In today’s world, almost every department in an organization manages some part of their workload on the cloud. The one department that didn’t fully leverage the cloud until now was ‘operations’, especially the teams in factories and facilities looking after production – but that has to change.

One of our customers in Asia recently set up a couple of factories in a bid to build a new line of business for themselves. The goal was to ensure that the factories were capable of seamlessly automating processes as far as possible and leverage technologies such as the internet of things (IoT) as well as artificial intelligence (AI) to make production-related decisions. They also wanted to ensure compliance with relevant industry benchmarks such as the IEC 62443 Global Automation Cybersecurity Standards – which was critical to their success.

Being a ‘greenfield’ project meant everything needed to be done from scratch.

There’s no doubt that this was a monumental effort for the company, but thanks to where we are with cloud technology today, getting everything up and running was easier, faster, secure, and more seamless. The role of the cloud in operationalizing OT infrastructure is something business leaders are beginning to understand and leverage; it’s becoming the edge they need to win in today’s fast-paced world filled with new and exciting opportunities.

Delivering NetSecOps for IT & OT monitored & managed on the cloud

Factories are built on the shoulders of large industrial machines that can produce at scale. With time and advancement in technology, those machines have evolved to leverage sensors, software, and processing units to generate, capture, and share data with the organization.

These facilities are often isolated to protect them from bad actors in cyberspace. However, the data they generate makes predictive maintenance possible and enables the development of digital twins to help with optimization goals. These systems can also be automated, thanks to the processing units and intelligent programmingwhich helps individually connect one machine another. When isolated, however, centralize control over these machines is not possible, which makes remotedecision-making for the business. There’s always a barrier between the organization and its production facilities.

The magic happens when everything ”s monitored and managed, on the cloud. Machines can be brought online quickly, programmed and managed remotely, and data can flow freely to corporate headquarters, enabling intelligent solutions powered by AI, ML, and other technologies to do a lot of the heavy lifting. This results in a more connected organization that is in tune with the needs of its customers, an organization where production is closely tied to real-time performance metrics such as market demand, orders, competitor analysis, and more.

The organization and its facilities are also incredibly secure thanks to the merging of NetOps and SecOps functions, creating a singular NetSecOps mindset. This also results in the convergence of IT and OT – and all of this is enabled by Cisco’s solutions. From connecting everything securely to helping get eyes onto every machine across each manufacturing facility to track its health, monitor its performance, and compute a host of key operational metrics to optimize performance for the business as a whole.

The winning edge is where IT and OT converge securely

When you think of OT, security is critical. After all, we’ve all learned how cyberattacks such as Stuxnet and Indestroyer can bring infrastructure to a griding halt. However, thankfully we’ve made great strides towards securing organizations as they move their OT online.

Compliance with the IEC 62443 Global Automation Cybersecurity Standards, for example, is critical because it helps IT and OT teams protect their factories against external threats. Solutions such as Cisco Secure Network Analytics, Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE), and Cisco CyberVision can help, especially with the ‘systems’ component of the standard as well as support for the other components including policies, procedures, and people. These solutions make the fabric of connectivity between the corporate headquarters and each of the factories incredibly secure and put managers in control of who or what is connecting to the network, what data they’re accessing, and what action they took next.

As a result, it delivers scalable visibility and secure analytics across the business, tracking normal behavior and deviations, and detecting and reacting to anomalies seamlessly. Further, Cisco enforces a zero trust framework which limits lateral movement within the network, as each user, device, and service is verified before being granted access – making the OT secure and the link to the corporate network safe.

Think of this in the context of the customer setting up a new line of business, with multiple production facilities, all at once. To break into the new market, they need the convergence of IT and OT so that they can optimize operations to deliver the right product to the right customers at the right time. Building and running a major chunk of the OT control system on the cloud meant they were able to become operational as a business in record time – and execute flawlessly.

Working with Cisco allowed them to gain access to tools that connected everything securely, leveraged cloud-based solutions, and made it possible for them to gain control down to every function on every machine. It also gave them visibility across their network, devices, and users, and helped keep everything and everyone secure.

This greenfield project was a success, has gone live, and is helping them pave their way to a new revenue stream for the enterprise. The work they’ve done in this project is something more business leaders should pay attention to; learning from them can help others build new factories or even accelerate their journey to converging IT and OT in their own facilities.

This will transform operations, facilitate the use of new efficiency tools such as digital twins, AR-based maintenance programs, and broaden the horizon for organizations looking to centrally consolidate and optimize their operations. This is the future and the start of technology-based integration for the next-era – and with the right solutions, it is secure.