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CIOs key to bridging the IT/OT divide

Thor Olavsrud | June 2, 2017
The convergence of IT and operational technology provides a prime opportunity for business-minded CIOs to shine.

Technologies like analytics and machine learning can provide valuable insights into those operations, including gains in efficiency and reductions in unplanned maintenance, but they can also lend service providers like ABB unprecedented visibility into the business's secret sauce. Jouret believes a big part of his role as CDO is to educate customers about the potential of digital solutions, the associated risks, and the steps ABB is taking to protect their data and other assets. 

If a vendor's systems are the backbone of your process, they'll learn a lot about your process and will sit very close to where your differentiation exists.

"For a lot of our customers, there's a huge amount of excitement around unlocking productivity, gaining efficiency, reducing waste, streamlining operations, and making plants more agile. That's what they see as the promise. But what about cybersecurity? What if my factory's data is going to the cloud? If I teach my vendor how to make my factory more efficient by machine learning, you could sell those same insights to my competitors. Am I training my competitors to get better?"

"But it may well be the case that this is the new normal," he adds. "You have to keep running and you have to run faster. If I connect my factory automation to you and you're applying machine learning, you know how my factory operates. You'll make it run faster and better. If I don't let my vendors get smarter by making their tools better, it would be far worse. I'd be going backward while my competitors are learning and getting faster and better all the time."

 

Putting it all together

In the industrial world, products get deployed for long periods of time. When an electrical transformer is put into production it can last between 40 and 60 years.

"You don't switch your loyalties overnight," Jouret says. "Service experience, technicians trained on this technology, there's a huge switching cost. So in the long run, they need us to remain competitive."

As Jouret sees it, the biggest opportunity for CIOs arising out of the growing convergence of OT and IT will rest on their ability to broker and manage the exchange of data across the intercloud -- the global, interconnected cloud of clouds. 

"I think there's an opportunity for the CIO to work with the CDO or branch into that role," Jouret says. "One of the things that I think people covering the Internet of Things market get wrong is they ask, 'When are all these devices going to be able to talk to each other?' It's been slow work, and arguably, there is a better way."

Given the longevity of industrial devices and machinery, upgrading devices at the protocol level to enable integration is a difficult process at best. Since the machinery is typically responsible for mission-critical operations in which downtime can cost millions of dollars, it's also difficult to change things at the gateway level. But when control systems are connected to the cloud, making alterations is much simpler, Jouret says.

 

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