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The Internet of Things: Bridging the OT/IT divide

The Internet of Things (IoT) has taken business by surprise. Gartner predicts that nearly 6.4 billion connected 'things' will be in use in 2016 – and the reality is that some industries have been exploiting the value of connected devices for some time to transform operational performance, although not always in a strategic fashion.

Yet the difference between this Operational Technology (OT) environment and traditional IT is stark. How can an organisation overcome the gap between the zero tolerance to downtime of the OT world and the break/fix, five nines approach that still prevails within IT? Who will take responsibility for the security of tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of IoT devices? How will the business harness the essential real time analytics delivered by IoT devices that should inform continual changes to building, estate, and production systems? Unless organisations actively bridge the gap between OT and IT, the real operational benefits of the digital business will be lost.

Digitising the business

From IP enabled turnstiles to smart manufacturing systems that continuously monitor and optimise performance and smart buildings with IP connected environmental controls, Operational Technology (OT) is slowly but inexorably expanding across every business sector. According to recent research conducted by Opinionography on behalf of Managed 24/7, almost three quarters (seventy four per cent) of organisations see the number of network connected devices in the business increasing; and fifty per cent admit that IoT is either already having or will have an impact over the next 12 months.

However, it is revealing that fewer than half of companies have an IoT connectivity policy – and indeed, many OT deployments have occurred outside the IT remit. The result is that companies may be gaining some operational benefits from the digitisation of key processes but the creation of siloed IoT deployments is adding to corporate risk and, in truth, constraining organisations from maximising the value of OT.

From different languages to very different expectations of availability and support models, there is a significant and potentially damaging gap between OT and IT that needs to be bridged, fast.

The Internet of Things: Zero tolerance for downtime

By its very nature, a connected world has zero tolerance for downtime, yet IoT does not only change the requirement for systems availability; it significantly increases the threat landscape, creating greater security risks and challenges. Indeed, while IT may be willing to accept the fact that a very high proportion of organisations (eighty per cent) have experienced outages over the last three years, this fact will not play well within OT, which has actively embraced predictive monitoring in order to achieve one hundred per cent uptime.

Moreover, organisations are also missing out on essential business information. By failing to consolidate OT into the core network, organisations cannot enable CxOs to take advantage of a depth of real time analytics that should be informing changes to every part of the building, estate, and production systems.

Indeed, while the vast majority of new control systems used in buildings and factories – from water pumps to energy systems – include an Ethernet connection, few organisations are actively using this real-time insight to support CxO decision-making. Even those that have, for example, created a connected factory floor have not extended the model to include distribution. Yet providing CxOs with real-time insight about delivery schedules, even raw material temperature or humidity, can enable even more effective operational decision making.

Hybrid predictive model

Right now, with IT unwilling to adopt additional responsibility – especially given the zero tolerance for downtime in this area – and OT lacking the extended remit required to join up these different IoT deployments, the full benefits of a digitised business are not being realised.Organisations clearly are beginning to recognise the problem – with just twenty five per cent confident in their IT strategy, according to the research.

So what differentiates confident businesses from the rest? The use of predictive technologies is certainly one area which differentiates both OT from IT and the early adopters from the rest. While the use of analytics or predictive modelling to help guarantee more than 99.999 per cent uptime is increasing, it is far higher amongst those companies with greater confidence.

These companies use intelligent monitoring to predict potential failures before they occur – and replace the relevant component to avoid any unplanned failures or glitches in performance. The challenge now is to enable IT support operations to explore the value of consolidating monitoring tools as part of the shift from break/fix to a predictive model that delivers one hundred per cent uptime. End to end monitoring that accurately predicts trends in performance combined with self-healing technologies both prevent problems and enable organisations to achieve far more effective IT and OT utilisation.

It is time to bridge the gap between OT and IT – before it is too late.

John Pepper, CEO and Founder of Managed 24/7 (opens in new tab)

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