Worlds of IT and Operational Technology Are Converging

The worlds of IT and operational technology (OT) are converging, and IT leaders must manage their transition to converging, aligning and integrating IT and OT environments, according to Gartner, Inc. Analysts say the benefits that come from managing IT and OT convergence, alignment and integration include optimised business processes, enhanced information for better decisions, reduced costs, lower risks and shortened project timelines.

An independent world of physical-equipment-oriented technology is developed, implemented and supported separately from the IT groups. For simplicity, Gartner refers to physical-equipment-oriented technology as “operational technology” (OT).

“The relationship between the IT and OT groups needs to be managed better, but more importantly, the nature of the OT systems is changing, so that the underlying technology — such as platforms, software, security and communications — is becoming more like IT systems,” said Kristian Steenstrup, research vice president and Gartner Fellow. “This gives a stronger justification for IT groups to contribute to OT software management, creating an IT and OT alignment that could be in the form of standards, enterprise architecture (EA), support and security models, software configuration practices, and information and process integration.”

IT and OT are converging in numerous important industries, such as healthcare, transportation, defence, energy, aviation, manufacturing, engineering, mining, oil and gas, natural resources, and utilities. IT leaders who are impacted by the convergence of IT and OT platforms should consider the value and risk of pursuing alignment between IT and OT, as well as the potential to integrate the people, tools and resources used to manage and support both technology areas.

“A shared set of standards and platforms across IT and OT will reduce costs in many areas of software management, and reduced risks come from reducing malware intrusion and internal errors,” Mr Steenstrup said. “Cybersecurity can be enhanced if IT security teams are shared, seconded or combined with OT staff to plan and implement holistic IT-OT security. ‘Security through obscurity’ was an acceptable policy with most older-generation OT platforms because of their proprietary architectures and limited connection to IT. It is no longer possible to rely on this maxim, because OT platforms have evolved to use commercial generic infrastructures.”

With IT and OT converging, the scope of CIO authority may cater to the needs of planning and coordinating a new generation of operational technologies alongside existing information- and administration-focused IT systems. The key change for CIOs may be that their role moves from leading the IT delivery organisation to leading the exploitation of the business assets of processes, information and relationships across all technologies in the organisation — IT or OT, whether delivered, supported, or managed by the formal IT organisation or elsewhere.

“The intersection of IT and OT changes the relative importance of IT management disciplines for the IT organisations concerned. CIOs and other IT leaders need to evaluate and realign their roles and relationships to maximise the value of converging IT and OT,” said Mr Steenstrup. “CIOs have a great opportunity to lead their enterprises in exploiting information flows from digital technologies. By playing this role, they can better enable decisions that optimise business processes and performance.”

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