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IT/OT Convergence: More Than the Sum of Its Parts

IT-OT convergence

IT + OT = IoT. Not exactly. But within the world of IoT, convergence of IT and OT is a very important equation. These days, businesses can’t afford to have their IT and OT teams in separate bubbles. But in the past, these groups have operated separately, had different outlooks on how they do their work, and valued different metrics. So how to add them together? What’s the best way to arrive at more than just the sum of the parts? And what does the overall trend mean for systems integrators?

We get insights on this topic from two points of view, that of Jan Burian, Head of Manufacturing Insights for EMEA at market intelligence firm IDC, and Sunnie Weber, IoT Ecosystem Strategy Leader for Intel®. They talk about the challenges of achieving IT/OT convergence, the importance of coalitions in the convergence process, and how even environmental sustainability can be one of its outcomes. 

Sunnie, from your perspective, what’s behind the rise of the IT/OT?

Sunnie Weber: Intel sees a really big shift in digital transformation—this connection of IT and OT. It’s no secret to anyone that IoT is extremely complex. It requires a strong convergence of technologies and people. There are distinctly different players, invested stakeholders, and mutual priorities that are being forced to merge to produce these common solutions. And so Intel sees that operationally focused solutions systems integrators play a significant role in connecting the dots between IT and OT, and so helping to bring holistic solutions to the market.

COVID has accelerated this need for convergence of IT and OT into that digital transformation. There’s high demand for improved user experience—an example being applications-focused, human-machine interfaces. The convergence of IT and OT is able to deliver that kind of value. It fulfills that need around secure infrastructure that gives enterprises the ability to make those fast decisions, increase their efficiencies, improve their resilience, and perform this unlimited scalability.

Jan, why do you think IT/OT convergence is such a growing opportunity?

Jan Burian: IT/OT convergence is definitely expanding in a post-pandemic world. But it’s not just driven by remote work; it’s also driven by various disruptions. We see that especially in supply chain—there is definitely a bigger focus on transparency and flexibility within the whole chain. Manufacturing organizations are also re-engineering their products. They are trying to embed new services to become even more resilient in terms of business, and also securing new revenue streams for the future.

These are the areas where IT and OT are both playing a crucial role. When I look at the outputs of the IDC survey, we see some classic benefits—like operational-performance improvement; like throughput and service reliability at the same or lower cost; like cost reduction in terms of sharing resources across IT/OT.

But what I also see here is something that is appearing quite a lot in the results of several different surveys—the sustainability perspective. There’s a growing importance for that because, though there are different regulations in the different parts of the world, they have pretty much the same goal: to reduce CO2. And the technology and the data from the OT environment is really something that is helping organizations to start that journey. That’s something I see as the next big trend, and also one of the biggest benefits.

Sunnie, what are some key things businesses can do to bring these two teams together?

Sunnie Weber: From an end-customer perspective you literally just need to get those CTO and COO teams in the same room, talking about their objectives and understanding the business experience and use cases that they’re ultimately trying to deliver. So one thing we strive to do is to create coalitions. The coalitions are making sure that both the IT and the OT sides are being represented—as well as the partners that are going to be part of creating the solution together: the software provider, the OEM.

Our partners are being forced to expand their working knowledge in either IT or OT—depending on their original focus—or they’re actually partnering up with some complementary company that is already an expert. That situation has maybe been seen traditionally as a little competitive, or felt like you’re giving away business; it’s actually turning into greater opportunities.

“These are the areas where #IT and #OT are playing a crucial role—like operational-performance improvement; like throughput and service reliability at the same or lower cost; like cost reduction in terms of sharing resources across IT/OT.” –Jan Burian, @IDC, via @insightdottech

One way that Intel is trying to help, especially our solutions and systems integrators, is through our partner program. And when you have this membership with Intel you can get connected very easily to Intel-validated partners through the solution marketplace, through Intel partner connect events, and through specialized matchmaking event opportunities.

