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Traditional Barriers Between IT/OT Start to Fall

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Paul Korzeniowski's picture
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Utilities run specialized equipment, such as power generators, transformers, and SCADA systems. Typically, their mobile service techs are responsible for these systems, and a second groups works with the company computer systems. Increasingly, those two groups are starting to meld and offer utilities new opportunities as well as challenges.

The IT group typically is stationed in the corporate office and oversees productivity solutions and back office computer systems coming from vendors, like HPE and Cisco. Specialized electrical equipment suppliers, such as ABB and Siemens, build energy company OT solutions. Their equipment is often large and complex, and relies on propriety designs. As a result, connecting them to other intelligent systems, and moving information from one to another has been difficult.  

Recently, these vendors have been migrating away from proprietary systems to standard solutions based on the Internet Protocol (IP), which connects computer systems. Making the change lowers product cost and simplifies management tasks.

The recent influx of Internet of Things devices is spurring additional energy company interest in IP. A bevy of new sensors and systems are being built that collect device information, so energy producers can  manage these systems proactively.

Overlap Increase Between IT and OT

As a result, similarities between IT and OT systems has been growing. Rather than have two distinct groups monitor increasingly similar devices autonomously, utilities want to consolidate the maintenance and lower their operating costs. In fact, melding  the two groups has become a priority for more than 90% of energy organizations, according to an International Data Corp. survey.

Making the switch offers many benefits. Utilities can more easily share information generated by the different applications and get a more complete view of their operation. They can also use one set of wires to move information in and out of both their IT and OT systems. Ideally, technicians would rely on one integrated console to manage all of the devices.

However, companies need to be cautious about making the switch. They must understand the integrating the groups requires more than connecting a few ports. They need to develop a new management structure.

Currently, IT and OT workers speak different languages, so that gap needs to be bridged. Employees would also be concerned about how their jobs will change, so they need to be assured about their future in the company.  

Traditional barriers between IT and OT are falling as both adopt IP technology to connect their systems. The change offers utilities significant potential benefits but also raises management hurdles that will need to be cleared in order to ensure a smooth migration from the old to the new.

 

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