The way forward: merging IT and operations

“Operators see a lot of opportunities,” said Irani-Famili, who has worked in the energy industry for more than half of 10 years. For the problems they encounter every day, OT will come up with possible solutions. For example, if there is a power outage, the relevant supervisor can automatically receive notifications anytime and anywhere. Or employee availability data can flow through company systems, so supervisors and managers can more easily assign projects or shifts.

“Then they go to talk to the IT department, and the IT department’s response may be’impossible. This may break all security protocols,'” Irani-Famili said. Operations see the solution to the problem. IT sees cyber security, integration, and support risks. “But from an operational point of view, what they see is IT red tape, IT is not cooperating, or IT is not playing games.”

It is easy to describe IT and OT as different departments with different goals and very different cultures. They are usually managed independently in the organization and are seen as isolated groups that solve specific problems and adopt their own protocols. But this will result in an inefficient and costly setup that cannot promote innovation and standardization.

As the global economy gains momentum after it nearly collapsed during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, the pressure to increase productivity, innovation and agility is increasing. Companies need to increase the speed of their business by digitizing processes and using the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence (AI) to extract actionable insights from big data sets.

To carry out this 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 a seamless organization, connecting the systems of both parties stand up.

“IT/OT convergence is inevitable,” said Fay Cranmer, senior managing director of Accenture’s natural resources business and former chief information officer of mining company Rio Tinto. “This is the only way to achieve a comprehensive digital transformation, especially in the field of heavy industry.”

But there are some major challenges to overcome. Many industrial environments are characterized by legacy equipment, long-established manual processes, and resistance to change-from the two parts of business, OT, and IT. The usual attitude is that only OT knows how to generate revenue products and services for the company.

Conversely, IT staff often assume that only they know how to help modernize the OT department by enabling systems that allow artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and other digital technology advantages. True collaboration is necessary, but the complexity of merging new technologies and infrastructure with old machines raises questions about investment, leadership, and governance.

Bala Arunachalam, an executive in the oil and gas industry for more than 30 years, said that specific industry characteristics are an important factor. “This industry is a traditional industry. It is a struggle for them to enter the technical field and take advantage of the opportunities before them.”

With tangible assets, whether in the factory or on-site, they are digitized through the Internet of Things technology; as applications, data storage and data processing are migrated to the cloud; and as employees persist in working from home more than a year after the pandemic, Any perceived boundaries between OT and other businesses are disintegrating. “The challenge is that we need to integrate data across all these boundaries,” Cranmer said. She said that the biggest obstacle is organization and culture. “The technical aspect is easier to overcome than the human aspect.”

The good news is that there are guidelines that organizations can follow to achieve IT/OT integration, which is critical to a successful digital transformation plan.

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