IT and Operations Disparities

Aug. 30, 2016
Responses to a recent Automation World reader survey indicate marked differences between IT and operations personnel around cybersecurity, safety, supply chain and remote access/mobility technologies.

Automation World recently conducted a reader survey to gauge perceptions surrounding a number of facets related to automation buying preferences and behaviors. Though the survey was conducted for our advertising clients, the data reveal some interesting insights for our end-user readers as well. The findings most relevant to our audience relate to some notable response differentiations between IT and non-IT (i.e., production/operations) respondents. There were also a few distinct differences in response among different industry segments (i.e., discrete manufacturing, batch manufacturing, and continuous process).

In this article, I’ll focus on the differences between IT and non-IT respondents. I compare the differences in response across industries here.

Before looking at the key response differences between our IT and non-IT readers, consider this frame of reference: IT readers currently comprise nearly 20 percent of Automation World’s audience. I suspect that this number will continue to grow as connections between IT and production automation systems increase. As Tom Cameron, chief technology officer at Analog Devices, pointed out during a panel discussion at National Instruments’ NI Week 2016: “IT people are going to become OT people.”

I note this to stress that the difference in responses between IT and OT personnel to our survey should be of significant interest since IT is playing an increasingly integral role in shop floor automation technology selection and application.

The biggest disconnects revealed by our survey between IT and non-IT respondents were around cybersecurity, safety, supply chain and remote access/mobility. All of these topics were categorized under the main question: “What keeps you up at night?”

Forty-three percent of IT respondents cited cybersecurity as an issue that keeps them up at night, yet only 12 percent of non-IT respondents said the same. This disparity could be explained away as the result of cybersecurity becoming increasingly delineated as an IT responsibility in more businesses. However, knowing that cybersecurity is not only an IT issue and that specific production systems that often lie outside the realm of IT responsibility are vulnerable to attack makes this disparity in response a concern. Even if ultimate responsibility for cybersecurity lies more with IT than production personnel—concern by production personnel over potential breaches should clock in with more than a 12 percent rate of response.

A similar disconnect between IT and operations responses can be seen around safety. Only 7 percent of IT respondents said safety issues kept them awake at night, yet 27 percent of production personnel said it was a concern. Just as non-IT readers need to get onboard with cybersecurity, IT readers likewise need to become more involved with safety concerns before becoming more involved with production operations.

Supply Chain
Concerns about supply chain operations and associated technologies are of more concern to IT than operations respondents. Fourteen percent of IT respondents noted supply chain as being a concern that “kept them up at night,” yet only 3 percent on non-IT respondents said the same. This disparity in responses leads me to believe our readers’ supply chain concerns are more around the supporting technologies than the logistical functions of it. I say this because supply chain technologies are often closely aligned with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems, which typically fall within the corporate IT realm of responsibility. Apparently, these systems are working well since non-IT readers are not experiencing significant supply chain gaps to cause them significant concern.

Remote Access/Mobility
This is another technology area that must be working well for the users, as only 5 percent of our operations readers reported being concerned about remote access and mobility technologies. However, 14 percent of our IT readers noted their concern with these technologies. I suspect IT’s concerns here rest in the growing importance remote access and mobility technologies are playing in industrial operations and maintenance functions, thus increasing the importance for IT to ensure they are always up and running. With such a small number of operations readers citing concerns about these technologies, in instances where they are applied, they must be functioning well more often than not.

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