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With the increasing interconnectedness between operational technology (OT) and informational technology (IT), the traditional boundaries that once separated them are blurring. This shift has led to a new dynamic where the previously isolated IT and OT teams now impact each other’s operations.

This mutual influence has driven many organizations to consider merging these teams, motivated by a strong need for synergy. However, achieving this convergence is far from straightforward. While OT and IT may appear similar, they are distinct practices with unique characteristics and requirements.

Successfully bringing OT and IT teams together demands more than a one-size-fits-all solution. It requires a thoughtful strategy built upon a deep understanding of their differences and tailored to their challenges.

IT vs OT: What’s the Difference?

The foundational differences between IT and OT begin with their primary objectives.

IT’s main objective is data management, cybersecurity, and digital technology solutions. Its focus is on ensuring the integrity, accessibility, and security of data while supporting various aspects of business operations, including network management and software development.

In contrast, OT’s core objective is directly controlling and managing physical devices and processes in industrial environments. OT strongly emphasizes the reliability and continuity of operations in industrial settings.

These fundamental distinctions in objectives ripple through various aspects of IT and OT, influencing everything from their technology stack to their security protocols. Below, we outline a few of the key areas with noticeable differences:

Comparison chart detailing differences between Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT). The chart is divided into several aspects including focus area, devices, uptime and redundancy, infrastructure, remediation, threat identification, and compliance. IT is associated with data management and security, using common devices like PCs and mobile devices, and cloud-based solutions. OT involves direct control of physical devices, uses customized operating systems and has on-premises solutions. Other differences include the refresh cycle, risk levels, and compliance regulations. The chart includes the logo of Verve Industrial Protection, a Rockwell Automation company.

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Industry 4.0: A Driving Force Behind IT and OT Convergence

Industry 4.0, also known as the fourth industrial revolution, is paving the way for greater connectivity by integrating traditionally isolated OT environments into broader IT networks. This integration brings efficiency and improved operations but also introduces new security challenges necessitating IT-style security measures.

Securing OT in this era of enhanced connectivity is complex due to OT environments’ unique characteristics and requirements. Traditional IT security strategies, such as routine vulnerability scanning, patch management, and intrusion detection systems, are now being adapted for OT. However, implementing these strategies in OT settings is not straightforward, as OT systems have specific operational priorities and dependencies.

The key to effectively securing OT is the successful collaboration between IT and OT experts. Developing solutions that address both sides’ goals and operational needs is essential. Yet, achieving this collaboration between IT and OT teams is challenging for many organizations, highlighting the need for a unified approach to manage this intricate integration.

Challenges in Aligning IT and OT

When attempting to align IT and OT, organizations face several challenges. Below, we explore their differences and the alignment challenges they cause.

Innovation vs. Stability


  • Embraces rapid technological advancements and innovation.
  • Prioritizes stability and reliability of digital systems.
  • Focuses on protecting digital assets and data from cyber threats.


  • Tends to adopt new technologies cautiously.
  • Places a higher emphasis on maintaining stability and reliability.
  • Focuses on protecting physical infrastructure and industrial control systems.
Alignment Challenges:
  • The contrast in development cycles between IT’s rapid updates and OT’s long refresh cycles can create friction when integrating systems.
  • Bridging the gap in risk tolerance is crucial, as IT teams are more comfortable with risk, while OT teams prioritize safety and operational stability.
  • Successful alignment requires balancing IT’s innovation-driven approach and OT’s emphasis on stability, fostering a mutual understanding of each domain’s priorities.

Divergent Security Needs


  • Implements aggressive cybersecurity measures to combat threats effectively.
  • Maintains a data-centric focus, ensuring the protection of digital assets and data integrity.
  • Manages digital risks through proactive risk assessment and rapid incident response strategies.


  • Prioritizes physical safety and operational continuity over digital security measures.
  • Evaluates the potential impact of IT security actions on industrial processes and safety.
  • Addresses unique challenges such as zero-day vulnerabilities in embedded devices within industrial environments.



