OT managed services: Fill skills gaps with on-demand domain expertise
Kamil Karmali, Commercial Portfolio Lead, Rockwell Automation
Hitting business goals and avoiding unplanned downtime in your operations is always harder when you’re short-staffed or addressing workforce skills gaps. And the problem is only magnified in times like these, as you try to manage the demands of new technologies and address challenges like aging infrastructure and cybersecurity threats – along with the global pandemic.
Today, IIoT technologies are upskilling traditional production roles, requiring new skillsets that many companies can’t staff internally or can’t easily find in the labor market. Those skills often demand IT and OT expertise. What’s more, critical skills and tribal knowledge are being lost because of mounting retirements.
To help fill these skills gaps, more companies are using OT managed services that combine domain expertise, technology, and remote connectivity and monitoring into one support offering. These services can help you overcome your top operational challenges and improve outcomes in areas like productivity, asset utilization, cybersecurity and more at global scale.
Managed services have long been used in the IT space to help companies maintain network quality, monitor network activity, and back up and recover systems. In the OT space, managed services are relatively new but increasingly needed as industrial operations are digitalized.
An OT managed services provider can help you monitor and administer your network and industrial assets like data centers and firewall appliances. The provider can also remotely support your application assets, and help you monitor and respond to cybersecurity risks.
This ultimately allows your on-site personnel to focus on day-to-day production priorities knowing that plant assets and cybersecurity challenges are being not only monitored but also proactively managed by a team of experts.
But it’s important to remember: The demands of the OT space are significantly different from the IT space. That means the requirements for an OT managed service provider are also different. For example, many traditional IT service providers aren’t familiar with all OT technologies. They also aren’t accustomed to responding with the rapid speeds required in OT environments, where network downtime means costly production downtime.
This should factor into your process for evaluating and selecting a provider.
Choosing the right provider
So, what should you look for in an OT managed service provider? Key considerations include:
Domain expertise: Can a provider understand what’s happening with your operational assets in the context of your production environments? That’s one of the most critical questions you need to answer when choosing a managed service provider.
To be effective, the provider must bring both OT and IT domain expertise to their services. And they should be able to provide that expertise to you when, where and how you need it. For many companies, that means being able to provide on-demand, around-the-clock support, for multiple global sites, in multiple languages.
Security level: When you use managed services, you allow the provider into your organization’s infrastructure. You need a provider that understands OT cybersecurity practices and you need to trust that their services are secure.
Work with providers that are open and transparent about their security efforts. Also ask about their security certifications. A provider with ISO 27001 certification, for instance, can give you assurance that their remote services incorporate global best practices for protecting intellectual property.
Comprehensive support: Find a managed services provider that can help you proactively manage the full range of your operational technologies including applications, automation assets, industrial networks and your vitally important OT cybersecurity infrastructure.
Business outcomes: Ideally, your managed services provider can look beyond day-to-day asset support to help you realize better business outcomes.
One chemical company used a managed services provider to help remote employees deploy two new facilities during the pandemic. Not only did this help keep employees safe, but it improved overall efficiency because of reduced travel needs and improved system support coverage. Now the company plans to use this approach to start-up and commission all of its facilities, even after the pandemic is no longer a factor.
A new role for a trusted partner
When it comes to finding a collaborator to support networks and other industrial assets in your production environment, your automation supplier may not be the first option that comes to mind. But who better to help manage the challenges of IT/OT convergence than an organization that’s spent years bringing together data, systems and processes to make that convergence possible?
Learn more about managed service offerings and how they can help you fight unplanned downtime, address the shortage of skilled workers, and mitigate cybersecurity risks.