Technology leaders live and breathe information technology (IT), but they may not have been as involved in OT, or operational technologies. With the Internet of Things (IoT), that’s changing.
OT comprises specialized machinery such as industrial control systems. Think of the oil and gas industry’s powerful surveying, drilling, and refining equipment; or the energy and utility sector’s massive networks of electrical and sensor systems. These dedicated, physical systems have built-in sensors with intelligence that can help operations staff increase efficiency, save money, and make better business decisions.
Until recently, however, companies have not been able to unlock the full potential of IT and OT combined. The two have been treated as separate repositories of information. Joining them can result in substantive benefits.
Imagine a sensor in a drilling field reporting that a part is repeatedly failing. A technician may fix the problem, but if IT and OT are operating separately, executives might not be able to analyze and recognize patterns in order to remedy the issues for good; even if it means changing the sourcing vendor for the part.
Or, perhaps marketers know that demand for high-speed Internet access is skyrocketing in a specific area of a city. Engineers may not realize it right away, but sensors in the area do. If the in-field data was dispersed to all functional groups, marketing efforts and infrastructure upgrades could be made in tandem to enhance revenues and improve customer service.
When data from remote sensors is available to everyone in the corporation, it becomes a powerful tool for more effective decision making and competitive differentiation. Instead of thinking of OT and IT as two separate networks, CIOs are seeing that they need to converge them, and this is presenting new challenges and opportunities.
We talked to Vernon Turner, Senior Vice President of research for IDC, to better understand why, how, and where operational technologies and information technologies are overlapping.
“Industries that have used embedded industrial processes for many years, even decades, are quickly becoming relevant in today’s technology discussions,” says Turner. “With the arrival of cloud computing and big data deployments, asset-intensive companies can align OT and IT. Bring these two together and analyze the resulting data, and interesting business opportunities open up for everyone.”
Combining IT and OT Delivers “Dramatic” Benefits
There are several industries that are making strides to unleash the amount of OT data they create. Turner says the mining and energy exploration industries are leading the way at the moment because of their remote locations and the need for real-time analytics. The automobile and transportation sectors rely on sensors to collect data and improve the driving experience. Telecom relies on the extensive customer data collected, and analyzes it to guide the business.
“Moving from automation to optimization requires real-time access to all of the content and information that is created for a business flow,” he says. “IT and OT need to be brought together to ensure the end-to-end visibility of a process or outcome.”
He adds that this union can deliver dramatic enhancements to a company’s bottom line. Many processes can be optimized for greater efficiency, enabling better, faster, and often more profitable decision making. Additionally, operational groups can become better aligned, working in lockstep to achieve overarching business goals.
“A note of caution for companies with separate IT and OT silos,” says Turner. “Instead of being able to optimize business processes and workflows to create new products that matter to customers, organizations will remain operationally inefficient, with a higher cost structure than the competition, and with a lack of visibility into how and where improvements can be made. And IT and OT costs will continue to rise as compartments of technology remain unconnected and underutilized.”
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