Viewpoint: closing in on the divide between IT and OT
17 Apr 2017
Stratus Solutions’ Andy Bailey gives his view on whether bringing together information technology and operational technology can help to close the IIoT divide.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) offers solutions to the problems faced by operators up and down the energy supply chain.
The ability to harness sensor data, use machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and Big Data analytics means that oil and gas companies, for example, are in a position to start making the kinds of efficiency gains that operators in other industries have already been making for a number of years.
There is, however, a barrier to industry players realising the full benefits of the IIoT, in the form of the cultural divide between the in-house information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) teams.
OT teams are tasked with maximising the uptime of the production systems. Change is equated with risk… On the other hand, IT is very focused on innovation
This divide results from their competing priorities. OT teams are tasked with maximising the uptime of the production systems. Change is equated with risk and so systems can remain in place for decades. On the other hand, IT is very focused on innovation.
The challenge for an industry like oil and gas is to implement strategies that take account of the needs of both parties without letting either have too much influence.
How can they bridge what appears to be an unbridgeable gap?
Some companies have tried to solve the problem by effectively merging their IT and OT departments. Although this may look like a simple solution, it often does little to resolve the underlying cultural differences.
An alternative way of managing the issue is to create an entirely new technology team in which individual team members are not responsible for either IT or OT. While each individual member may have their specialisms, and favour one approach over another, the whole team is responsible for every type of task carried out.
One approach is to develop teams of ‘industrial technologists’ who have a combined IT/OT perspective
This approach can pose difficulties in established organisations which are resistant to sudden cultural changes.
The third approach, which is becoming increasingly common as the sector begins to look toward the future, is to develop teams of ‘industrial technologists’ who have a combined IT/OT perspective.
With no ties to any industrial ideology except doing what it takes to effectively run a modern distributed intelligence system, these technologists are well equipped to manage the competing priorities of the various types of technology under their control.
Demonstrating the benefits to OT
To take one example relevant to the oil and gas sector, the entire process of reconciling the production imbalance sheet can now be automated and carried out remotely.
What was once a manual, inaccurate process becomes something that just blends in with the background processes of the operation.
Predictive maintenance is also something that OT can benefit from. IIoT technology makes it possible for enterprises to collect sensor data from individual components anywhere in the network, send it to the analytics engines, and then cross reference that data against expected readings to determine whether the component is operating within pre-set parameters.
Mitigating risk in a changing world
The arrival of the IIoT represents the start of a new era for the oil and gas industry.
Enterprises that embrace the technology will find – as countless others in different industries have – that the gains in efficiency allow them to innovate and drive forward with previously unimaginable efficiency.
Quickly and effectively bringing OT and IT together is a key part of the process and can only be achieved by properly managing the risks that come with change on this scale.
Andy Bailey is a solutions architect at Stratus Technologies