By Anton Fester, MD and Koos Fourie, technical directorSedna Industrial IT Solutions

The need for more robust operational technology (OT) governance in Africa’s industrial sector is rising as more businesses seek 24/7 equipment and operational reliability. The problem is this is taking place just as they transition to an internet-based business landscape, where security and other governance risks are looming as key risks.

Anton Fester, MD at Sedna Industrial IT Solutions. Image supplied by Sedna Industrial IT Solutions

Anton Fester, MD at Sedna Industrial IT Solutions. Image supplied by Sedna Industrial IT Solutions

Improving OT governance will drive business results, which is something we are seeing every day as we help companies conduct a full audit of their OT requirements.

As a leading digital solution provider in the mining and industrial sector in Africa, one of the problems we often see when assessing businesses for OT governance and compliance is that they have a lack of critical people on the ground when a breakdown happens. Our OT governance audits – we have already done over 100 of these in Africa as demand grows – are designed to help understand these weaknesses before they happen and impact bottom lines. This is all based on a robust template that covers all eventualities.

Skills development and filling gaps

We are seeing weak document controls, so our solutions focus on skills development and filling gaps. We assess and retest regularly, manage the process, and work through scenarios, which would – for instance – have a different person in charge when a problem happens.

We are concerned that many companies are behind the curve in adopting best practice, but at the same time, Africa’s industrial and mining sectors are waking up to the reality that more must be done.

If they get it right, they will become more resilient from an organisational point of view – especially in this environment of low commodity prices. They will then capitalise in the long run and avoid excessive pain in the short run.

Outdated operating systems, weak security systems

Similar issues are reflected in research by Infotech, which recommends a collaborative approach to managing and protecting the business. Without getting this right, many manufacturers keep equipment well beyond its warranty and support period and then encounter problems as equipment ages and still needs support. Outdated operating systems and weak security systems are a hacker’s easiest targets.

Best practice and governance

Koos Fourie, technical director at Sedna Industrial IT Solutions. Image supplied by Sedna Industrial IT Solutions

Koos Fourie, technical director at Sedna Industrial IT Solutions. Image supplied by Sedna Industrial IT Solutions

Other key issues being flagged are that operations are not very cautious or knowledgeable about the negative consequences of having OT equipment exposed to the internet; are still using a lot of manual paper-based processes to track, store and review the quality of products; do not effectively track and trace across the supply chain and are at risk of being caught off guard by downstream suppliers if the regulatory bodies conduct a full review of all suppliers’ products/materials/ingredients being used to develop finished goods.

Ultimately, businesses risk being left behind as the rest of the industry progresses in this digital and ESG-conscious era. They need to work harder to de-risk their OT environment by getting in people who have enough experience in exposure to best practice to try and remove the possible sting of an incident.

Modernisation of processes generally requires a better focus on the expectations of customers and suppliers, who will demand high-end service – so governance is a clear business imperative.

While more manufacturing organisations are undergoing digital transformations enabled by use cases powered by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), this is not without its problems.

According to Deloitte 90% of OT sector companies have reported at least one security compromise to their infrastructure in the previous two years resulting in the loss of confidential information or disruption to operations.

This comes as demand for enhanced network solutions grows in Africa, thanks to their ability to deliver productive solutions in operational areas above and underground. We are finding, for instance, that private LTE networks can offer an added layer of end-to-end reliability, security and efficiency and work by using 3GPP standards to connect to smart devices and routers. It is especially beneficial for miners and industrial users seeking automated and communication solutions. It has been shown that communication problems on a site can be reduced by over 80% after switching to pLTE, while significant cost savings are also being achieved.

Notably, Infotech found that manufacturing companies are at an “ever-increasing” risk of a data breach and that the average loss per breach of USD1-million – USD10-million. There is no denying that OT demands robust governance with clear roles and responsibilities defined. An audit is the best way to ensure this happens, prevent multi-million-dollar losses and ensure Africa’s industrial and mining sectors can thrive in the modern, fast-paced digital age.