Alignment Challenges:
  • Integrating IT’s aggressive cybersecurity measures into OT environments requires careful consideration to avoid conflicts with the paramount goal of physical safety and system availability in OT.
  • OT may require thorough testing and validation of IT security measures to ensure they do not disrupt critical processes. This additional step adds complexity to the alignment process.
  • The risk assessment in IT primarily considers data and service availability, while OT’s risk assessment is centered around preventing physical harm and ensuring continuous operations.

Update and Patching Regimens


  • IT environments prioritize staying up-to-date with the latest patches and updates released by software vendors. These updates typically address newly discovered vulnerabilities, improve system performance, and introduce new features.
  • IT systems often leverage automated patch management tools and processes to streamline the deployment of patches across a wide range of devices and applications. This automation helps ensure that patches are applied promptly and consistently, reducing the exposure window to potential security threats.
  • IT teams thoroughly test in non-production or staging environments before deploying patches in production environments. This testing helps identify any compatibility issues or unintended consequences that may arise from the patch deployment, allowing for adjustments to be made before implementation.


  •  OT environments take a more cautious approach to updates, prioritizing the stability and reliability of industrial control systems (ICS) and operational continuity. Updates are carefully evaluated to assess their potential impact on critical industrial processes and safety.
  • Due to the critical nature of OT systems, updates and patches undergo extensive testing in controlled environments before being applied to production systems. This testing ensures that updates are compatible with ICS hardware and software and do not introduce vulnerabilities or disrupt operational processes.
  • OT systems often require scheduled downtime or maintenance windows for applying updates. These updates are carefully coordinated to minimize operational disruptions and ensure that critical industrial processes are not interrupted during the patch deployment process.
Alignment Challenges:
  • IT and OT often have conflicting priorities regarding updates. IT’s focus on security and functionality may clash with OT’s emphasis on stability and uninterrupted operations. IT may want to apply updates promptly to address vulnerabilities, while OT may resist any changes that could disrupt industrial processes.
  • IT and OT differ significantly in assessing the risk associated with updates. IT is more accustomed to accepting short-term disruptions to enhance long-term security, whereas OT is risk-averse due to the potential consequences of operational disruptions or safety incidents.
  • The testing and validation processes for updates also vary. IT typically has testing environments and procedures to ensure that updates do not adversely affect business operations. In OT, rigorous testing is essential to validate that updates do not introduce instability or safety risks.
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Hardware and Software Compatibility


  • IT environments frequently adopt the latest software applications, operating systems, and technologies to stay competitive and benefit from enhanced features and security updates.

  • IT often relies on standardized hardware and software configurations to optimize compatibility and streamline operations.


  • OT frequently operates on legacy systems and proprietary hardware and software solutions, which may have existed for many years.
  • OT prioritizes the reliability and stability of its industrial processes, often leading to resistance against adopting newer technologies that could introduce uncertainty or incompatibility.
Alignment Challenges:
  • Using cutting-edge software in IT can lead to compatibility issues with older, proprietary systems in OT, potentially disrupting critical operations.
  • Integration Complexity: Integrating legacy OT systems with modern IT solutions requires careful planning and may involve custom development workarounds or middleware.
  • Migrating or updating OT systems to achieve compatibility with IT solutions can carry the risk of downtime, which is often unacceptable in OT environments.
    Funding upgrades or adaptations to ensure compatibility can be challenging, as OT systems may require extensive modifications.

Regulatory and Compliance Differences


  • IT security operates within well-established cybersecurity laws, regulations, and standards framework. These frameworks are often comprehensive, clear, and regularly updated to address evolving cyber threats.
  • IT departments are typically subject to stringent compliance requirements, and non-compliance can result in severe penalties or legal consequences. These regulations are designed to protect sensitive data and ensure robust cybersecurity practices across various industries.


