The shifting sands of the technological landscape force occasional changes in the places where lines that mark one field from another are drawn. Those lines get blurred, walls get knocked down and evolution is often in the direction of convergence as differences slowly disappear.
Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) have traditionally been considered to be two distinct fields but the advent of connected devices has brought them close enough that at times it can be hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The data-driven computing of IT and OT’s focus on management of physical assets are no longer surrounded and separated by clear boundaries. And whereas until recently they existed largely independently of each other, they are now integrated in a deepening relationship that is redefining industries.
In fact, success in IIoT is now predicated on deep integration between IT and OT. The remote control, monitoring and safety benefits of IIoT solutions need industrial environments where sensors, machinery and networks are seamlessly integrated. IIoT is driven by a constant digital conversation between two halves of a working whole.
This represents a fundamental change from the status quo from just a few years ago. Communication has always been an integral part of IT, not so much for OT. The input of massive oceans of data gathered from OT has become the basis of a symbiotic effect that pushes both of them forward—the benefits of information produced by OT has focused efforts to improve the computing speed and capacity of IT, which is then able to better handle and leverage data from OT, which makes innovation in IT even more rewarding, which then increases the utility of OT inputs, which then….well, you get the idea. Back and forth we go, ever faster, and we’re reaching new heights every day.
The intertwining of IT and OT has implications for many personnel roles in these fields. While we’re unlikely to see coders suddenly working with machinery or database administrators fine-tuning some delicate instrument on the factory floor, those in leadership positions, like CIOs, increasingly need to consider the ways that physical and virtual assets work together and how they can influence business strategy. Leveraging new sources of operational data depends on IT know-how and aligning the missions of everyone involved is a management challenge.
As the roles of the people in an organization change, so do the organizations themselves. IT and OT leaders need to recognize the value of cooperation in advancing and leveraging convergence. Making this a priority may require a top-down push and company-wide support. This can’t happen without cultural and organizational transformation since companies can’t expect IT & OT to converge if there aren’t structures, processes and the right environment for such convergence. The path forward is difficult if the road isn’t paved first.
This change in approach needs to include everyone, right up to the very top. Just as CIOs need to have increased input into business priorities and plans, the role of the COO should also lean more towards driving innovation and transforming processes through the use of technology and the data those processes generate. But getting from plan to results takes more than good intentions. Among the many interesting takeaways from an insightful report from Deloitte is how rarely leadership for digital strategy and execution is clearly defined.
This is a problem. Instead of ad hoc arrangements that just respond to the latest crisis, a solid plan with clear areas of ownership needs to be in place and senior leadership has to assign it to the express lane. This new IT & OT hybrid may be new and in a dynamic state of growth, but the business need to establish a framework for managing it remains.
We believe that the convergence of IT & OT should be promoted and nurtured beyond the technological, security and process levels. It needs to become a deep, business-critical integration on the organizational level. Stakeholders on all sides need a seat at the table to have a voice in building the framework for this deeper integration and avoid things like disastrous downtimes caused by a lack of communication (as described well in this report from Cisco).
The digital and physical assets of a business can’t be viewed as separate, unconnected components of the same operation anymore. Anyone waiting for those lines in the sand that I mentioned at the beginning to re-form and stay put before they act is going to be left behind by those who can understand and adapt to a changing scene. The IT & OT transformation is much more than an interesting side note to larger industry trends, it’s fundamental to any company looking for the way forward to a digitally transformed future.
If you’re looking for a software suite to enable IT & OT convergence in your organization, check out Simon, our operational experience platform. Schedule a demo today and find out how it can help you improve efficiency and safety with AI and IoT.