Industry Stories

IT/OT Convergence Needs Organizational Change First

Asset heavy industries in general and the energy industry in particular are catching up with the impact of digital disruption. The opportunities in the energy sector are immense due to the sheer scale of operations that generates immense amount of data along with accelerating computing power and advances in automation, AI and ML.

Traditionally, industrial processes and equipment including the technology that supports operations (OT) have stayed isolated from enterprise technology and its network (IT). Cheaper and faster connectivity, enhanced computational capabilities and cloud adoption are allowing IT and OT to come closer and drive superior levels of efficiency that were unimaginable a few years ago. For example, in upstream getting real time sensor data from production assets and feeding them into market demand management systems can close the loop and create market driven production plans. Assets can be maintained based on their operational condition rather than their standard design specifications which can translate into millions of dollars of savings in maintenance costs. Disparate legacy operations and process control systems, running on proprietary OEM platforms can be brought onto a single pane of glass for efficient operational monitoring. When data silos across the entire value chain from exploration, subsurface, drilling, production and ERP are integrated we can see correlations and find new insights, outcomes and avenues for efficiency.

The challenges of IT and OT convergence

However, this is easier said than done and IT/OT convergence faces multitude of challenges at the heart of which is the organizational divide between the two. Operations and technology have been traditionally siloed not only in the technology protocols and tools but also exist as completely different organizational entities. IT/OT convergence need to blur these differences. Operations are no longer just about managing physical assets, factories and plants. Data collected from the assets which are analyzed and visualized into their digital twins need maintenance thereby, requiring operations engineers to become technologists. And at the same time, technology groups need to be deeply embedded into the operational aspects of the business if they want to create real impact. These silos extend to data which is the lifeline of digital transformation. OT data because of their proprietary nature tend to stay within the plant systems and analytical and enterprise data takes too long to enter the operational silo to make an impact.

Achieving the big shift

In the course of our work with clients, we’ve seen these challenges and have developed a point of view and path forward on how to address them. While IT/OT integration is definitely a technological challenge, almost every successful integration is underpinned by a fundamental change to the IT and OT organizations.

In general, there are three shifts that need to take place to achieve better integration:

Break organizational boundaries

The traditional silos between IT and OT restrict the flow of data, information and decisions. To begin this journey, companies must look at breaking organizational boundaries first. While many organizations are creating the role of a Chief Digital Officer or CDO to focus on their digital journey and leave legacy IT to their CIO, one of our clients took a different route, eliminating the role of CIO and having a CTO oversee both operations and enterprise technology with an end to end responsibility of technology that is aligned to business value chains. This gives them the ability to make technology decisions that address business outcomes rather than technology solutions that are siloed. Another organization is changing their floor plans to co-locate technologists (data scientists and Python programmers) into their reservoir modeling teams and give them the opportunity to interact on a day-to-day basis. At the same time, they provide monthly Python classes to their reservoir engineers.

Set your data free

Data must be set free in a secure manner to flow from the operations to the enterprise side and vice versa by creating seamless connections. One way to achieve this is to retrain employees who have strong operational knowledge with the right digital tools for application development, analytics and visualization. Tools like PowerApps and PowerBI can help empower them to build their own applications.

On the IT side too, providing access to operations data can help them better appreciate operational complexities. Giving both IT and OT teams the tools to operate in each other’s world can help unlock several valuable insights. Data marketplaces offer efficient platforms that can help achieve this goal by making ‘easy to navigate’ and high trust data available to a wide variety of citizen developers.

Democratize insight gathering

Once the data is in place and people have the skills to use the data to their advantage, organizations must let people lead the way. Let citizen developers give the use cases, build solutions and come up with algorithms. Such an approach allows for experimentation and an iterative development process. Rather than giving a set of requirements to the IT developers, democratizing the process and allowing for bottom-up solutions will encourage people to experiment, fail fast and come up with newer ideas. Traditional IT will still have a big role to play when it comes to scaling ideas and delivering workable models, but a lot of ideas will come from the ground.

Thus, bringing integration at the organization level between the enterprise technology and operations technology teams can ensure that the organization as a whole is oriented towards a common ‘north’ and are equipped with the right data, tools and skills to maximize business goals.