Three Legged Stool Dan Miklovic

The Missing T: Why OT & IT Are Not Enough in Manufacturing

Manufacturing CIO’s have a casual relationship with engineering or product design elements of the business.  ERP systems have had some degree of integration with product lifecycle management (PLM) systems but they have mostly thought of these systems merely as a data source. A black box in their enterprise architecture.  They have no intrinsic understanding of the breadth and depth of what is inside those black boxes and how to leverage the technology in their Digital Transformation efforts.  This is hampering their Digital Transformation efforts.

For the last decade, in manufacturing and asset-intensive industries, the hype in the marketplace has been about IT versus OT (operational technology) or IT/OT convergence, or IT/OT silos. The CIO and operations managers are being bombarded with messaging from the press, analyst community, and vendors about how OT is so different than IT. They also are continuously are hearing that they need to converge. Shortly after IT/OT was introduced into the market, Industrie 4.0 (or Industry 4.0 in the US) became the model for managing the merging of IT and OT to build the next generation of manufacturing plants. Since I4.0’s introduction in 2011, variants by industry such as Mining 4.0 or as in process industries terms such as APM 4.0 have proliferated.

At the same time, another technology initiative has burst into the market, driving more hype, Digital Twins. Initially, Digital Twins focused on product twins; models of products that simulated how a discrete product performed and behaved once it was in the hands of the users, either consumers or other business users. Plant and process Digital Twins are the next evolution of the twin concept. They are the models of the production processes and equipment and expanded the use of twins from discrete manufacturing to process manufacturing and asset-intensive industries such as infrastructure and transportation. Much of the discussion about Digital Twins revolves around the use of the growing amount of data from the proliferation of IoT, or in manufacturing, IIoT.

The challenge for any CIO, Chief Digital Officer, Head of Digital Transformation, or other business leader charged with leveraging technology to transform the business is twofold:

  1. Balancing the role of technology versus people and process when trying to drive transformation
  2. While overcoming the OT/IT divide, they miss a critical component of technology, which results in marginal results.


Engineering Technology (ET) is as Relevant as OT and IT

In many manufacturing organizations, the relationship between the engineering and the IT organizations is both better and worse than the relationship the IT group has with operations and those deploying hardcore OT. It is better in that engineering applications generally have either required powerful onsite computing capabilities or, with the move to the Cloud, high-speed access to Cloud hosted tools. Engineering also frequently works closely with IT on the infrastructure needed to support their activities. But, engineering also has a weaker relationship with IT when it comes to data integration with IT applications, particularly outside of discrete manufacturing. The product data needed to drive MRP II is generated by the design efforts performed in the engineering software, and product design changes need to be regularly flushed back into raw materials procurement processes. These data exchange needs tend to be low volume and not necessarily in real-time. OT production information, on the other hand, tends to be very real-time oriented and can generate gigabytes of data daily requiring much tighter integration between many OT applications and classic IT systems like ERP.

The Three-Legged Stool

The basic geometric principle that three points define a plane accounts for the idea that a three-legged stool is always stable. Originally applied to the financial security industry post-WWII, the three-legged stool metaphor has since been used to explain how the best performance can be described by three pillars of activity. In the case of manufacturing technology, CIOs and CTOs would be best served by thinking of the three digital technology legs of their business as:

  • IT – The classic front office and business digital technology traditionally associated with white-collar activities such as sales, marketing, HR, Accounting & Finance, and other activities that are done in offices.
  • OT – The digital technology that supports the actual operation of a factory, production facility, asset-intensive operation like a power plant or transportation system, or supporting infrastructure. OT ranges from the actual control technology on equipment to the systems that supervise and coordinate multiple interconnected subsystems in these environments.
  • ET – The engineering technology often characterized as PLM (wither product lifecycle management or process lifecycle management – depending on the type of industry). It includes any design, modeling, or simulation technology that is done with digital computing.

All three of these digital technologies must interact with each other and be essentially “equal in length” for the stool to not only be stable but also to be of use. While you can have a stable stool with one leg substantially shorter than the other two, that stool is pretty much useless in that it would be so cockeyed that you could not sit on it. So to the case in business. While slight differences in the legs yield a stable but slightly off-kilter platform, the best platform is one based on three equally long and sturdy legs. In the next several posts in this series, I will examine how CIOs and enterprise architects can construct a stable digital transformation platform based on their three-legged stool.


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.