COVID-19 Gives Manufacturing CIOs Unique OT Learning Opportunity

In my recent blog posts on why CIO’s need to get over the OT/IT divide, I explained why failure to address the IT/OT divide was going to doom manufacturers’ Digital Transformation efforts. I promised to provide insight as to how CIO’s can start breaking down the wall between IT and the OT centric parts of their organizations. This version is my third iteration of providing that insight, adjusted for the evolving new normal in manufacturing and asset-intensive industries during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The first two versions of the blog proved to be irrelevant, given the rapidly evolving business climate. COVID-19 certainly is changing the way we do business. One aspect of the changes we see is that there are some unique learning opportunities available for CIOs now that will enable them to start understanding OT that would have been more costly or time-prohibitive before the pandemic.

OT Vendor Users Group Meeting Moving to Virtual
Similar to the IT world, many OT related vendors have moved their user group meetings to online virtual events. In the majority of the cases, these events are either being offered for free or at very reduced pricing. The event agendas are also changing with fewer case studies presented by users and more product education sessions conducted by the vendors.
This change provides CIOs and their relevant staff the opportunity to get exposed to the technology vendors present in their OT environment. By reaching out to the OT staff that plan to participate in these virtual events and getting recommendations as to which sessions to join, they can start to understand the language, architecture, and capabilities of the OT systems that are part of their enterprise’s overall technology footprint. Travel and cost limitations probably prevented such cross-pollination in the past.

Invite OT Peers to IT Virtual Events
Since many IT events are also going virtual, there may be an even more significant opportunity to start exposing the OT side of the business to IT-related issues. While IT workers might still be busy supporting a work-at-home force, if the factory is shut down, the OT staff may have more free time for education. Exposing OT support staff to IT critical issues like cybersecurity and enterprise architecture tools should work to bridge the communication and perception gaps in the business.

Become Involved in Post Coronavirus Changes
As businesses begin to adapt to the new normal additional IT-based services will likely be required. Accelerating connected worker projects to help enforce social distancing requirements and to facilitate contact tracing will be one area where IT needs to be involved. Still, OT can help play an important role. OT systems could be quickly adapted to perform more assigned operator tracking and integration with worker safety tools such as temperature monitoring.

It is reasonable to assume that the changes to supply chains, production facilities, workforces, and consumer sentiment that COVID-19 will precipitate will require massive retooling of technology in some cases while only minor adjustments in others. Smart manufacturing CIOs will seize this opportunity for a reset. Engineers in the OT side of the business are notorious for pursuing technology for the fun of experimentation with a “let’s try it and see” attitude. OT buyers often partner with small firms that are highly innovative and on the cutting edge, but in a post-COVID environment might be at high risk of insolvency. IT needs to step up and provide the leadership to manage the way back to normalcy. Countries that had strong leadership that took charge early on in addressing the spread of the coronavirus had fared better than those countries that deferred action to smaller entities like states or cities, which resulted in chaotic responses when it came to containing the virus. Likewise, businesses that have strong leadership that approaches technology deployment centrally during the recovery phase will fare better than those that let silos operate in a self-centered approach.

During my stay at home during the state lockdown, I have been watching more TV than usual. One favorite channel is National Geographic Wild, which has a lot of veterinary shows. The thing I have learned from several of the Nat Geo shows about zoo animals; there is a tendency to feed zoo animals a lot of fruit because it is relatively cheap and easy to get and generally thought to be nutritious. There will be a lot of temptation to go after low hanging fruit when it comes to technology investments during recovery. The problem the vets point out – too much fruit rots the animals’ teeth. Remember that when making your post-COVID tech investment plans.


The views and opinions in this analysis are my own and do not represent positions or opinions of The Analyst Syndicate. Read more on the Disclosure Policy.