  • OT may be subject to industry-specific regulations that are less standardized and more tailored to specific sectors, such as energy (NERC CIP) or manufacturing. These regulations are often developed over time and may not comprehensively cover all cybersecurity aspects.
  • In some cases, the regulatory landscape for OT is still evolving, with new regulations being introduced or existing ones being adapted to address the growing convergence between IT and OT. This dynamic environment can create uncertainty and compliance challenges.
Alignment Challenges:
  • Organizations must navigate a complex regulatory landscape encompassing IT and OT, which requires a deep understanding of the specific requirements applicable to each domain and ensuring compliance with both regulations.
  • Compliance efforts often require dedicated resources, including personnel, tools, and processes. Balancing these resource allocations between IT and OT to meet regulatory requirements can be challenging.
  • Aligning IT and OT while complying with regulatory requirements may involve risk mitigation strategies to address potential compliance gaps or conflicts between IT and OT compliance objectives.

5 Steps to OT Security Compliance Success

Learn how to navigate the future of OT cyber security amidst rising threats and regulatory demands in our paper on proactive compliance strategies.

Strategies to Align IT and OT

Despite the formidable challenges, it’s crucial to recognize this convergence’s immense opportunity. With the right strategies, patience, and collaboration, OT and IT leaders can pioneer a revolutionary paradigm that redefines operations. By seizing this opportunity, they can pave the way for a new era of seamless and innovative integration that unlocks unprecedented efficiency and resilience.

Here are five steps organizations can take to navigate this transformative journey effectively:

Step 1: Develop Education & Awareness in IT-OT Alignment

The first step in aligning IT and OT is to develop a deep mutual understanding and awareness between the two teams. This involves:

Hosting joint workshops where both teams share insights about their respective domains. IT professionals can learn about OT’s operational processes, machinery, and the importance of system uptime. Simultaneously, OT personnel can gain insights into IT’s cybersecurity measures and data management protocols.

Facilitating on-site visits for IT staff to OT environments (like manufacturing plants or utility facilities) helps them understand the operational intricacies and challenges OT faces. Such experiences provide real-world context to the theoretical knowledge shared in workshops.

Regularly scheduled sessions where IT and OT teams discuss their workflows, challenges, and needs. This is crucial for building a shared language and understanding each other’s operational imperatives and constraints.

Educating OT teams about the compliance and regulatory standards that IT must adhere to, and conversely, informing IT teams about the safety and reliability standards paramount in OT operations.

This step is vital in breaking down silos and developing a collaborative framework that respects and integrates the strengths of both IT and OT. 

Step 2: Establish OTSM Policies & Procedures

In the second step, the focus is on creating robust OT Systems Management (OTSM) policies and procedures that harmonize the needs of both IT and OT:

Form a cross-functional team comprising members from IT and OT to develop shared policies. This team’s task is to align operational requirements with security protocols.

Recognize scenarios where IT policies may not directly apply to OT. Develop exception policies that address these unique OT circumstances while maintaining security integrity.

Where standard IT practices are not feasible in OT, implement compensating controls to balance operational efficiency with security. This could involve alternative security measures that align with OT’s operational reality.

Policies should be dynamic, reviewed, and updated regularly to reflect technological advancements, emerging threats, and regulatory changes.

This step is crucial to ensure that IT and OT operate under a unified framework while respecting each domain’s specific needs and constraints. 

Step 3: Evaluate and Implement OTSM Tools & Technology

Implementing the right tools and technology is vital for OTSM. This step involves:

Adopting tools that work across various vendors’ equipment is crucial. This ensures comprehensive coverage and compatibility in diverse OT environments.

Implementing advanced network protection measures tailored to OT networks’ unique demands, such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems.

Using tools that provide deep insights into the operational state of OT devices, including real-time monitoring and predictive maintenance capabilities.

Ensuring that OTSM tools seamlessly integrate with IT infrastructure for cohesive data analysis and management.

Selecting and effectively implementing these tools requires a deep understanding of IT and OT environments, ensuring that the chosen technologies enhance security and operational efficiency without disrupting OT processes.

