Trend watch: OT-IT convergence in energy and utilities

Roch Muraine
May 22, 2023

Operational and Information technology convergence is changing how energy and utilities manage their business going forward.

Energy and utilities OT and IT convergence blog image

At Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, we have been focusing on a number of vertical markets over the last few years. In that time, we have seen how technology trends differ from vertical to vertical. One such trend is in the energy and utilities sector, where we are seeing the emergence of Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) convergence ― a trend that will revolutionise how the industry operates well into the future.

But what exactly, does ‘convergence’ mean? Well, it refers to the integration of operational technology, which is used to control and monitor industrial processes, with information technology, which is used to manage and process data using applications such as enterprise resource planning software and data analytics platforms. In conjunction with the digital transformation that the energy and utilities sector is undergoing, the convergence of OT and IT has become increasingly important in recent years as industrial processes become digitised and connected to the internet.

One of the main benefits of OT-IT convergence is the ability to collect and analyse large amounts of data from production processes in real-time. This can help companies make better decisions, improve efficiency and reduce costs. For example, an energy operator can use sensors and other devices to collect data on the performance of its distribution grid and then use that data to optimise the distribution process. This can lead to increased productivity, reduced downtime and lower maintenance costs.

Another benefit of OT-IT convergence is the ability to remotely monitor and control electrical circuits and valves. This can be especially useful for companies with operations in multiple locations or for those who need to monitor processes that are difficult to access physically. For example, a company that operates a power or nuclear plant can use remote monitoring to ensure its turbines are operating at peak efficiency and to quickly respond to any issues that arise.

However, there are some serious challenges associated with OT-IT convergence. One of the main issues is the need to ensure industrial processes’ cybersecurity. As more industrial processes become connected to company IT networks and possibly to the internet, companies become vulnerable to cyberattacks. This can have serious consequences, such as disrupting operations, stealing sensitive data, or even causing physical damage and threats to life. Companies must take steps to secure their industrial networks and protect against potential cyberthreats.

Another challenge is the need to integrate different systems and technologies through a variety of devices, each with their own protocols and interfaces. Integrating legacy protocols and systems can be complex and time-consuming, requiring the use of gateways middleware or other communications protocols to bridge the gap. OT-IT convergence may also require a shift in technology to cloud computing, which may not be an easy move to make for all energy and utility providers.

The biggest challenge, however, may be linked to people and organisations as responsibility for OT management typically falls to operational departments such as production, maintenance, or facilities. These departments are responsible for the day-to-day operation and maintenance of physical assets and processes. Additionally, this function might be outsourced to a third-party, for example, companies may outsource the management of their power generation assets to specialised service providers.

In many organisations, OT management is still separate from IT management, and the two departments often have different goals, processes, and cultures. However, as IT and OT systems become more integrated, organisations will need to establish cross-functional teams to manage both systems and ensure they are aligned with the overall company goals. Regardless of who is responsible for managing OT, it is important to have a clear understanding of the OT role and the impact it has on the organisation’s operations, and to ensure that OT systems are well-designed, maintained and secure, to support the overall organisational goals.

While OT- IT convergence is in its early days, it is becoming increasingly important as the energy and utilities sector transforms, digitalises and connects everything. Welcome to the beginning of this journey that we expect to navigate over the next 10 years ― at least.

Learn more about ALE solutions for the energy and utilities sector.

Roch Muraine

Roch Muraine

Worldwide Sales Director for Transportation, ALE

Roch Muraine leads the ALE global transportation business practice, responsible for the rail, road, air and sea sales. His more than 20 years of global experience in IT, network and telecom marketing, and extensive involvement in field as well as operational activities make him ideal for this role. 

Roch holds an engineering degree in Computer Science from ESI Paris, and a postgraduate Masters in Telecommunication from Institut Mines-Télécom. 

You can reach Roch on Twitter at: @MuraineR.

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