The way forward: merging IT and operations

“People in operations see a lot of opportunities,” says Irani-Famili, who has worked in the energy sector for the better part of a decade. For the problems they encounter every day, OT imagines possible solutions. For example, if there is a power outage, the relevant supervisors could automatically receive notifications wherever they are. Or staff availability data could flow through company systems so supervisors and managers can more easily assign projects or shifts.

“And then they go and talk to TI, and TI’s response may be ‘Not possible. This could be breaking all security protocols, ‘”says Irani-Famili. Operations sees solutions to problems. IT sees cybersecurity, integration and support risks. “But from an operations perspective, what they see is IT bureaucracy, not collaborating or not playing the game.”

It’s easy to describe IT and OT as different departments with different goals and markedly different cultures. They are often independently managed in organizations and treated as isolated groups dealing with specific problems and using their own protocols. But that results in costly and inefficient setups that don’t encourage innovation and standardization.

As world economies gain strength after a near collapse amid the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, pressure is mounting to drive productivity, innovation and agility. Companies need to increase the speed of business by digitizing processes and using the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence (AI) to extract actionable insights from large data sets.

To experience such digital transformation in industries that rely heavily on physical assets – manufacturing, oil and gas, transportation, energy, and utilities – organizations must integrate IT and OT into one seamless organization that connects systems on both sides.

“IT / OT convergence is inevitable,” says Fay Cranmer, senior managing director of Accenture’s natural resources practice and former chief information officer for mining company Rio Tinto. “It is the only way to have a complete digital transformation, especially in the heavy industry space.”

But there are significant challenges to overcome. Many industrial environments are characterized by legacy equipment, traditional manual processes, and resistance to change, from both OT and IT sections of the business. Often the attitude is that OT only knows how to generate the products and services that generate revenue for the company.

In contrast, IT people often think that only they know how to help modernize OT departments, enabling systems that enable the benefits of AI, the Internet of Things, and other digital technologies. True collaboration is imperative, but the complexity of new technology and infrastructure merging with legacy machines raises questions about investment, leadership, and governance.

Bala Arunachalam, an oil and gas executive for more than 30 years, says that the specifics of the industry are an important factor. “This industry is a legacy industry. For them, moving into the technology space, taking advantage of the opportunity they have in front of them, is a struggle. ”

As physical assets, whether in the factory or in the field, they are digitized through Internet of Things technology; as applications, data storage and data processing move to the cloud; And as employees stay in their home offices for more than a year after the pandemic, any perceived boundary between OT and the rest of the business is crumbling. “The challenge is that we need to pull data together across all of those boundaries,” says Cranmer. The biggest obstacles, he says, are organizational and cultural. “The technological side is much more easily overcome than the human side.”

The good news is that there are guidelines that organizations can follow to achieve the IT / OT integration that is so critical to successful digital transformation initiatives.

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