Resourcing the new OT Ecosystem

March 10, 2020
New roles are continuing to made as operational technology and information technology continue to merge, but who is filling these roles? And how are these new roles being trained and educated?

In my January column, I mentioned that we now have lots of information technology (IT) in operational technology (OT), both literally in hardware and software, but also from an organizational perspective too. The best-performing companies—those who LNS has identified as Industrial Transformation leaders—have addressed this organizational challenge using various collaborative models.

I said that OT needs to step up or face having IT make many of the technology decisions that OT should be involved in making. LNS’s research indicates that IT takes the lead in choosing cloud, edge, and Industrial Internet of Things platforms, and along with it, the advanced analytics applications. So, for OT not to be left out, I stated that there are at least three roles that need to be filled to properly face up with IT:

1. OT architect;

2. Data engineer; and

3. Cybersecurity specialist.

This begs two questions: Where do we get these resources from, and how do we train and educate them? I’ll take the second question first.

Apart from internal training by the companies themselves, I looked at two sources for help. First, educational sources such as university courses—both in class and online—and the second were industry organizations—such as ISA.

I found no shortage of coursework—both degreed from universities as well as online courses—for certification in enterprise architecture and support related to The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) and Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).

TOGAF provides an approach for designing, planning, implementing, and governing an enterprise information technology architecture. ITIL is a set of detailed practices for IT service management that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of the business. Both of these guidelines and corresponding certifications provide frameworks for developing and maintaining IT architectures. The downside is that these are generic courses that are not industry-specific, especially with regard to asset-intensive industrial architectures and networks.

Having just received my 2020 Training Catalog, I checked in with ISA. The good news is that ISA has addressed the cybersecurity challenge by establishing a set of pathway courses for an ISA/IEC 62433 certification. The bad news is that there are only two courses on IT and OT, both under the Technician Pathway.

These are good basic courses for technicians but fail to address the larger issue of architecture design, development, data management, and support—including new technologies like edge computing. It’s not enough to simply refer to the ISA 95 standard to address these challenges. This is not a negative criticism of ISA, but rather an opportunity, a call to action, for ISA and our industry. ISA may already be working on this, because it’s the perfect opportunity for IT to marry its strengths of structured, thorough, and well-documented approaches to architecting the new OT Ecosystem. Hence, IT and OT could work together to develop a set of TOGAF and ITIL courses under the auspices of ISA, specifically directed at industrial environments.

ISA need not tackle this alone but could work through local community colleges and universities to develop the courses. Being from Houston, San Jacinto College, and the University of Houston, Downtown, both of which have programs in process control, come to mind. The coursework could be associated with other universities’ departments as well, such as information technology, computer science, and systems engineering.

Finally, where do we get the resources? With the realization that having one foot in IT and the other in OT is a valuable skillset in the industrial market, opportunities should abound for existing employees—be they technicians, engineers, or those entering graduate education. For existing employees, it could provide a new career path to manufacturing IT and beyond.

Yes, it’s a challenge to attract millennials into industries that have largely yet to embrace digital technologies. But the attraction should be, “come and join us to help design and build the new digital plant and factory, make your mark, make a difference.”

People with such skills won’t just be attractive to operating companies, they will also be wanted by suppliers throughout the ecosystem—automation, IT, big tech, software, consultancies, and hyperscalers. With this kind of training you can write your own ticket.

>>Joe Perino, [email protected], is a research analyst at LNS Research.

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