Digitisation of critical infrastructure

OT meets IT

  • 6 July 2023
  • 5 minutes

Dutch critical infrastructure, which involves objects such as tunnels, bridges, pumping stations, locks and electricity networks, has traditionally been automated by using Operational Technology (OT). This technology is known for its reliability and safety, but it is important to increase the extent to which this critical infrastructure is applied.

In addition, we need to improve our knowledge of all relevant systems and applications. Moreover, we want to make things predictable in order to maximise the availability of the infrastructure.

This is the reason why more and more IT is being used alongside OT. At the same time, this must not create any negative impact on the robustness and security of current systems. ICT Group knows better than any other party how to build a bridge between OT and IT in order to guarantee the safety, availability and reliability of critical infrastructure.

OT is a separate branch of automation with PLCs and Scada systems. "This technology is robust, reliable and secure," says Herman Kraaij of ICT Group. "You turn on a system and don't have to worry about it. It runs for many years without any defect or malfunction. A lot of new technology is being added nowadays, for instance cloud computing and artificial intelligence. Of course it’s great to see this functionally being added, but it’s a concern for many administrators due to issues such as robustness and security. Assets become vulnerable when they are linked to IT, and this means that when OT is linked to IT systems in the cloud, there are certainly many major benefits, but it also involves serious risks that need to be secured."

Smart algorithms

ICT Group’s Léon Huijsdens describes the example of automation in the water domain, where smart algorithms are being developed that predict when a dyke might lose its strength. "This is pure IT, and it involves the use of current drone technology to detect cracks in dykes. These drones generate gigabytes of data that must be automated and analysed. Again, that’s IT. But it goes much further than this. IT algorithms are also used in processes that upgrade wastewater to drinking water, which is a fine example of circularity. At the same time, classic PLC technology is no longer sufficient. So you can see that IT is being added to OT on all fronts."

Availability and security

This same evolution can be seen in the infrastructure of road, water and rail transport, says Kraaij. "This critical infrastructure comprises all kinds of objects, such as a bridges, tunnels and locks. It goes without saying that availability and safety are very important aspects, but both are under pressure. Because we are such a densely populated country, the load on these objects is huge. For example, if you were to compare the daily traffic that crossed the Van Brienenoord Bridge 40 years ago with that of today, the increase is enormous. If the bridge can’t be operated due to a malfunction, the entire Rotterdam region comes to a standstill. Predictability in the function of objects like this is extremely important, in terms of their reliability but also with regard to performing (temporary) maintenance. You need to be as predictive as possible. This shows the critical importance of 'IT meets OT', ensuring that you have timely status information about the system components of these assets."


Huijsdens gives another example of the importance of predictability: "In the event of a downpour we used to have sufficient capacity to drain the water reactively. However, nowadays we want to know in advance where and when the downpour is going to fall so that we can turn on pumps in advance to drain some of the water." Herman Kraaij adds another example: "It’s important to know the status of the bearings of the fans in a tunnel. After all, if a fan fails, the tunnel has to close, and naturally you want to prevent this. This means that a planned maintenance period needs to take into account all renovation work, including fan bearings that have worn out. But that type of predictability requires IT. Several initiatives have already been started, but often this is still at the stage of Proof of Concept, whereas in the future we expect to expand this involvement of IT."

Enriching classic OT with IT is great and offers a tremendous amount of perspective, but it’s of crucial importance that you are aware of the vulnerabilities, Huijsdens summarises. "In ICT Group, we have ensured that we have  both competences on board. We employ techies who know all about OT, but our team also includes experts in IT, and this sets us apart from other infrastructure automation specialists. In addition, our professionals have a lot of knowledge of the mechanical and electrical engineering aspect that we automate. This makes us uniquely capable of bridging the gap between OT and IT in a reliable and secure manner, thus providing a future-proof infrastructure."

Best Digital Transformer

ICT Group has once again been selected as the best Digital Transformer in the Software, Development & Platforms/Enablers-Overall category by MT/Sprout. This is according to the DX300 survey, which was initiated by the leading entrepreneurial platform MT/Sprout. "Just like last year, we were judged on the following topics: cooperation with our clients in digital transformation projects, expertise in the field of transformation, and the quality of execution of our services. And once again we secured first place in our category."

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Herman Kraaij