What the CIO’s Evolution Means for Manufacturing

April 23, 2024
Chief information officers are stepping beyond the traditional confines of corporate IT to take on a more active role in the integration and management of production systems.

Historically, CIOs have been the stewards of corporate IT, focusing on data management, network infrastructure and software applications that support the business's administrative functions. However, the digital transformation of industry requires CIOs to take a broader view, extending their influence to operations technology (OT) systems—the hardware and software that controls production processes.

The technology on the factory floor has evolved from single-purpose mechanical devices to complex code-driven IoT (Internet of Things) devices designed to deliver precise control and detailed feedback. Cloud computing has allowed for management of these devices from a simple dashboard, providing greater oversight of complex systems, blurring the lines between the plant floor and enterprise IT.

One of the most pressing challenges in this expanded role for CIOs is bridging the gap between IT leadership and plant operations. 

Traditionally, there has been a clear divide between these domains, with each operating in its silo, often leading to inefficiencies and missed opportunities for innovation. The challenge for today's CIOs is not only to understand the intricacies of OT but also to foster a culture of collaboration and mutual understanding between IT and OT teams.

An opportunity for tighter collaboration

If you are an operations manager on the plant floor, the evolution of the new CIO role can present some new challenges and opportunities for closer collaboration with upper management. 

You may find yourself engaging in open and proactive communications with the CIO to ensure that the technological strategies being implemented align with the practical realities of your manufacturing processes. 

This is an opportunity to build a more agile, responsive production environment in which factory floor managers leverage the CIO's expertise to optimize workflows, enhance data-driven decision-making and implement cutting-edge technologies to improve production efficiency. By working closely together, CIOs and floor managers can identify bottlenecks, streamline operations and foster a culture of continuous improvement. This synergy not only improves operational efficiency, it also empowers employees by providing them with the tools and insights needed to excel in their roles, enhancing job satisfaction and productivity. 

Essentially, the presence of the CIO on the factory floor symbolizes the breaking down of silos between IT and operations departments, heralding a new era of integrated and collaborative work environments that are poised to revolutionize industry standards.

New CIO responsibilities

The evolving role of the CIO encompasses several key responsibilities that are critical for the seamless integration of IT and OT:

  • Realigning Roles and Relationships: CIOs are now tasked with transforming their roles from being leaders of IT delivery to champions of technology exploitation across the entire business spectrum. This involves fostering strong relationships across departments and ensuring that IT and OT teams collaborate effectively, breaking down traditional silos.
  • Managing Risks Across IT and OT: With the convergence of IT and OT, security becomes a paramount concern. CIOs must implement robust security frameworks that protect intellectual property and ensure secure collaborations, safeguarding their organization's competitive advantage. This includes extending IT security practices to OT environments, which have historically been less exposed to cyber threats but are increasingly vulnerable in a connected world. 
  • Expanding the Knowledge Base: To effectively manage the integration of IT and OT, CIOs must continually update their knowledge of the latest advances in IT and understand how these innovations can be applied in OT settings. This requires a commitment to ongoing learning and adaptation to stay ahead of technological trends. 

The future of industrial CIOs lies in their ability to act as strategic visionaries who can guide their organizations through the complexities of digital transformation. 

By embracing these new responsibilities and fostering a culture of collaboration and innovation, CIOs can drive their organizations to new heights of efficiency and competitiveness in the digital age.

Matthew Lee is co-founder and vice president of business development at Copia Automation.

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