And the reason that’s important is because we’re working with partners that have solutions that are vetted and really deployed out there, so we’re able to help companies connect to solid partners with which they can confidently go to market. Bottom line, I guess you could say the partners need to be willing to have those expanded partnerships so that they can come to their end customers as holistic experts. And our end customers need to start getting rid of the silo effect that has been traditional, and bridge those CTO and COO teams to have those holistic conversations.

Jan, how does an IT/OT convergence change key skills and roles?

Jan Burian: First, there’s the C-Suite: decision-makers, budget-holders, influencers. These types of managers should definitely have a better understanding of how digital technology can bring value to their company and help them to reach their KPIs. That’s crucial, because these people typically have quite a big influential power, and if you’re not able to convince them that that solution really brings the value, then it’s very hard to even get started.

Then there’s another role: a Chief Digital Officer. The typical role of a CDO is searching or looking for new technology, for new solutions, and bringing these solutions or ideas into the organization and discussing them with the stakeholders. These people should have an understanding of how to work with systems integrators. This would also be a first point of contact between the company and the systems integrators.

Then you have the IT people, who are the experts in IT security and integration of the IT systems—typically RPA or PLM. But what they really need to do is to get a better understanding of how the OT world works—what kind of protocols that could be; what the cybersecurity threats or potential issues are. And, of course, there’s also the OT group. And these people should really understand how IT works—how the data they are acquiring can then be processed in the learning steps. This is also very important. But as Sunnie already said, these are two different worlds.

And in IDC we see there’s also maybe another group: digital engineers. And they are positioned exactly between IT and OT. It’s like a converged team of the experts who are able to be a partner for the systems integrator, and are also able to be a connector between IT and OT within the company. And these people are typically managing IT/OT deployment projects. They also take care of the logic, and of the overall architecture, and, of course, the data management.

Sunnie, what can you tell us about the convergence from a systems integrator’s perspective?

Sunnie Weber: I think what this really means for the systems integrator is that there’s actually greater opportunity. To Jan’s point, they do need to educate themselves so that they are familiar with both sides of the world—and then be in a position to help the end customer merge those worlds as well. What I see the most is that enterprise customers are in a position where change is being forced on them in order to remain agile enough to stay ahead; yet they may not recognize that. And so the systems integrators are going to be that voice of reason, that voice of consultation.

Jan, what opportunities do you see ahead?

Jan Burian: Companies are always looking for new ways to improve the customer experience and to secure new business. There is a good point with the metaverse idea, for example. We probably know it from an environment like a Fortnite or Roblox, where industrial players have already stepped in and are selling or promoting their products or their brands there—I call it the civil metaverse.

But there’s also an industrial metaverse. That is more digital twin based, which is one of the key solutions when it comes to the convergence of IT and OT. For this industrial metaverse there could be a number of use cases—from simulations to testing to customer experience improvement. These digital twins should be driven by the data coming from a real environment—and this is where convergence between IT and OT is happening. I said at the beginning, the future will definitely be about convergence of IT and OT systems.

Sunnie, any closing thoughts you’d like to leave with our audience?

Sunnie Weber: Sometimes the best way to have this conversation on IT/OT convergence is to start at the end. What is the value that the end customer is looking for? Because you need to be able to help the partners and the end customers define, communicate, and deploy these value-based solutions that really inspire them and their customers to change their business outcomes. And then you can begin the evaluation of both the IT and the OT forces.

So a systems integrator can walk their customer through the conversation, and end up helping to enable those better operational models that buffer the customer from situations like COVID, allowing them to be more agile and responsive. It becomes this holistic-enablement conversation of a greater value and service at the end of the day. It provides greater value to the end customer, and it provides more business for the systems integrator.

Related Content

To learn more, listen to the podcast The Meaning of IT/OT Convergence with IDC and Intel®. For the latest innovations from Intel and IDC, follow them on Twitter at @IDC and @Inteliot or on LinkedIn at IDC and Intel-Internet-of-Things.

This article was edited by Erin Noble, copy editor.

About the Author

Kenton Williston is an Editorial Consultant to and previously served as the Editor-in-Chief of the publication as well as the editor of its predecessor publication, the Embedded Innovator magazine. Kenton received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2000 and has been writing about embedded computing and IoT ever since.

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