IT and Operational Technology Convergence: Are You Ready?

March 6, 2012
Guest Blogger

Gartner has developed a body of research around the convergence of IT and Operational Technology (OT) and the implications for organizations (1).

Gartner has developed a body of research around the convergence of IT and Operational Technology (OT) and the implications for organizations (1). Much of the research speaks to the opportunities and challenges this convergence presents to organizations. By way of definition operational technology, according to Gartner, refers to “physical-equipment-oriented technology” (e.g., manufacturing equipment) that is shifting from proprietary, hardware-based to open, software-based technology. Thus the lines are becoming blurred as to who “owns” and supports the infrastructure, integration, upgrades, security and analyses of OT software systems.

Throughout its research Gartner contends that companies which align IT-OT strategies and tactics stand to gain cost savings, better decision making, better business and process intelligence, and more efficient project and resource management. The analyst firm identifies the challenges of integrating and supporting people, processes and technologies across organizations.

Information Management’s article on “Why CIOs Are Aligning Operational Technology and IT,” says: “Kristian Steenstrup, research vice president and Gartner fellow, says IT leaders should be interested in the IT-OT alignment question. ‘There’s only so many incremental improvements you’re going to get in the IT systems to improve the systems performance … You can get transformational change in the organization by combining the IT-OT alignments.’”

Most organizations are just beginning to see the business benefits of aligning the planning, processes and support between IT and OT to avoid islands of technology. The CIO and IT organization need to adopt a leadership and consultative role to the business operations groups while allowing operational areas to implement and customize the software and applications that best meets business users’ needs.

The pharma industry is faced with downward price pressures, drug shortages, and manufacturing and quality challenges. To address these obstacles, companies need to collaborate across business groups, IT and throughout the supply chain to optimize information sharing across systems that enable better business decision making. There are several examples of pharma companies bridging IT and OT for greater manufacturing process intelligence through a common data sharing platform.

Current IT systems such as transactional systems (LIMS, MES, CAPA, etc.) and traditional data warehouses support the data reporting and analysis needs of many key areas within an organization including finance, sales and marketing.  Current specialized OT software provides views of what is happening (and has happened) with devices on the factory floor.   Manufacturing Intelligence (MI) systems either focus on the IT systems, or provide rudimentary capabilities for tying together IT- and OT- produced data, and focus on high-level views of “what happened” via dashboards and portals.

What are emerging are Process Intelligence solutions that provide user-centric access (e.g., Manufacturing, Quality, Tech Transfer) to the different types of data found in traditional IT and OT systems – including discrete, replicate, event-based and continuous – for powerful process understanding across geographically dispersed manufacturing networks. In essence, these systems provide powerful, easy-to-use functionality to go beyond MI’s “what happened?” to answer the question “why did it happen?”   For example, a pharma manufacturer can leverage data from multiple systems while leveraging existing IT and OT investments for faster incident resolution, reduced time spent on regulatory reporting, and site-to-site comparisons for best practices at multiple sites. Greater process understanding increases predictability and decreases variability.

For the enterprise, this type of bridge across the existing IT and OT boundaries requires less infrastructure, fewer staff and resources and provides more flexibility and responsiveness to business end users.  These benefits stack up nicely with the other cost and efficiency-related business results Gartner mentions – and justifies investment in OT-IT alignment.

References

1.     Kristian Steenstrup, “IT and Operational Technology: Convergence, Alignment and Integration,” Gartner, Feb. 15, 2011.

This blog post was written by Joe Rothman, Chief Technology Officer, Aegis Analytical. jrothman@aegiscorp.com

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