Markets and Trends

Digitally Smart or Operationally Intelligent – Do you really speak IT/OT?

How does IT/OT fit into an Operationally Intelligent enterprise's strategy? Learn more about the state of IT/OT convergence.
Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

Four months ago, IDC launched its IT/OT Convergence Strategies program, and since then both end users and technology vendor engagement around the topic has been outstanding. These engagements have happened across the board: with IT leadership, operational technology (OT) leadership, and relevant business leaders all in some manner participating in the IT/OT convergence enablement ecosystem.

Indeed, the IT/OT topic includes a myriad of technologies and is by nature immensely transformative for the operationally-intensive enterprise.  Therefore, the many discussions we have had over the course of the past four months have been quite rich and have driven new thinking and ideas around real-world IT/OT scenarios.

Digital-ready technologies in a broad sense have certainly gained prominence in many aspects of work and operational environments. That said, if an organization is truly critical of the adoption and proper usage of these technologies, perhaps it is due to the messaging around the value of IT/OT integration having not inspired action.  While the technology is overwhelmingly available, and often in place, in many situations the technology can be better utilized.

Therefore, I feel compelled to take a step back and reflect on two findings that I consider very revealing of the true state of the IT/OT mindset and market.

1) In most cases, it is the traditional IT vendors that are responsible for keeping outdated IT versus OT clichés alive.

This is certainly impacting the digitization/digital transformation (DX) efforts related to the ‘physical side’ of the enterprise.  Yet, these same vendors are also the ones preaching the loudest about the quantifiable benefits of IT/OT convergence. Clearly, not all of the traditional IT vendors are to be blamed, in fact a few have a very clear understanding of what’s at stake and no, I won’t share names here.

The clichés I am referring to range from “Top floor versus shop floor” which is often too simplistic and does not do justice to the complex reality of IT/OT convergence.  Another example can be that “OT doesn’t get security or connectivity in the digital world” which similarly applies less and less to the reality of the situation.  In fact, for industrial sectors, the OT organization often considers itself as the enterprise digital transformation owner.

As such, rather than include the IT organizations, have found it easier to align to operations specific applications, which has led to a fast-growing market made of digital-ready OT solution providers. This scenario introduces an entirely new set of challenges that must be overcome to deliver on the promise of a truly converged approach to IT and OT.

2) IT/OT Convergence is not only a technology topic; it is as much about the overall business operations in an operationally intensive organization.

This means that whether your function is traditionally IT, OT, or even within a recently created IT/OT function you must be looking at the technology landscape through the lens of ongoing business improvement.  It is not enough to think about technologies in term of applications or use-cases, like some sorts of boxes to be checked.

There is much more to IT/OT convergence than deploying technology within the operation.  It must be conducted in a way that solves an ongoing business challenge, but also helps to fuel the DX initiatives for the organization.  Indeed, IT/OT convergence must remain a strategy in motion, designed to bring together the entire operation through the effective alignment of traditional IT capabilities aligned to the value generating elements of operations.

Final Thoughts

As companies continue to innovate, design, and deliver smarter and more connected products and/or services, the data available about the use, servicing and design of these products continues to grow exponentially.  The proliferation of data about products and services is creating the opportunity for an organization to extend the usefulness of its data to new functions within the business.

For example, customer interaction and service case information typically retained in the CRM application can add value beyond sales and marketing.  The new data architecture, aligned to the customer experience, can extend to supply chain, operations, and product development.  Leading companies are now capable of creating a digitally intelligent operation aligned built upon a foundation of customer and product data.

For operation-intensive companies, the impacts of customer centricity can indeed drive operational improvements at the plant level by capturing and acting upon events happening in the real world. It translates into capturing, managing and securely manipulating a whole new set of information. While some of this information may have already been captured the local level, it is also about making the data available throughout an ecosystem.

This is the “physical” side of a digital transformation, often a digitally-enabled operational transformation as a function of the enterprise DX.  This is a much more useful approach than connecting assets for the sake of connecting them.  It is about connecting the enterprise and using such a digital alignment to deliver operational excellence.  It is the aggregation of data from the “Real-world side” of a digital transformation coupled with the “virtual side” of the same broader digital transformation that makes an organization Operationally Intelligent.

These are just a few of the underlying trends I could extract from observations so far, and that I will further explore through the year. You can contact me directly for further discussion at I look forward to your comments and participation in my research projects.

Research Director, Worldwide Robotics: Commercial Robotics