Bridging the operational technology and Internet of Things 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 10,000s, even 100,000s of IoT devices? And 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?

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, 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 (74%) of organisations see the number of network connected devices in the business increasing – and 50% admit that IoT is either already having or will have an impact over the next 12 months.

>See also: Could blockchain power the Internet of Things?

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.

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 (80%) 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 100% 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

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 25% 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% 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 100% 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.

With the growing skills gap created by the need for predictive monitoring and analytics expertise, organisations will no longer be able to manage this entire process internally and increasing numbers of organisations are turning to third parties for support.

But one of the interesting findings of this research is that – to date – those operating an in-house support team in conjunction with third parties appear to be far more robust at implementing key policies and processes than those reliant on outsourcing alone.

Is the lack of process apparent within a fully outsourced model due to complacency associated with handing over responsibility to a third party? Or simply that the rise in IoT has taken organisations – including MSPs – by surprise?

Without a proactive, CIO-led approach to recognising the rise in devices outside traditional IT deployments and creating a strong IoT strategy, organisations will, by default, be left open to risk.

From ownership to budget, capacity planning to network audit and security, the model is changing fast – for every business and managed services provider, failure to make the transition from the five nines model of the past to a predictive, proactive model of today could seriously jeopardise operational performance. It is time to bridge the gap between OT and IT – before it is too late.


Sourced from John Pepper, CEO and founder, Managed 24/7

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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