Employee Management

Integrating IT and OT isn’t just about linking machines

IT/OT convergence can be hampered if the two departments don’t learn to work together.
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· 4 min read

IT/OT convergence promises to help enterprises and infrastructure unlock the power of data analytics for everything from simplified process control to manufacturing efficiency and asset management—or that’s the dream, so long as long-standing organizational practices don’t get in the way.

While reams of incomprehensible spreadsheets and information silos can be a major headache, they’re not the only human factor to worry about. Culture clashes between office-dwelling IT teams and their OT counterparts on the factory, infrastructure, or logistics floor can also be a significant obstacle to effective integration, experts told IT Brew.

White collars vs. hard hats. One of the biggest issues is that IT and OT have different functions and incentives. In practice, these can create difficulties, from executive priorities to less than ideal collaboration between rank-and-file members of both departments.

McKinsey associate partner Michael Chang wrote in an email to IT Brew that one example is in electronics manufacturing services, where processes can be “vastly different,” such as OT’s budget falling to manufacturing business units and IT operating as a cost center with a short money leash.

“In Japan, for example, CIOs operate more independently and focus on large scale ERP [enterprise resource planning] and upgrading or migrating core tech systems, which take time to mold and shift their digital vision to put the same emphasis on IT/OT use cases,” Chang added. “Culturally, OT teams can feel that IT team lacks operational and manufacturing expertise in order to contribute in the design of use cases, while the IT team can often feel OT is blind to the rest of the technology stack.”

According to an IOT World Today survey of 115 professionals in a range of industries, 57% of respondents listed “overcoming cultural barriers and organizational silos” as the top difficulty in IT/OT convergence implementation. That was followed by tension over which department assumes responsibilities for different functions (43.4%) and “IT does not understand how OT works” (42.5%). IOT World Today wrote that the findings underscore the importance of cross-functional teams to support IT/OT projects.

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One solution: digital engineering. IDC Manufacturing Insights research manager Jonathan Lang says many firms have set up what he calls “a digital engineering organization,” or a unit which manages collaboration between IT and OT. These units may involve OT staff who are “extremely savvy on physical, mechanical, and operational technology systems,” Lang told IT Brew, but who also have skills in IT, higher technology, or data analytics.

According to Lang, the first short-term goal of a digital engineering organization might be setting up capabilities like remote monitoring of industrial assets.

“The companies that really succeed…are the ones that have formal structures in place for how it works together to deliver those use cases,” Lang told IT Brew. “Then of course, from asset monitoring, it expands to other forms of other use cases, other types of analytics, other types of integrations, and so forth, but [brought] together at an organizational and cultural level.”

Chang also noted the need for joint task forces involving members of both departments, adding that one key role many organizations struggle to fill is a “relatively new and specialized” role of IT/OT architect.

“While incentives for the team members are always important, the key is to provide assurance to both IT and OT team members that this is a viable advancement to their career path—regardless if the task force is in place for a two-to-three year transformation or as a permanent team,” Chang wrote.—TM

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Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to software development and gaming. Our IT Brew newsletter delivers the latest news and analysis of trends shaping the IT industry, like only The Brew can.