When operational and information technologies collide

Should IT professionals manage all technology in the business?

If you want to start an argument in a utility you ask them what is the boundary between their engineering systems and IT systems, according to a Gartner analyst.

Kristian Steenstrup believes “it is a very vigourous argument".

And it is not just the utilities as “manufacturing, transportation, defence have all got this problem".

The "problem", says Steenstrup, a Gartner Fellow, is the engineering systems, also known as operational technology, is owned and run by engineers in mainly asset-intensive businesses.

Historically, engineering systems technology has run in a specialised way, he says.

“Essentially you have got engineers going out and getting specialised technology systems for their own specific purposes [like process control systems and engineering designs systems] and for a long time in many industries those were done completely separate from the IT department. It just wasn’t in their scope," Steenstrup said.

“Now what is changing in many industries is that the technologies they are deploying are starting to become more IT-like. So the engineering systems which used to be mechanical and proprietary in nature are now becoming Microsoft, Oracle systems with IP addresses on their servers. So they are starting to look and smell like IT systems.”

According to Steenstrup, there is a lot of change going on around this dynamic.

“Part of it is if you have all these systems which are IP addressable and networked systems and running commercial software then why is it sensible to do that separate to IT when traditionally every time somebody got an HR system, payroll system or accounts payable system they were bundled in and looked after and managed by IT,” he said.

This poses problems for the modern day IT department, Steenstrup says, who will discuss the topic further at this week’s Gartner Symposium in Sydney.

At what stage does a traditional IT employee take ownership of the "non IT" engineering-based systems? And if they do manage such systems, does that mean they own and regulate and secure equipment? Or do they provide standards guidelines. Or first line support?

And what about the scope?. “How much technology are we talking about? We could go from back-office transactional systems. But what if it’s SaaS. Should IT manage that?”

Steenstrup says Gartner believes these issues should be looked at by IT, but the do not have to be regulated by IT. “Because if you have got every Tom Dick in the department going off and having their own SaaS contracts and their own cloud computing deliveries you’d have anarchy and mayhem pretty quickly,” he said.

“It becomes a political issue very quickly.”

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