Step 4: Align Organization Design for IT-OT Integration

Designing the organization to facilitate IT-OT integration is critical. This involves:

Form teams comprising members from both IT and OT. These teams work on projects and challenges that require expertise from both domains, fostering collaboration.

Leadership must endorse and support this integrated approach, ensuring resources are allocated to promote IT-OT collaboration.

Establish regular communication channels between IT and OT departments. This can include joint meetings, shared platforms for project management, and collaborative tools.

Consider restructuring aspects of the organization to align IT and OT goals more effectively. This could include creating new roles or departments focused on managing the intersection of IT and OT.

This step ensures that the organizational structure supports and enhances the efforts to integrate IT and OT, leading to more efficient and harmonious operations.

Step 5: Advance Skill & Capability Development

The final step focuses on enhancing the skills and capabilities necessary for successful IT-OT integration:

Develop training programs that cater specifically to IT and OT personnel’s needs, focusing on each domain’s nuances.

Offer IT and OT staff opportunities to learn about each other’s work through job rotation, shadowing programs, or collaborative projects.

Identify and develop specialized skills crucial in a converged IT-OT environment, such as cybersecurity for industrial control systems.

Encourage continuous learning and adaptation to keep pace with evolving technologies and practices in both IT and OT.

This step ensures that IT and OT personnel have the knowledge and skills to effectively manage and operate within an integrated technological landscape.

Verve’s Proven Success Helping Organizations with IT OT Convergence

Verve Industrial, A Rockwell Automation Company, is well-positioned to assist companies in integrating IT and OT systems. With nearly three decades of experience in industrial environments, particularly in control systems, Verve Industrial has a team comprising OT and ICS experts, practitioners, and software developers. This blend of expertise enables them to offer comprehensive solutions in OT and ICS environments, addressing maintenance reliability and cybersecurity issues.

Case Study

A leading power client used the NIST cybersecurity framework to assess their OT security maturity before and after implementing the above framework to converge their IT and OT teams. This framework provided a structured way to evaluate their cybersecurity posture and track improvements. 

Their approach centered on several key steps:

  • Education and Alignment: Educating both IT and OT teams to understand each other’s needs and align their objectives.
  • Common Guidelines: Establishing a standard set of guidelines for IT and OT integration, ensuring both teams operate under a unified framework.
  • OT-Safe Management Tools: Implementing tools that allow the client to centrally manage their systems in an OT-safe manner, addressing the unique challenges of OT environments.
  • Training and Development: Organizing training and development programs to coach and build the necessary skills within the client’s teams for managing IT/OT convergence.


In the bar chart, the blue bars indicate the client’s initial OT security maturity levels as measured by the NIST cybersecurity framework, and the orange bars reflect the considerable enhancements achieved across different categories after integrating their IT and OT teams.

This graphical representation clearly quantifies the progress, with an almost 2x increase in areas critical to cybersecurity, such as risk management and incident detection. The chart emphasizes the significant improvement in the organization’s cybersecurity stance following strategic team integration, highlighting the practical advantages of such an approach in enhancing an organization’s defense against cyber threats.

Bar chart displaying OT security maturity improvement using NIST framework. The chart shows initial scores (blue bars) and improvement (orange bars) across five categories: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, Recover. Categories like Risk Assessment, Access Control, and Anomalies & Events show approximately a 2x improvement post-implementation of Verve Industrial's methodologies. The chart illustrates significant enhancements in all areas, with the Protect and Detect categories seeing the most substantial improvements.

Embracing the Future of IT and OT

In conclusion, merging IT and OT is not just an emerging trend; it’s an essential shift that organizations must actively pursue. The time to act is now. If you haven’t already started integrating your IT and OT systems, consider prioritizing this. Embracing this inevitable transformation will enhance your operational efficiency and cybersecurity and position your organization at the forefront of industrial innovation. Take the first step towards this crucial integration today and pave the way for a more connected and efficient future.

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