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Operational Technology (OT) vs. Information Technology (IT)

One of the many themes coming out of new digital technologies is the concept of operations technology or OT. This theme is more than just a new suite of technologies, sensors and smart equipment, but a different paradigm coming more from the world of control systems and field automation rather than from corporate IT. How will these new developments and the new data coming from field instrumentation fit into the world of digital data defined by IT and structured data management practices?

First some definitions. I would like to define the two (maybe three) worlds of digital technology in terms of their areas of traditional responsibility.

First, the corporate Information Technology who has responsibility over the data center, networks (WAN & LAN), desktop support, enterprise application platforms (Finance, HR, Supply Chain, Marketing), and cybersecurity. This community is usually led by a formal department/functional executive called the CIO.

Then comes this new (but really not so new) world of Operations Technology who has stewardship for engineering applications, operations and field automation (SCADA) systems. This area is rarely a corporate department. COOs in the oil and gas industry are usually assigned to business unit or assets in a local geographic area. The growth of OT is happening "ground up" so to speak. Some companies have field automation standards but with legacy properties and many mergers and asset acquisitions, there is a complex diversity of solutions found in the field. This community is usually driven by local champions and operational teams.

Their connection to corporate IT traditionally have not been very formal or visible. But they do have a number of common issues such as: telecommunications, protocols, data access, architecture, mobility, and cybersecurity. Often these groups are struggling to find common solutions for patch management, upgrade and version changes and ways to bring data to engineering teams.

Making this convergence more difficult is the existence of a third community, the world of Shadow IT. This is not a formal community at all but an informal collection of highly digitally literate engineers and operators armed with desktop productivity tools and Excel, "personal" databases, Access based solutions, shared drives, and Visual Basic macros. This "Innovation on the Edge" approach often competes quietly with the "standardization from the center" initiatives from corporate IT.

The Digital Oilfield is forcing these communities to find ways to collaborate. This comes from two trends: Digital Intensity (increase in number and variety of sensors, field automation, smart equipment, increase in documents, increase in size of seismic surveys and reservoir models) and Interconnected Devices (Remote Decision Support Centers, remote control of processes, decrease in the use of proprietary networks and growth of internet, plus connected Supply Chains).

There is no question that more information collected by operations is needed to show up on higher management level dashboards. Remote surveillance and monitoring requires a view of current conditions in near real-time but in the context of the past (and the plan) to help operations become more predictive and proactive. With more data being collected, more interconnections being made between equipment, processes and humans, a secure, faster response cycle is called for as well as a full asset lifecycle perspective if optimization algorithms are going to have an impact.

Many advances in the Industrial Internet of Things favors OT over IT, but all the data needs to ride on a common ICT backbone. With the increasing number of interconnections, a total security solution is needed. If sensor and machine data mixes with transactions, documents and structured data, then data management solutions must mature. The current tensions and often separation between OT and IT have to evolve into converged approaches.

Additionally, using the internet to transmit the data has exposed a new and large external risk. The recent, large-scale distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) on Dyn, (a New Hampshire-based company that monitors and routes internet traffic) knocked out many major commercial websites for several hours. It brought to the forefront the risk of IOT and IIOT devices and how they can be accessed and used in unanticipated ways including potential terrorism.  So, this raises the stakes to the question - who is responsible for security? IT- OT or Both?

Where does that leave us? OT versus IT, or OT plus IT? Are they competitors or collaborators? All these advances are going to make life interesting for all communities involved. It is time to make sure there is only one team, in order to enable the digital oilfield.

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