking training, visit www.industrial-ip.org/training.
Sudarshan Krishnamurthi is a senior product manager at Cisco and writes on behalf of Industrial IP Advantage.