SOURCE: LockPath, Inc.


April 24, 2015 00:00 ET

The Age of Enlightenment v2.0: IT/OT Convergence for Utilities

OVERLAND PARK, KS--(Marketwired - April 24, 2015) - The utilities industry is on the brink of a period of enlightenment. Fear not: donning powdered wigs and conversing in Early Modern English won't be necessary. But those in the industry should prepare for an era that will bring forth innovation in reasoning, analysis, and ideologies that will challenge the status quo.

The concept of IT/OT (information technology/operational technology) integration is not a new idea. The feasibility of converging IT and OT has remained a popular topic for debate. Until recently, this union has seemed unattainable. Recent advancements in technology, however, makes the idea more practical.

Gartner defines IT/OT integration as the end state sought by organizations (most commonly, asset-intensive organizations) where instead of a separation of IT and OT as technology areas with different areas of authority and responsibility, there is integrated process and information flow. The IT piece of this puzzle typically includes back-office business systems that involve hardware and telecom devices (accounting, billing, customer service). OT includes the front-end, field based technology capable of directly monitoring and controlling physical assets responsible for generation, transmission, distribution of energy, or other utilities, in real time.

IT/OT convergence means integrating operational technologies such as SCADA, Remote Terminal Unit, Meters/Sensors, smart meters, etc. to work real time, or near to real time, with IT systems. This will give organizations the capability to manage and relate data from sensors to actual business applications.

Desegregation brings about several challenges. For organizations that have traditionally supported both disciplines, a presumably impregnable division has been created between legacy structures and processes that, seemingly, run parallel to one another.

Traditional technologies employed by either side are hardly compatible. Information technologies are wholly digital and constantly evolving while operational assets are managed and controlled by technologies that are, by and large, analog-based. These systems pride themselves on being extremely liable and offering great longevity, but their mere design impedes IT systems from retrieving and communicating their data.

Other organizational challenges with IT/OT convergence include:

  • Development of joint bodies and governance structures to align IT and OT
  • Joint management and execution of cross-technology projects
  • Harmonization of duplicate and/or overlapping processes
  • Abolishment of split responsibilities concerning security between IT and OT

Once these hurdles are overcome, a realistic glimmer of hope for being able to stitch these two technologies together will be upon us. Fortunately for those involved, that time is upon us. As of late, we have witnessed these operational technologies begin to break from their lineage and advance into a cyber environment. Because of this evolution, OT and IT now have the capacity to interact in the same digital landscape.

It is this reason why IT/OT convergence was included on Gartner's list of Top 10 Tech Trends Impacting the Utility Industry in 2015. The report stated that, "…In addition to helping [energy and] utilities improve traditional offerings, this trend will enable transformation of energy provisioning business models… to digital business [models]." Now, data that was once locked inside the silo of OT can be ingested by information technologies to be analyzed and utilized to execute more effective, efficient business decisions.

This union will become more streamlined and comprehensive as cloud integration becomes more established in applicable industries. Accepting this progression will allow the concept of "smart business" to eventually saturate into organizations and facilities that are responsible for the production, transmission, and distribution of utilities. Organizations that embrace these advancements in technology and achieve IT/OT convergence can leverage next-generation solutions to further enhance business processes and decisions. One such example is governance, risk management, and compliance software solutions, or GRC for short.

Companies that accomplish the goal of IT/OT convergence can reap both strategic and performance gains. They are given the keys to unlocking the ability to make better business decisions, align operational areas with overall business goals, optimize processes, better maintain assets, and increase economic efficiency. However, just because an organization holds the keys to this treasure chest of data doesn't necessarily mean they know how to unlock it. That being said, a robust GRC solution can effectively resolve major challenges involved in this union by creating synergy between IT and OT that, ultimately, provide organizations true data enlightenment.

About LockPath
LockPath is a market leader in corporate governance, risk management, regulatory compliance (GRC) and information security (InfoSec) software. The company's flexible, scalable and fully integrated suite of applications is used by organizations to automate business processes, reduce enterprise risk and demonstrate regulatory compliance to achieve audit-ready status. LockPath serves a client base of global organizations ranging from small and midsize companies to Fortune 10 enterprises in more than 15 industries. The company is headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas.

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