IT and OT convergence yields smarter buildings

By Switch Automation • July 7, 2018

It’s been one month since IBCon 2018 and many of us are already engrossed in new projects and day-to-day operations. But what good are the lessons learned from peers and industry experts if we don’t apply them to our business? In this post we revisit one of our favorite sessions of the conference, highlighting IT and OT convergence, through the eyes of two visionary leaders at Oxford Properties.

Lachlan MacQuarrie, VP of Real Estate Management, and Park Wong, VP of Information Technology, are living proof that organizations leveraging smart technology benefit greatly from departmental integration. After sharing key examples of how misalignment slowed or halted smart building projects in the past, they explained why – and how – these experiences led them to pursue IT and OT convergence.

Finding common ground

IT and OT teams often share the same high-level goals: enhance risk management, improve customer service and reduce costs. “However,” MacQuarrie said, “the lens through which we view these challenges is fundamentally different.”

Facilities teams possess critical knowledge about how to manage and operate building systems and equipment. But, the rapid adoption of cloud technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) has blurred the lines between IT and OT. As buildings become more deeply connected, birthing digital twins and a flood of data, OT needs IT’s technical expertise to facilitate integration and strategic planning. Meanwhile, IT teams who historically owned cybersecurity, connectivity and network infrastructure are fielding increasing OT demands for access and control.

MacQuarrie and Wong insist collaboration from the very inception of a project is critical to long term planning and successful project outcomes. “We’re not trying to turn operators into IT professionals or vice versa but we can focus on the commonalities, like desired outcome, to be successful,” said MacQuarrie.

Overcoming obstacles

Wong shared that IT is often perceived as too busy to assist with interdepartmental issues. Meanwhile, MacQuarrie shared that OT can be seen as inflexible and committed to traditional processes. To counter this, management must be creative with budget, staffing and education. For example, Oxford Properties holds an annual OT conference with dedicated sessions for cybersecurity, data visualization and more. They also sponsor IT and OT employees to attend industry events, such as IBCon, throughout the year because as MacQuarrie says, “We’re all learning together.” Speaking candidly, he explained: “I’m a classic example of someone on the business side who is trying to understand what IT does for us.” Wong added, “There’s a constant redefinition of what this type of collaboration looks like as the organization matures.” Clearly this is a winning strategy, as Oxford took home multiple Digie Awards at this year’s IBCon.

Reaping the benefits of IT and OT convergence

Gartner predicts that by 2020, 50% of OT service providers will create key partnerships with IT-centric providers for IoT offerings. While these collaborations yield significant competitive advantages now, it’s important to remember that today’s differentiation is tomorrow’s standard.

According to MacQuarrie and Wong, IT and OT are moving away from simply telling each other what to do and toward explaining how they’re providing valuable support to each other and why. “When it comes to successful IT and OT convergence, our process is simple,” says Wong. “We build, test, deploy, share lessons learned, then reiterate.”

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