March 17, 2011 – New research from Gartner highlights the trend toward IT and operational technology convergence, mostly driven by benefits of alignment and integration such as optimized business processes, enhanced information for better decisions, reduced costs, lower risks and shortened project timelines.

Traditionally, physical-equipment-oriented technology, what Gartner calls operational technology, exists in most industrial environments and is developed, implemented and supported separately from the IT groups. Now, Gartner says, IT and operational technology are converging in numerous industries, such as health care, transportation, defense, energy, aviation, manufacturing, engineering, mining, and oil and gas. 

The nature of operational technology systems' underlying technology, such as platforms, software, security and communications, is becoming more similar to IT systems, providing justification for IT groups to contribute to operational technology software management in the form of standards, enterprise architecture, support and security models, software configuration practices, and information and process integration.

Shared standards and platforms across IT and operational technology, Gartner reports, will reduce costs in many areas of software management, and reduced risks come from reducing malware intrusion and internal errors.

The key change for CIOs, according to Gartner, may be that their role moves from leading the IT delivery organization to leading the exploitation of the business assets of processes, information and relationships across all technologies in the enterprise.

Kristian Steenstrup, research vice president and Gartner fellow, says that IT leaders should be interested in the IT-OT alignment question. “There’s only so many incremental improvements you’re going to get in the IT systems to improve the systems performance … You can get transformational change in the organization by combining the IT-OT alignments.”

The risk in not paying attention to IT-OT alignments, Steenstrup says, is that OT will start having conflicts and contradictions with IT in areas such as platforms and software architecture. “If not managed together, these will become more divergent and cost more money over time.”

Steenstrub also notes, "There is value in the integration of systems, but also in integrating the teams that develop and support the IT and OT systems that are becoming co-dependent."

Some tips from Gartner include: understand where OT systems reside; develop a plan to measure the degree of convergence already taking place; look to an IT-OT alignment plan to harmonize governance and ownership aspects; and plan for IT and OT integration where it is beneficial for future projects. 

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